Toast the lockdown easing with a glass of chenin blanc
- Credit: Liz Sagues
Imagine the wine menu for a special occasion big-family meal, once such pleasure is again possible.
To whet appetites, a fine fizz. Then, with a shellfish or salad-based starter, a crisp, dry white. Stay with white, elegant and oak-aged, alongside roast pork or posh fish pie. Try another white, off-dry this time, with lightly matured goats' cheeses, followed by a luxurious yet non-cloying sweet glassful flattering any apple-based dessert.
Now for the shock: all those wines come from a single grape variety. I'll admit a personal mission here: I'm frustrated that chenin blanc doesn't have the wide popularity it much deserves. It has so many qualities, and such versatility, whether from France's Loire Valley or its second homeland, South Africa. And the quality-price ratio is as enticing as the wines.
Don't take my word for it, believe the experts. Jo Locke is particularly well qualified, for she buys The Wine Society's much-praised selections from both places. Alongside the myriad styles, she notes the dessert wines' graceful longevity.
"It is this versatility and durability which makes chenin blanc one of the great white wine grapes of the world. It has a freshness and energy – remarkable acidity even when fully ripe – that is arguably unrivalled, an affinity with oak and for blending, for high-volume crowd pleasers and tiny-production fine wines and, perhaps most excitingly, the ability to express a sense of place comparable to top-notch chardonnay."
Evelyne de Pontbriand, president of the 2019 Chenin Blanc International Congress and maker of fine biodynamic savennières, emphasises how even in short distances along the Loire the wines differ, like the châteaux. "But you can't drink the châteaux..." There is, she adds, "something very exciting" about chenin blanc.
But how to convince the uninitiated to buy it? Chenin is perfect for curious consumers looking for something different, argues Baptiste Fabre from Alliance Loire, which groups seven wine co-operatives and is a major exporter to the UK: "It's a grape for all palates."
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Taking the arguments full circle, organic growers Mathilde Giraudet, of Bois-Mozé, and Marie Fabre-Germain, Château de la Roulerie, confirm the broad, happy relationship of chenin and food. Be adventurous, says Mathilde, urging sparkling wines with veal or fish in sauce, while Marie champions mature oak-aged dry chenins with toasted goat's cheese and honey.
Bottles of South African chenin will proclaim the grape variety, but French regulations largely prohibit that, so look for such appellations as Anjou, Saumur, Vouvray, Montlouis, Chinon and Coteaux du Layon (sweet),
A few among many temptations: Zalze Bush Vine (£7.25-£9 Morrisons, Waitrose), Franschhoek Cellar and Domaine Alexandre Cady (£8-£21, hhandc.co.uk), Domaine des Forges (£13-£23.50, stonevine.co.uk), and a long list at https://www.thewinesociety.com/