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Australian Chenin Blanc: 15 of the best bottles available today

Article reposted from Decanter


Chenin Blanc has come of age in Australia, particularly in the West, says Cassandra Charlick. She charts the variety's rise, from Houghton's White Burgundy in the 1930s to the best examples today, selecting her top 15 buys from 62 wines tasted.



CBDB, aka Chenin Blanc Dynamic Blend. Hand-picked from Demeter-certified vineyards, the whole bunches were cold pressed, seeing no malolactic fermentation but fortnightly lees stirring, then lightly filtered before bottling. A humdinger of wine; it welcomes you with open arms and you just want to fall into its embrace.

96/100 Decanter


Article:


Chenin Blanc has come of age in Australia. Vineyards and palates have matured, demand for growers’ fruit has increased, new plantings are on the rise, and producers are striving to craft wines that are complex, thought-provoking, ageworthy and diverse in style. Wines that can easily claim their place on the global stage.


The greatest examples are varied in style, but they all share a seamlessness, an exciting tension, and a persistent finish. From briny freshness through to layers of texture; some show lees work and funk, others polish and opulence, and many are glossy, long and lithe.

Chenin’s defining trait is its shape: acid and tension grow in waves and excite the palate. Turn away if you are looking for that Sauvignon Blanc electric shock or Riesling-like line of steel. With 62 Australian Chenin Blancs sent in for this tasting, it was clear to see the ageability of this noble grape and its stylistic evolution, particularly in Western Australia.


Swan Valley’s Bella Ridge, one of the first producers to herald a new era of variety, sent in a vertical back to 2006. Each bottle clearly expressed its vintage, with the 2009 retaining freshness yet offering a glimpse into the honeyed, nutty hues of developed Chenin.

On that note, the ‘drink by’ dates suggested in my tasting notes are conservative; with acid and phenolics, these wines can go the distance. The variety of styles, regions and vintages tasted made three points clear. One is that Australian Chenin Blanc has the capacity to show terroir. The Chenin Blanc from Xanadu in Margaret River comes from vines right by the Indian Ocean, and you can practically hear the crash of the surf in the glass.


The second point is the importance of bottle age and its impact on the tasting experience. Australian palates prefer youthful wine, but there is real reward in cellaring your purchases for several years. Thirdly, Chenin Blanc really comes into its own with food. It was almost a sacrilege to look at these on a clinical tasting table.


On the up

The final tally speaks for itself: 33 wines above 90 points, including nine wines at 95 points or more. It’s no mean feat, considering that Chenin Blanc is responsible for just 0.3% of Australia’s total crush, and nationally 2023 provided the lowest Chenin crush since 2017.

According to Wine Australia (source of all the statistics in this article), Swan Valley and Margaret River in Western Australia provide 47% of Australia’s crush. For commercial winemaking, South Australia’s Riverland region, with 38%, makes up the majority of the remaining crush. Interestingly, the price per tonne for Riverland Chenin Blanc has dropped year on year by 1%, while Western Australian fruit has risen massively in demand and price.


‘There’s been a real shift over the past three years,’ says Damian Hutton, general manager and chief winemaker at Nikola Estate in Swan Valley. ‘We could sell Chenin Blanc twice over. It’s gone from “what are we going to do with all of these grapes?” to demand being insatiable.’


The Australian wine show circuit can be useful for gauging trends. In 2023, there were 17 entries in the Chenin Blanc bracket at the Perth Royal Wine Show, 23 in the Swan Valley Wine Show, 59 in the Australian Chenin Blanc Challenge and 24 from 10 global regions in the International Chenin Blanc Symposium.


Margaret River winemaker Nic Peterkin of LAS Vino founded this latter tasting in 2019 ‘to champion the grape, to provide an avenue for winemakers and growers to compare styles and see what works, and finally to benchmark Chenin Blanc in Western Australia against the best in the world.


‘There really is something special about Chenin Blanc in Western Australia. This event proves it.’

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