From the tasting team

Erin Larkin: the wonder of chenin blanc

By Erin Larkin

26 Jan, 2021

Erin Larkin spotlights the rising quality of chenin blanc and a swag of excellent wines out of WA.

Unlike riesling (which we all hope and pray will actually have its day), chenin blanc is rising from the ashes and making a comeback in a serious way. What it is coming back from is another story entirely, but suffice to say, this malleable and distinctive variety is favoured for its adaptiveness and proclivity towards food matching, and sought after by winemakers for its chameleon-like ability to be made in a wide variety of styles – from sweet to sparkling, dry, oaked, unoaked and more. And for us, the drinkers? We like it because it has an unmistakable waxy, lanolin-y texture, a fine grip that provides real interest, and, above all, is delicious.

The grape’s spiritual home is Vouvray in France, and more recently, Stellenbosch in South Africa. South Africa has overtaken France to become the largest producer of chenin blanc globally and is responsible for so many great examples that it’s impossible to list them all. While Vouvray and Stellenbosch remain key players in the game of high-class chenin blanc, they have a new competitor on the pitch: Western Australia. The first chenin vines were reportedly brought to the Swan Valley in 1829. Since then, various styles have proliferated across the state. Unbound by appellation laws or tradition, Western Australia is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to chenin blanc. There is a raft of passionate producers who treat the grape with curiosity and reverence and are making wines that, frankly, give the international styles a run for their money.

Swan Valley and the Chenin Challenge

Among the greatest chenin blancs in Australia is the John Kosovich Bottle Aged Reserve Chenin, released as a six-year-old wine. It shows the depth and breadth of complexity the grape can achieve. The wines are an expansive kaleidoscope of flavour and texture, and while the 2015 is the current release, the upcoming releases prove this wine can assert dominance over the chenin scene in Australia for years to come. The Kosovich cellar door in the Swan Valley is an unassuming place (complete with some of the biggest grapevines in the country, standing up to a metre above head height and with trunks as thick as lamp posts), but that’s fitting for the Swan Valley – it doesn’t lend itself to grandness or flash. The region’s rusticity and accessible history is its strength, and it demands a visit (it’s also only around 30 minutes’ drive from Perth).

2020 also saw the inaugural Chenin Blanc Challenge in the Swan Valley – a wine show dedicated solely to chenin blanc from around the country. Driven by two Swan Valley winemakers, the show’s aim is to spark discussion of the variety and inspire improvements in the process. It saw chenin submitted from the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Margaret River and the Swan Valley and bridged a broad church of styles. It was an invaluable deep dive into the flexibility of the grape and future shows will provide more of the same insights.

Don’t miss these wines and producers from the Swan Valley.

Sign up to view these tasting notes and ratings

By becoming a member of Wine Companion, you'll have access to the largest database of wines in Australia.

Margaret River and the Chenin Symposium

The chenins from Margaret River are hot on the heels of Swan Valley. Nic Peterkin of L.A.S. Vino hosted Australia’s first Chenin Blanc Symposium in December 2019. The annual event is aimed at showcasing the diversity of the variety with examples from all over the planet. While it is largely populated by winemakers, sommeliers, writers and retailers, there is a strong contingent of drinkers who gravitate towards it, so keep an eye out for tickets.

Below are some standout Margaret River chenins to try.

Sign up to view these tasting notes and ratings

By becoming a member of Wine Companion, you'll have access to the largest database of wines in Australia.

Where to from here?

Chenin has come a long way and judging by its steep ascendancy in the past three years or so, has a way to go yet. However, what has undoubtedly emerged is the comfortability of the grape in WA, the willingness of producers to push it in a vast array of directions, and the thirst of us, the drinkers, for more. So watch this space, for it is certain we have more beauty to witness yet. Bring it on.