This is a story of four winemakers and their beautiful chenin blancs, each made in a different way and expressing some of its many personalities. The wines I have chosen to focus on this week hail from Chenin’s spiritual home in WA, the Swan Valley. For now, in these times of strife, focusing on the best of what’s around us: in Western Australia, and in Australia, is crucial for the survival of us all.
(A short aside before I dive in: there has been a distinct upsurge in the popularity of chenin blanc in Australia over the past five or so years. Possibly more. Chenin blanc has found a number of very comfortable growing niches in Western Australia, Swan Valley being one, Margaret River being another. This is a truly wonderful thing for lovers of acid, texture and every iteration of wax you can name – paraffin, Geraldton, bees… a classic character of chenin no matter where it comes from. I have story about Margaret River chenin underway, so will save the gems there for another time.)
Chenin is a long ageing grape. It’ll go the distance, that much is for certain. What we have here, are different expressions of Chenin in the hands of these four makers:
Arch Kosovich makes a classic, pure version that has texture and acidity and purity, and as evidenced by the bottles I looked at down in his cellars that afternoon in January – ages like the clappers.
Garth and Kristen push chenin in three different directions: (1) ‘simple’, pure and classically built, (2) rich, full, texturally fascinating, exciting, layered and nuanced, (3) a flor style – salty, pithy, full bodied and savoury as hell.
Paul Hoffman at Swan Valley Wines has made a chenin that I can’t stop thinking about since I tried it… all the excitement and spice of a well put together chardonnay, with all the acid, flavour and texture hallmarks of chenin blanc.
Rob and Gen Mann of Corymbia make an energising and pure chenin, from a vineyard planted by Rob and his dad 30+ years ago. Interestingly, the fruit for one of Garth and Kristen’s wines comes off this vineyard too.
Approached liked riesling in terms of production. Purity finesse and balance. Hand-picked, bunch sorted, lightly pressed off skins as soon as possible, cold settled, cool ferment. Left on very fine yeast lees. Bottled in October of the same year. It’s always been a tight wine, green apple, white pepper, nashi pear, honeysuckle, green apricot, Geraldton wax flower. The palate is generous and viscose – there’s a slipperiness to it that I love. Spice. White spice, waxy, fine… and an intriguing dry finish. I love this. Yes. 96+/100.
Opened for context only. Honeysuckle, brine, green apple, incredible intensity on the palate and the length is prodigious. Balanced, spicy, harmonious. Stone fruit. ‘18 + 19 are the best years we’ve ever had.’ Arch Kosovich, ‘A small picking window – it’s like riesling – wait for the perfect time and then get it off. It’s all in by 10am.’
‘2006 was really really cool in the Swan. Really good here.’ Glints of green and gold in the glass, crushed cashew fresh and pure, balanced. ‘That’s where a lot of my energy goes: into getting that balance right’. The 2006 is fresh and bright with brilliant structure. Hard to imagine that it is 14 years old. There’s a Norfolk pine needle character woven through the fabric of the finish. 96/100..
Bright, fresh, saline, lemon flesh, blossom, there’s a creaminess there, it’s slightly waxy already, and just yes, really. The palate is as the nose has promised, fine and texturally interesting, while the fruit flavours carry with authority over the palate and through into the finish. The creaminess that was alluded to on the nose, is expressed with so much pleasure on the palate, it is the character that bolsters the bright fruit, and ties together the fine tannins and spice. The acidity is refreshing. As this is a classically styled chenin (picked, pressed, fermented, stainless steel, bottled), all the characters present are present in the grape, a pure expression of Swan District Chenin. Summer pear and nashi. Rossi. 94/100
Much more artefact on the nose here – we’re talking cheese rind, salted preserved lemon, saltbush, bay leaf, ginger, white peach, red apple skin. More. The palate is thrilling. Whole bunch pressed, high solids, natural ferment in old barriques – all of the effects that these techniques have had on the wine are present and accounted for, and it is very good indeed. Ground Macadamia, not sure if ‘present’, or screaming to be paired with… both? The acidity is scintillating, the perfect foil to the textural and succulent fruit. 96/100
Nowhere near a fino, but a salty and oxidised style with the primary fruit still intact. Fascinating. There’s a cheese character in the mid palate which morphs and fades over the course of the tasting, and really good length of flavour. Bottled with no sulphur. I am very keen to look at this over the week and see how it develops. There is a bright fresh saline green apple vibe, it has evolved and ‘riched’ out on the back palate, and picked up crushed nuts and spice along the way. 18 months under the flor. The 2019 will have spent 24 months under the flor. 94/100
‘[This bottle is] the last of our chenin’ – Paul Hoffman. Barrel ferment, whole bunch pressed, dry grown bush vines which didn’t start out as bush vines… they were trellised when they were planted in the 40’s (making the vines 80 yrs old), but over time the trellis posts have broken down to nothing, leaving the vines to grow as bush vines, trained low for maximum water efficiency. The nose has salted citrus, curry leaf. “The soils here are some of the oldest on Earth – 2 billion years. They come off the [Darling] scarp and are a combination of colluvial and alluvial.” – Paul Hoffman. The palate here has generosity and breadth, yellow plum, vibrant acidity. The vines that produce the fruit for this wine are planted in front of Paul’s home in the valley. The view is pretty dramatic: at one glance I can take in the old bush vine chenin vineyard (impressive in itself). As my eye wanders over the tips of the vines and out into the distance, the vista is framed by the Darling Scarp. The overriding impression is one of history, heat and sunshine. It’s a bloody hot day. If I stop to think about it, it’s humbling standing amongst vines more than twice my age. The seasons, storms, dawns and dusks they’ve experienced… 95/100
Fermented in immersion bent barriques – Burgundy shape barrels. There’s energy and life here – a very different expression of chenin through the lens of the 2018 vintage, than the 2017 wine. There’s a coriander leaf, juniper character. I like it. A lot. The acid on the midpalate swooshes in. 94/100
100% Chenin blanc
Handpicked over three days, whole bunch pressed prior to natural ferment. A portion was matured in seasoned French oak barriques for 7 months prior to blending and bottling. Geraldton wax florals, cheesecloth, white spice. The palate is textural and chewy – there’s a fingerprint putty fineness about the texture that I love. Pure. Energising. But there is structure there too. Saline. Vibrant expressive style. 95/100
I’ve looked at this twice…
Having been to the vineyard and stood beneath the towering Corymbia tree, it’s difficult to seperate the experience on that hot, 37C summer’s morning, with the wine in the glass in front of me, now. At once vibrant, aromatic (redolent with lime blossom, Geraldton wax flower, green apple, white pepper and an abundance of ripe summertime pears) and textural, this is a super exciting new-world Chenin… and bring that right on. Hand picked, whole bunch, a portion saw French oak (older). This is salty, layered, pristine and bright. So saying, there’s no way any of it is going to be put away into the back of the wine fridge – but I dare say if it was, it would last an age. 95/100