Too often, chenin blanc grapes are treated as simply a dependable source of high volume, inexpensive wine, writes Brian Elliott

Certainly, many South African producers thought so for most of the 350 years the variety has been grown there. Nowadays, though, plenty of them are seriously quality focused. However, the most traditional source of top level examples is nearer home.

Chenin blanc is the Loire Valley’s most planted grape variety and the chalky limestone around Vouvray is where the variety flourishes. Here, it can refresh you with assertive acidity, enliven you with tasty sparkling wines, and mellow you with its weighty, honeyed intensity when the conditions at vintage time and the subsequent ageing process allow. In France, chenin delivers acid-centred apple and pear flavours, whereas South African versions are usually riper, with more melon, banana and tropical fruit influences.

“The chalky limestone around Vouvray is where chenin blanc flourishes”

South Africa’s disparate terroirs and micro-climates make further generalisations difficult. Within a short distance of one another, for example, you have the lees-based richness (yet sharp orange acidity) of 2014 Olifantsberg Chenin Blanc (£14.49 at Valhalla’s Goat, Glasgow); the more subtle and delicate, banana and green apple-charged 2014 Cannonberg Chenin Blanc (£7.10 at L’Art du Vin, Charlestown, Dunfermline); or the more mature and substantial 2012 Mooiplaas Houmoed Chenin Blanc (£17 at Deeside Drinks Emporium, Banchory) with its sweeter edge and tangerine, sherbet fruit.

My current chenin favourite, however, is French and comes from Montlouis – over the river from Vouvray. There, Loire star Jacky Blot has created the rich, silky and balanced 2013 Domaine de la Taille aux Loups (£21 online at  www.woodwinters.com or in their Edinburgh and Bridge of Allan shops), with mellow peach and nut flavours that are delightfully turbo-charged with vibrant marmalade orange acidity. Not cheap – but the essence of what chenin does so very well.

BEST BUYS

2013 Ricossa Barbera d’Asti Italy, 13.5 per cent
Summer is perfect for those soft, fruit-driven and juicy reds that Italy does well (and that really respond to a 15-minute burst of refrigeration). Enjoy this example’s bright, nicely integrated bramble fruit – supplemented as it is by touches of mint and savoury spice.
£6.49 – instead of £7.49 – until Tuesday at the Co-op

2012 Trimbach Alsace Riesling France, 12.5 per cent
Unfortunately, Alsace wines tend to be overlooked, but on form, like this one, they can be absolutely brilliant. On top of its classic riesling, slightly viscous, savoury texture, the wine has glorious tropical fruit flavours that merge nicely into its sharp lime acidity and contrasting flinty background.
£11.99 at selected Scottish Majestic stores – where minimum purchase rules apply

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Brian Elliott

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