Hoodwinked By Chenin

What's the deal with South African Chenin? It has been a variety that I have espoused with vim and vigour since I became a wine consumer of serious proportions.
I thought it offered excellent value for money, and offered a range of styles – “I’ll find one for you” I have cried to unbelievers. But had I been fooled by overt sweetness? Was my praise of this variety ill-founded? Had I been hood-winked by easy drinking cheap wines? Did my wallet guide my palate?

These thoughts have plagued me recently. Especially since, when I cast my eye down the list of Chenins in the new blonde and blue eyed Platter Guide, I noticed there is a dearth of red-coloured Chenins (red meaning four stars or more). Wooded Chardonnays trounce them almost 2-1; a similar result with Sauvignon Blanc. I know that Platter is no Word of Bacchus on SA wine quality, but it is not a word of lie either.

I have heard so many people sing Chenin’s praises that this does stir a little worry in my gut. I thought Chenin was “South Africa’s rising star”, but could it be instead that we are still producing, as Oz Clarke in Grapes & Wines* believes, “a sea of forgettable dross”?

Chenin’s home is in the Loire Valley.

It’s a pretty old variety, and has been hanging around in these parts for more than a thousand years. In France it makes wines from steely and dry, to a hug warming-like sweetness. They can be incredibly long lived. I’ve had sweet Loire Chenins from the 70’s that I thought were only 10 years old, and have read of others drinking fabulously that are pushing past 100.

The point is, the great Chenins of the world come from the Loire.

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