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The most underrated white wine

Alok Chandra | March 31, 2006

If there was any wine grape capable of fulfilling my 20-year-old vision of 'a decent wine at a decent price' (let's say Rs 150 per bottle), it would be Chenin Blanc (pronounced Shay-naN BlaN) -- the most underrated white wine grape in the world. 

From its origins in the Loire (pronounced Lwahr) Valley in north-west France, the Chenin Blanc grape has been planted in every winemaking country worth naming, and is arguably the most versatile of all wine grape varieties. 

A well-made Chenin Blanc can vary from crisp and dry to long-lived nectar-like dessert wines (and everything in between), and even makes a decent sparkling wine.

When Sula first launched its wines way back in 2000-end, it started with a Chenin Blanc, and for good reason: the grape is the most widely planted varietal in India, and the most successful, as it is eminently suited to our warmer climates and varying soil types.

Unfortunately, both in South Africa (where it is the third-most-planted grape, but was called steen; the fact that that was really Chenin Blanc was realised only in 1965). In California, Chenin has come to be associated with cheap wines that are used to add bulk or acidity to better-regarded varietals. 

Perhaps, because of its characteristic floral aromas and honeyed flavours, people also tend to categorise Chenin as 'a wine for beginners' -- certainly, the wine is easy to drink, and much easier to approach than a classic dry white (which, if not well-made or well-chilled, will come across as sour).

In India, Sula's Chenin Blanc (Rs 407 in Bangalore, Rs 430 in Delhi and Mumbai) is probably the largest-selling white wine. A Chenin is also bottled both by Sankalp Wines (Vinsura Chenin Blanc -- Rs 370-400) and Flamingo Wines (Flamingo Chenin Blanc -- Rs 380), both new wineries located in the Vinchur Wine Park outside Nashik. 

Doubtless most of the new wineries in Maharashtra (there were some 35 at last count) also try to flog their Chenins (priced @ Rs 150 onwards), but considering that the classic tasting note of poorly-made Chenins is 'wet wool', wine aficionados are advised to approach most of the latter wines with caution!

And that's it! I don't think there's a single imported Chenin Blanc available here -- there are whole flights of Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs by the container-load, but alas! No Chenins.

Perhaps it's a case of 'varietal profiling' by the critics, or it's just that most wine connoisseurs tend to prefer dry wines. Now, I like a fragrant dry white as much as the next oenophile (a wine connoisseur), but hold no brief for snobs who sniff at a wine merely because some critic said that it's 'not done' to like wines that are not bone-dry (unless they are hideously expensive). 

I think that there's merit in any wine which I can drink (and afford to drink) every day, and thoroughly enjoy the few Chenins currently available here.

So here's to the Chenin Blanc -- may its tribe increase. Savour yours with pleasure, every day.

Bottoms up!

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Number of User Comments: 1




Sub: Chenin Blanc

very informative artyicle. is there any red wine that can be recmmneded as the chenin Blanc of reds? something esy on the pocket and yet ...


Posted by Sandeep Chowdhary




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