By Tom Prior


'Drink Chenin' day typically in June, is a great time to raise a bottle to our producing peers over in France, namely the Loire. 


Chenin in the Loire is still somewhat overlooked. Over the decades, it seems to have shied away from the limelight. It has witnessed the rise and fall of showy, buttery Chardonnays, and the global sensation of heady New Zealand Sauv Blanc. All the while Loire Chenin continues unabated to produce lean and minerally white wines, that gradually unfurl with time into honeyed and textured wines of real class. Perhaps Chenin’s relative anonymity has also been its’ advantage. Loire Chenin has stayed the course, eschewing fashion.

Here in South Africa it is hard to think of a time when Chenin was not the wunderkind of the Cape, but a serious approach to this workhorse grape only kicked off in this millennia.

Whilst SA producers soldier on in promoting the merits of Cape Chenin to the markets overseas, here we’re all clued up on the versatility and quality this varietal can produce.

So why should you seek out expressions from the Loire?

Well, the diversity of Chenin Blanc is perhaps no greater than in the Loire. It’s responsible for still white wines, sparkling wines and – a result of noble rot – can produce incredibly long lived sweet or semi sweet wines. 

Here are a few recommendations from Radford Dale Imports:

Catherine & Pierre Breton Vouvray ‘La Dilletante’ Brut NV

Where better to kick off, that with a Chenin sparkling wine. Made in the traditional Champagne method (secondary ferment, bottle maturation and disgorge) this Vouvray “La DIlettante” sees the Breton family ‘dabbling’ in Chenin Blanc. This is from a 40-year-old vineyard planted on chalk and limestone soils.

It shows steely orchard fruit, quince, lemon and just a little yeasty character. The palate is bone dry, chalky and with a refreshing acidity. It’s a bubbly with real personality.

The Breton family by all accounts are famed for their generosity and graft. They have been organically certified since 1991, in a region where weather patterns demand attentive work in the vineyard. Stalwarts of sustainable farming then and well supported among the low intervention bar, bistro and restaurant scene around the globe. Seek out their pure, racy Cabernet Franc expressions also. Label artwork is by renown French wine artist, Michel Tolmer.

Domaine des Roches Neuves (Thierry Germain) ‘L’Insolite’ Saumur 2017

Next up is ‘L’Insolite’ from Domaine des Roches Neuves & Thierry Germain, another employing the art of Michel Tolmer. Translating to ‘the unusual’, this Chenin Blanc comes in from a 90-year-old block on clay, limestone and silex (flint). This low yielding site sees several pickings, across ripeness, with a small component last in and exhibiting noble rot (botrytis). 

A terrific example of the longevity of Loire Chenin Blanc, the 2017 is starting to come into its own. Layers of apricot, a light orange pith, herbs and a slight honeyed character courtesy of the botrytis component. All keep in check with concentrated tannin and classic Chenin acidity. 

Thierry Germain comes from a long line of Bordeaux vigneron, but in pursuing pure varietal expressions of Cabernet Franc, he would ultimately leave Bordeaux and settle in Saumur Champigny. Taking a cue from Burgundy, he set about bottling individual vineyard parcels of Cabernet Franc, each with unique character traits. He is a leading exponent of biodynamic farming, often employing the use of his trusty steed. Both the wines and Thierry’s manner show real intellect and thought to legacy. Quite simply, he makes some of the most coveted wines of all the Loire.

Nicolas Reau ‘ATTENTION’ Chenin Mechant 2017

A Chenin Blanc to make you sit up. Unusual (in France) and tellingly perhaps, the varietal takes centre stage on the label. Nicolas buys this fruit in from a former intern, practicing biodynamics but not seeking certification. The vineyard was planted in 2003 on silty clay and limestone.

It’s a nervy expression of Chenin Blanc, restrained in alcohol and seeing minimal intervention in the cellar (eschewing additions). Maturation takes place in older barriques for 6 months on the lees. 

A little flinty reduction, unfurling to cut granny smith apple, white peach and white blossom. Clean and mineral, it has a weightless complexity on the palate, a little saltiness and a mouth-watering acidity.

Agnes and Rene Mosse Vin de France Chenin Blanc 2018

Based in Saint Lambert du Lattay, this 2018 Chenin Blanc comes in from Agnes and Rene Mosse, another big name in natural wine. The vineyards are nestled within the Layon valley, a small tributary of the Loire. Soils are a mix of gravel, clay and shale. 

It’s expressive and intense, showing Chenin derived appley fruit and herbs. On the palate, it’s fleshier than the Nicolas Reau, deeper in colour and with a honied feel to the fruit but freshness as a counterpoint. Loads of complexity here. 


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