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Chenin Blanc - controversial changes on the way?

Something has to be done about Chenin Blanc - but what? Join the debate.

by: Cathy Marston | 21 Jan 2011

Good-value co-op Perdeberg has won Wine Magazine's 2011 Chenin Blanc Challenge with its uber-premium Rex Equus 2008. The winners were announced yesterday at a lunch held at Overture restaurant on Hidden Valley wine farm. In a first for Wine Magazine, a Top Dozen wines were named altogether and plans are afoot to offer them as a mixed case to illustrate the quality and variety of this grape.

The Top Twelve are as follows, all prices are from the farms:

Boschendal 2009 (R45)

Fort Simon 2009 (R60)

Graham Beck Bowed Head 2009 (R95)

Jordan Barrel Fermented 2009 (R71.50)

Kanu 2009 (R35)

Kanu KCB 2007 (R82)

Katbakkies 2008 (R70)

Leopard’s Leap 2010 (R34.99)

Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection Bush Vines 2010 (R33)

Perdeberg Rex Equus 2008 (R180)

Rijk’s Private Cellar Reserve 2007 (R160)

Simonsig Avec Chene 2009 (R127)

The Best Value wine to emerge from the Challenge was the 4-Star Douglas Green 2010, selling at R31.50 - a wine which could easily have been joined by three others, all under R35.

Chenin Blanc is proving to be something of a marketing conundrum at the moment. South Africa has some of the oldest and finest vineyards in the world and has continually triumphed in international competitions, regularly beating wines from the home of Chenin – the Loire Valley in France.

Yet sales still leave plenty of room for improvement, with many customers citing 'uncertainty as to style' being the main reason for not choosing a Chenin and sticking to a Sauvignon instead. Because Chenin is such a versatile grape and can make a range of styles from bone dry, through to semi-sweet and ending in luscious dessert wines and can be wooded or unwooded and offer a vastly differing selection of flavours, many people prefer to play safe and choose a wine where the style is more guaranteed.

With this is mind, the Chenin Blanc Association is proposing to classify the wines under four headings:

Fresh and fruity – unwooded

Rich and ripe – unwooded

Rich and ripe – wooded

Sweet wines

Jeff Grier, deputy chairman of the Association, talks of a scale or diagram to put on the back label giving a more precise indication of exactly what is in the bottle. The problem is, as always, getting everyone to agree on the classifications/correct format/which style their wine falls into etc etc - discussions which have so far stalled any development for almost a year.

According to Jeff, teams of researchers are currently conducting interviews with consumers to try and get some clarity on this issue and decide the way forward. The key question seems to be how the wines will be classified, with opinion divided between using set limits as to residual sugar and other standard markers (which are no guarantees of the actual style of the wine, particularly at different stages of maturation) and conducting tastings by a panel of experts (which is open to abuse, particularly if marketing demands dictate a different classification from that awarded).

Until something is agreed, it seems that South Africa could continue wasting its greatest vinous asset by self-serving disagreements and debates which augurs ill for the future. Because if sales don't pick up, many of the older Chenin vineyards risk being dug up and replanted as they become commercially unviable, causing SA to lose its best chance of creating truly world class wines.

What do you think? Do you drink Chenin Blanc and if so, do you only stick to the ones you know? What would help you to choose a Chenin and how do you think it should be indicated on the label? Tell us below.


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