A chenin blanc vertical

The TW vineyard from which Matawhero source some of their best grapes. (Photo: Bob Campbell MW)

Chenin Blanc is an often-overlooked gem of a grape variety in this country. It’s been around a long time but has never had the credit it deserves, largely because the variety was massively over-cropped and produced thin, insipid wines. It’s a high acid grape, suitable for warm climates, but can produce excessively acidic wines in cooler sites.

Cooks Wines (an innovative winery that sank without a trace a couple of decades ago) tried to popularise chenin blanc with advertisements that proclaimed it was “the next step after Müller Thurgau” but their message was largely ignored by the wine buying public.

A handful of stalwarts continue to grow chenin blanc, including Matawhero who make their impressive Church House Chenin Blanc from a new, low-cropping clone. I visited the winery recently and tasted all four vintages from 2013.

The 2013 Matawhero Church House Chenin Blanc was from the warmest of the four vintages. Made in an off/dry style with 9 g/l residual sugar the wine is ripe, weighty and quite mellow with reasonably soft acidity. Still looking very fresh and with plenty of potential.

2014 Matawhero Church House Chenin Blanc showed the influence of a slightly cooler vintage with fresh and tangy acidity adding brightness and energy. A more classic chenin blanc style, this was my favourite. Also 9g/l residual sugar.

The 2015 Matawhero Church House Chenin Blanc had a similar flavour profile to the 2014 Chenin, with a touch more sweetness (13 g/l residual sugar) to perfectly balance higher acidity. It’s a classy wine with a lingering finish and silken texture.

2016 Matawhero Church House Chenin Blanc is lighter in body and drier with just 6 g/l residual sugar. I liked the texture in this wine, which was slightly less syrupy than the sweeter examples. However, the lower sweetness did expose a little tannic grip on the finish.

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