Shenanigans at the Chenin Challenge

The pigs are flying and the vultures are circling around the Chenin Blanc Challenge

by: Cathy Marston | 21 Jan 2010

Hooray, hooray!! The pigs are flapping lazily past the treetops, Satan and all his little devils are practising their double axels on the ice and Neil Pendock is being nice to Tim James!! An exciting scandal is brewing yet again in the wine world, this time over the results of the Guala Closures Chenin Blanc Challenge and, with the normally opposing forces of Pendock (Sunday Times) and James (Grape Online) weighing in together for once, one wonders where it will go?

The scandal is an interesting one – is the wine which won, the same as the wine you can actually buy on the shelves? The analysis of the three wines offered under the same label differs in terms of residual sugar and alcohol, in the case of the sugar by as much as 157%! A reply from the owner of Kleine Zalze, the winery in question, explains that there have been different bottlings of the same wine and the one which actually entered the Chenin Challenge made up only about 14% of the total production. 

The grapes were picked in different batches and the wine was made and bottled from each batch individually as it was picked, which, to be honest, is not how I expect a wine to be made. I think they should have either blended all the batches together to make one single, uniform wine or – if there really was so much difference, and one batch was so vastly superior to the others - then perhaps it should have been bottled under a separate label.

Let me just say that I have no problem with the actual bottle of wine which won – the Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection 2008 – it was utterly delicious and I am sure it was a worthy winner. But I can’t help feeling a little cheated on behalf of everyone else who has bought that bottle beforehand, in particular restaurateurs for whom consistency of product is absolutely crucial to success.

The upshot is yet more confusion for a grape variety which, frankly, cannot handle any extra confusion in the minds of the consumer.  If this scandal runs and runs then consumers, restaurateurs, retailers are all likely to lose confidence in the competition and the winery which would be a pity on both counts. But at the end of the day, the biggest loser from all this, will be Chenin Blanc.  


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