Wine Education – the diversity of Chenin Blanc

If you look carefully at a bunch of Chenin Blanc around harvest time you’ll notice that the grapes are not uniform in colour. Chenin is a magical grape that doesn’t ripen in a homogenous way so gives different stages of ripeness on each single bunch.

That makes life complicated you might say. Ah yes, but think of the possibilities when it comes to winemaking. Fresher greener berries may be used to make a lean, crisp dry still or sparkling wine, riper berries that are more golden to make an off-dry wine, rich purple sweet berries to make a luscious sweet wine and berries affected by botrytis to make a rich and decadent dessert style wine.

All those different styles of wine using just one single grape variety, Chenin Blanc.

Growers may pick all or part of the bunch, passing through the vineyard a number of times depending upon the intended wine style. Surprisingly sometimes grapes destined for sweet wine will be picked before those for a dry wine.

How can you make good dry and sweet wines using the same grape? Well, the key is acidity. Acidity keeps a young dry wine fresh and crisp and gives it the chance to age (acidity drops over time) but also provides a refreshing backbone to sweet wines. The sugar acid balance is the key when making sweet wines that remain fresh and not cloying.

Noble rot (botrytis) is what growers are hoping for at the end of the season if the weather prevails and conditions are conducive. This fungus enters healthy grapes and feeds off the nutrients within them giving the resulting wines another dimension completely.

So many wine styles from one single grape variety, the glorious Chenin Blanc.