Wine: Chenin Blanc

Domaine Vincent Careme
Domaine Vincent Careme
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WET wool, damp straw and a hint of honey. This might not sound like the most appealing wine description, but it is a typical tasting note for one of my favourite white grapes, chenin blanc, writes Rose Murray Brown

Despite being heavily planted in South Africa, chenin blanc’s homeland is in the Loire in northern France. As in the Cape, many producers in the Loire used it to make cheap fizz or lesser whites, but it is also revered as a superstar in certain appellations such as Savennieres, Vouvray, Montlouis, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume for dry and sweet wines along the Loire. Typically in France the name of the grape does not appear on these wine labels, so few know how good chenin can be – so it remains one of the most under-appreciated grapes.

At its cheapest chenin can be terrible stuff – with tooth-clenchingly high acid and little aroma to speak of – but don’t let that put you off. Chenin does have naturally high acidity which can be fabulous in a ripe, honeyed Loire vintage with enough fruit to balance – and with such high acid it can age an incredibly long time in bottle.

One man who really understands the chenin blanc grape is winemaker Vincent Careme. He only began his business in 1999 with rented vines; his parents were cereal farmers. He is an interesting example of a new generation of growers in the Loire (he also runs a small negociant business buying in grapes) who looks beyond the confines of his appellation for ideas and influences.

“The oceanic climate of the Loire is ideal with its cold nights and sunny days creating a good balance of acid, fruit, and alcohol with a freshness,” says Careme.

Other passionate producers include the historic Huet domaine – and further west in Savennieres you’ll find Eric Morgat making striking dry chenins on schistous soils.

VOUVRAY, LA COURONNE DES PLANTAGENETS DEMI-SEC 2012

(£6.99, Sainsbury’s)

This starts well with apples, honey and pears – but there is a disappointing, rather confected feel to the palate. It does state demi-sec on the label and it has quite a bit of residual sugar.

VOUVRAY, CUVÉE DE PERRUCHES 2012 Domaine des Ambuisieres

(£8.99, until 28 April, Majestic Wine)

A well priced introduction to Loire chenin blanc. The nose is very subdued, but there are wonderful honeyed and appley flavours with a nippy-sweetie acid-freshening dryness to the finish. This is drier than Sainsbury’s example, with just hints of residual sweetness on the palate.

MONTLOUIS ‘JUMEAU’ 2012

Vincent and Tania Careme

(£12.50, The Wine Society, www.thewinesociety.com)

Made from a blend of his own grapes and bought in fruit, I did not enjoy this quite as much as Careme’s Vouvray, below, but it is still a beautifully crafted, vibrant wine.

VOUVRAY SEC 2011 Domaine Vincent Careme

(£17.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com)

With a light honey colour, and nose with flowers, fennel and pear skins, in the mouth this wine has that magic balance between honeyed notes, a waxy texture, lovely racy acidity and dry minerally core – with a lingering length. STAR BUY

Join Rose’s French Classics & Charcuterie tasting in Glasgow, 12 June, £40, email masterclass@rosemurraybrown.com