Clive Hartley

Its unpopular, misunderstood, and lives in the shadows. No, I’m not talking about a new sect or political party, but the grape variety chenin blanc. It currently sits out of the top 12 grapes varieties planted in Australia, with only 4,000 hectares grown across the country. However, I reckon it deserves more kudos, and is capable of making fabulous white wine.

The grape has high natural acidity, a good attribute for ageing and can have aromas ranging from wet stone, through to tropical fruit and apple custard, depending on the ripeness. When it is oaked the wine is easily mistaken for chardonnay. Dry styles can be matched with a range of white fish and shellfish, but with a bit of sweetness they go well with spicy dishes such as stir-fries.

You find the best expressions of chenin blanc in the Loire Valley in France. It makes white wines that are delicious when drunk young but have the capacity to age for over 40 years making it one of the longest living white wines in the world. It can be matured in oak or left unwooded and has high, crisp natural acidity. It can make a decent sparkling wine and to top-it-off it makes one of the best dessert wines in the world. Famous in the region of Vouvray where it can be made into a dry, semi-dry or sweet wine. To the west lies the region of Savennières which makes a searingly dry wine. Travelling south from there you enter the Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru region where the grape is attacked by botrytis and makes a rich sweet wine that rivals Sauternes.

Clive Hartley

Given that the Loire is in cool northern France, I think our region could produce some decent chenin, but with chardonnay dominating the plantings and demanding a top dollar you can see why growers are not rushing to plant it.  There are only a few producers to make a good Australian example – Corymbia from the Swan Valley in WA make a satisfying dry wine, as does Castagna from Beechworth.

Its stablemate in the Loire in the red grape cabernet franc, that is another underrated wine and another story.

Clive Hartley is an award-winning wine writer, educator and consultant. Check out his fortnightly radio show on Hepburn Community Radio called “Put a Cork in It”.  Want to learn more about wine? Try his book the Australian Wine Guide (7th ed) – available for purchase from Paradise Books in Daylesford or through  his website –