I tried to buy a third Chenin Blanc from Sainsbury’s on my way how (we were so close to having a ‘Chenin Blanc Week’) but unfortunately all it had to offer was row upon row of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. Mr Sainsbury is not making it easy for someone trying to ‘think outside the box’ in terms of their January drinking habits.
I feel like Chenin Blanc often gets a bit left behind. No one has that much of an opinion about it. You’ll have people jumping up and down saying how much they luuuurve Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis and how much they HATE Riesling (remember you don’t really though) but when it gets to Chenin it rather feels like all you get is a shrug of the shoulders, and a resounding “we don’t care”. It probably doesn’t help that it is the second wine on almost every wine list in the country, the one that proves it’s not quite as bad as the house but not worth you spending any good money on. Poor Chenin Blanc, that’s just not fair.
It’s a tricky sort of grape; uneven ripening can be a problem for the grower; and for the consumer it can vary hugely in style. If this was Chenin Blanc week then I would go into more detail but I feel like there’ll be a better opportunity for this in the future (and on a week where I’ve been a bit more organised). Traditionally it was planted in the Loire Valley, most notably Vouvray, where it produces a variety of styles from the steely dry to the sweet, depending in how ripe the grapes are before they are picked and pressed. The more overripe they become, the more sugar in the grapes and the sweeter the resulting wine will be. If it’s dry you’re after, look for ‘sec’ on the bottle, ‘demi-sec’ = off-dry etc. In the New World, Chenin Blanc seems to have found its natural home in South Africa where it is produced to varying levels of quality.
This week I drank the La Grille Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley and the Crow’s Fountain Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch. Very different in style but both really quite good. The La Grille is off-dry with a floral and peachy character. Despite the hint of sweetness it is fresh, clean and elegant and pretty good for £5.99 – find out on Thursday what I had to eat with it! The Crow’s Fountain was a bit more expensive and a much fuller style of Chenin. The nose literally makes your mouth water (a good sign) with aromas of ripe apples, melon and a streak of minerailty. It is dry and the body is much fuller than the La Grille with a slight spice to the palate from the oak. There could be a bit more intensity of flavour here but it is really rather good. This would go well with barbecued or flame grilled chicken due the the slight spice from the oak.
My Mexican wine was generously given to me by one of my clients this afternoon after I spotted it on his wine list. You don’t come across Mexican wine that often (certainly not in Sainsbury’s local) and I have only tried a handful. This wine is made by a producer called L.A. Cetto, the grape is Petite Sirah and it comes from Baja California. Baja California is just a hop down the coast from better known vine-growing sites such as the Napa Valley. I was a little baffled by the Petite Sirah (note this is not quite the same as the more recognisable Syrah) but it is a grape otherwise known as Durif that is widely planted in both North and South America. The nose is very plummy, as is the palate, with chunky tannins and a slightly medicinal and herbaceous edge. This doesn’t feel like a ‘quality wine’ but is perfectly pleasant. At the very least I feel like I’ve learnt something new today.
Annoyingly L.A. Cetto also make a Chenin Blanc so it could have been Chenin Blanc week after all! Maybe we’ll try that next time.