Affordable Chenin Blanc

By Jamie Goode | 4 September 2018

While reviewing wines for my weekly Sunday Express column, I tasted through a number of affordable or value for money South African Chenin Blancs.


How can Chenin Blanc be made affordably? Yield is a factor here. It costs a certain amount to farm a hectare, so if the vineyard produces more grapes then that means more wine for the same output. With most red grapes, there's a steep fall-off in quality if the farmers are too greedy and try to grow bigger yields, but with white varieties, this doesn't always apply to the same extent. So high yield Chenin can still taste quite good, whereas high yield Cabernet or Shiraz often tastes thin, green and weedy. Also, larger crops take longer to ripen and so with reds, which need to be a bit riper than whites, this can also create difficulties.


Then, when you get into the winery, some wines are just cheaper to make than others. One of the big expenses is using oak barrels. These are expensive to buy (around £750 each, and they only last, say, five years), and also require a lot more work than large tanks. Chenin can be made in large stainless steel tanks, and so it's much cheaper to make than, say Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, which usually need time in barrel. Of course, some Chenin Blancs benefit from being fermented in barrel and then ageing on their lees in barrel for several months, but these tend to be the richer and pricier styles.


The other thing that benefits winemakers who want to make affordable Chenin is that there is quite a bit of it. Overall, there are 17500 hectares planted, which is almost exactly one-third of the area planted to white varieties in South Africa, and around a fifth of total plantings. In addition, it is often found in the less trendy, warmer areas such as Wellington and Paarl, where grape prices are a bit lower.


So these are the wines that I tasted that impressed me. It wasn't a comprehensive tasting, so there will be more out there. But it's good to see affordable Chenin so well represented in major UK retail outlets.



Fairtrade Paarl Chenin Blanc 2017 South Africa
£5.99 Lidl
The Paarl region in South Africa has a warm, sunny climate, and this Chenin is really attractive, with ripe table grape, tangerine and pear fruit, kept lively by some nice brisk acidity. Great value for money. And added bonus is that it's part of the Fairtrade program.


Asda Extra Special Chenin Blanc 2017 Paarl, South Africa
14% alcohol
Made from old, unirrigated bush vines, this shows lovely powerful peach, nectarine and mandarin orange flavours, supported with some cream and nuts. Lots of flavour with a nice spicy finish. This is excellent value.


Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Wild Valley Fairtrade Chenin Blanc 2017 Wellington, South Africa
12.5% alcohol
This is a really attractive fruity Chenin with orange, lemon and melon flavours, combining fruitiness with freshness. Clean, pure and easy to drink, but not too simple. Has a mouthwatering quality. It's made for Sainsbury's by Bosman, who are a really good producer.


Kaapzicht Kliprug Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
£13.99 Waitrose
This is stretching the definition 'affordable' a little, but I think it represents great value for the quality. From unirrigated 35 year old bush vines in Stellenbosch, this is a concentrated, strongly flavoured Chenin with tangerines, lemons, white peaches and a lively spiciness. There's a hint of marmalade and toast, too. There's lovely balance to this wine.


Bellingham The Bernard Series Chenin Blanc 2016 Coastal Region, South Africa
14% alcohol
£12.50 Tesco
Another wine that isn't exactly cheap, but shows that Chenin from the Cape can really deliver value for money at this sort of price point. This is a supercharged, powerful expression of Chenin, with ripe pear and peach fruit with a touch of apricot, together with some toasty, spicy depth. It's not subtle, but sometimes you just want a wine with lots of flavour.


I think one of the great benefits of Chenin Blanc is that it's actually pretty hard to find a bad one. It's a grape very well matched to South Africa, and if you are at a restaurant with a list that has lots of unfamiliar names on it (some restaurant lists have wines labelled with made-up names – also known as soft brands – so that you can't price compare), then a South African Chenin is often the safest bet. And you might run into something very smart indeed.

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From Jamie Goode

Jamie Goode

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