Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


A column for the under dog

Numbers aren’t everything but when it comes to commercial enterprises, they’re usually the most accurate measure of success, which brings me to a trio of bottles that I’ve been eyeing up on my tasting shelves all year. The trio in question is Chenin Blanc, one of the least successful grape varieties in New Zealand today, occupying about 20 hectares of the country’s grand total of 39,935 hectares of grapes growing nationwide.  There’s more than a hint of irony in that because Chenin Blanc was once one of the key workhorse grapes in the country, mostly used to blend in with other high cropping grapes (cue Muller-Thurgau) to make high volumes bag-in-box wines. Another irony is that Chenin was used in such a non descript way because it is one of the great classic grapes of the world, first written about in 1496 by Thomas Bohier in the Loire Valley, France.

Chenin enjoys growing in cool climates, such as parts of the Loire, as well as here in New Zealand, where one of its biggest proponents is Ian Quinn, grape grower from Hawke’s Bay. He sent me down three interesting wines all made from Chenin Blanc grapes grown on his Hawke’s Bay vineyard, each one a different take on the Chenin theme thanks to being made by three different winemakers.

They may be under dogs but they represent great potential for a largely forgotten great white grape in New Zealand.

2019 Easthope Chenin Blanc
Crisp, dry, medium bodied, youthful and tight. This is a style that highlights the fresh acidity of Chenin Blanc and has some great texture, thanks to winemakers Rod and Emma Easthope fermenting a portion of the grapes in one of their stone eggs, with the balance in barrel, all with wild yeast.

2019 Esk Valley Winemaker’s Reserve Chenin Blanc
Gordon Russell of Esk Valley worked with several different ferments of Chenin to balance fruity appeal with freshness and weight in a dry wine that drinks well now and will age superbly for those with willpower.

2019 Decibel Giunta Chenin Blanc
A portion of this wine was fermented with native yeasts with ferments in older neutral oak barrels and 500 litre puncheons. It’s highly fruity in flavour with lively acidity adding fresh texture mid palate. Drinks well now and can definitely age for nine to 10 years, potentially further.