Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Two shining examples of Chenin Blanc, one from Saumur, the other from Swartland

Two shining examples of Chenin Blanc, 

one from Saumur, the other from Swartland

Metallic notes in Saumur


Domaine de Sable Verts Saumur (AC) Blanc 2020, 13%, 

RRP €25.99 The Vintry Redmonds of Ranelagh The 1601 Blackrock Cellar Baggot Street Wines Drink Store

Colour of this Chenin Blanc (from near the Loire city of Saumur) is a mid gold. It is fresh and floral, intensely so, with flavours of grapefruit, apricot and pear and a superb acidity, with a mineral touch. Quite a classic Chenin Blanc, fresh and fruity, it has a long dry finish with citrus notes. Highly Recommended.

Liberty, the importers, tell us that Caroline Meurée & Hervé Malinge are a young winemaking couple who met while studying in Bordeaux. “Despite neither of them being from the Loire Valley, in 2019 they bought Domaine des Sables Verts in the heart of Saumur Champigny and embarked on their first vintage.” 

Just one hectare from their 15 is planted with Chenin Blanc (the rest with Cabernet Franc). Their Chenin grapes for this wine come from three separate parcels. The final blend is assembled and bottled in January. Characterised by layers of fresh citrus notes and ripe apricot, the wine is beautifully textured with a backbone of lively acidity. 

The potential of their forty-year-old vines persuaded Caroline and Hervé to produce a single-vineyard wine. Vinified and aged in new four hectolitre French oak barrels, the wine is kept on fine lees for 12 months to add both richness and texture.

Food and wine pairings from Caroline suggest: “…from land to sea! From a veal blanquette to a grilled sea bass, via an asparagus risotto…”

Hervé has the serving tips: serve at 10-12°C, don’t hesitate to decant it!

Caroline and  Hervé are vignerons at Varrains which is about 30 minutes west of Chinon ( an excellent base for visiting the vineyards and chateau of the Loire Valley). On your way to Varrains, visit the amazing  Fontevraud-l’Abbaye on the way. 

Quite a lot of Chenin Blanc is grown in Northern France (from Vouvray to Saumur) but South Africa (in Stellenbosch and Paarl) grows more than any other country with the French second and the USA third.


Spice Route Chenin Blanc Swartland (South Africa) 2020, 14.0%, 

RRP €26.99 Fresh – Stepaside Fresh – IFSC/Smithfield/Grand Canal Hen And Hog

This South African Chenin Blanc has a light gold colour. Aromas are mostly fruit, peach and tropical. On the palate, it is quite complex, quite concentrated, the fruit flavours well balanced by a very lively acidity.  Highly Recommended.

Quite an outstanding balance actually and deliberately induced. The Chenin Blanc for this wine was picked at different maturity levels. The first picking was done slightly earlier to retain freshness and acidity, the second lot was picked in mid-February, with some slightly raisined grapes in the bunches bringing more richness to the blend. The lots were vinified separately. 

Don’t want to get to technical here but worth continuing I think as we can learn how the techniques employed shaped the final product. Upon arrival at the winery, the grapes were gently destemmed and pressed. After 48 hours settling, the portion that was picked earlier was fermented in stainless-steel tanks to preserve freshness and elegance before then being matured in matured in clay pots known as Qvevries (also amphora) for eight weeks. The late-picked portion was fermented and matured in old French oak barrels for 10 months, before the two components were blended and bottled.

The Swartland is 65kms north of Cape Town. The climate is hot and dry. Viticulture here it is not straightforward, according to Fairview and Spice Route owner Charles Back. “You have to be very careful to select good moisture retaining soil in the first place, soil that can trap the moisture and slowly release it later when needed.”

Winemaker Charl du Plessis told us about another “surprise” development here, their importation of 20 qvevris from Georgia. A qvevri is huge earthenware amphora (800 to 1200 lts) sunk into the ground and used for wine fermentation and storage. The hand-made terracotta pots have been fired and coated inside with beeswax. He did a vintage in Georgia in 2018.


Chenin Blanc is South Africa's most widely planted grape - and the resulting wine is in demand around the world. Last year, South Africa exported 53 million litres of white wine, mainly to Germany, the United Kingdom, and America.  

With Chenin Blanc, Fresh wines are mostly made in stainless steel tanks which accentuates fruit flavours and acidity. And then you have the more complex Fruity Styles along with Rich Styles (more dominant presence of oak).

This leads to such a diversity of wines that shoppers can be confused especially when purchasing bottles from supermarket shelves. 

The local Chenin Blanc Association in association with Stellenbosch's South African Grape and Wine Research Institute have come up with a style indicator (similar to wine wheels) to help. More on this Business Insider story here.


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