If ever there were a ‘time of year’ for Chenin, I reckon right now is it. September’s kicked in and has brought with it the darker, cooler evenings and the classic random mix of summery warm hours during the day, with sudden chilly breezes. We’ve seen Autumn before, let’s not over-do it Tom. Harvests have been kicking off across Europe and the cooler parts like the UK are limbering up to get their snips out in the coming weeks too. There’s action.
This middle-ground weather makes me want to drink wines with texture and character. Slipping away from the fridge at home are the light, clean, delicious wines I gravitate to in Summer. We’re not yet at the rich, ripe, cosy wines of winter.
Enter South African Chenin. Like that faithful jumper you’ve pulled out from under the bed this week, it’s the perfect partner to navigate this choppy weather. Warm, sunny few hours? There’s a Chenin for that. Cold, breezy, wet evening? Chenin, sorted.
And, yes, Chenin is grown all over the world. The Loire in France is it’s natural home. But I’m focusing on South Africa for two good reasons. One; simply is that the Western Cape of SA has more Chenin planted than anywhere on the planet, with a fair amount of it now being fantastically old bush vines making extraordinary wines of character, diversity of style and texture. Prime for right now. Two; South African producers have had a well-documented, particularly challenging time of it during Covid, with successive local and international restrictions on sales of their wine. It’s been rubbish for everyone, but SA producers need our support significantly right now and the best way to do that is to buy some and drink it!
Chenin has a fresh acidity to it and can create lean, lemon-lime, zippy whites that will sing with anything you can catch in a net. That natural acidity stays in sunny regions, where the fruit becomes richer and riper, so it’s fantastic at creating medium-bodied whites too, always with a soft, honeyed edge. You can find it in a range of sweetnesses from bone-dry to ultra sweet. Like Riesling, many of the best have a touch of natural sweetness to balance them and make them fuller bodied, despite being refreshing and dry. Unlike Riesling though, chenin loves oak and it can be kept on the lees (winemaking yeasts) to gain richness and texture too. So, the options are wide-open.
You can see now, I hope, why they are Autumn’s superstars. Here are a few picks from me – fit for whatever it throws at you!
For fresh, light, sunshine ready Chenin and a lunchtime banger, look no further than Eekhoring Steel & Skink White Blend. A fleshy, peachy, nectarine and lemon zinger. It’s got great balance from a hint of sweetness and a lower 12.5% alcohol. It’s not just Chenin in here but it’s the key. This is perfect on it’s own, with light lunches or fresh shellfish.
For incredible value and a little more body and fruit, Reyneke Organic Chenin Blanc in Waitrose is hard to beat. Ultra clean, melon, lemon-zest and ripe apple fruit on a medium-bodied but refreshing frame. Zero oak. It’s absolutely ideal for fresh, meaty white fish dishes or roasted vegetables.
Upping the oak and richness for cooler, darker evenings, try Vondeling’s Babiana 2018.A blend, led by Chenin again. It has a brilliant, dry woody, ginger spice on the nose but with floral aromas, and delicious lime and apricot fruit. It’s got classic chenin, peach and melon too and Chenin’s hallmark smooth, honey edge. It’s crying out for roast pork belly – the zip of the acid will work well with the fatty dish, and the wine’s richer elements with the weight of the pork too.
Click here to find more out about South African Chenin Blanc and to buy Tim Atkin MW’s definitive 2020 South Africa wine report.
10th September 2020
Tom’s body of work is extensive: he is one of the Three Wine Men, lead presenter for the Pingza wine app, former Sales & Business Development Director at industry-leading English sparkling wine producer Ridgeview, a BBC Sussex wine expert and presenter of British Airways’ wine events.