Deep Dive:
Australia’s Best Chenin Blanc

Wines Of Now
1 March 2024. Words by YGOW.

Three years after our inaugural Deep Dive into chenin blanc, it’s an apt time to again cast our eyes across the Australian chenin blanc landscape.

Chenin blanc is the heroic white variety of France’s Loire Valley, making wines up and down the scale, from vibrant and carefree sparklings to lusciously sweet whites that are some of the world’s most long-lived wines. But the grape also excels out of the cool of the Loire, being South Africa’s most important white variety, while also thriving in the heat of Western Australia’s Swan Valley where a renaissance is in full swing. And it’s not just in the West, either, with makers from South Australia also putting their hands up. With ample producers dedicated to elevating the grape, a Deep Dive was called for, so we gathered as many bottlings as we could find and enlisted the help of eight of this country’s finest palates to check in to see just where Australian chenin blanc is at.

Our panel: Chris Ryan, Senior Wine Buyer, Trader House Group; Isabelle Szyman, Rathdowne Cellars Wine Buyer; Sophie Carbonneau, National Sales Manager Bibendum Wine Co.; Abby Moret, owner Atlas Vinifera; Jeremy Prideaux, Principal Wine; Xavier Vigier DipWSET, Wine Buyer/Advisor/Head Sommelier Mr Claremont Wines; Coralie Gelot, Beverage Manager, The Windsor Hotel Group. All wines were tasted blind.

We set our expert panel the tasks of finding the wines that compelled the most. All wines were tasted blind, and each panellist named their top six wines. Below are the top wines from the tasting.

The Top Chenin Blanc in Australia

2022 L.A.S Vino CBDB ‘Chenin Blanc Dynamic Blend’ Margaret River, RRP $65

Both Snook and Gelot had this in their top spot, Carbonneau had it in her top two, and Moret and Ryan also had it in their top six selections. “Fuller body, richer and more textural. Great concentration without loosing that classic chenin freshness that we all love,” wrote Gelot. “It has a fruity and generous core but it tastes serious and very gastronomic. It displays an array of Pome fruits, juicy and ripe summer pears, soft spices and a mineral almost salty finish that refreshes the palate and makes you want to go back.” “A beautiful symphony of oak, ripe fruit and acid. This wine ticks off all the pleasure zones,” said Snook. “An aroma of dried camomile, cardamom, saffron and nutmeg followed by the sweet ripeness of yellow orchard apples and nectarine skins. Ripe fruit generosity on the palate, with tart white nectarine, baked apple honeycomb, and the delightful ultra-fine grip of tannin from the oak use which leaves a soft but lingering kiss of vanilla, and nutmeg spice.” “It’s long, concentrated and complex. Excellent,” declared Carbonneau. “Would be great served in big wine glasses and any sort of roasted fish in butter sauce,” suggested Ryan.


2023 Voyager Estate Chenin Blanc, RRP $28

Ryan, Szyman and Prideax all had this as their top wine of the day, with Vigier also including it in his top six selections. “Pretty white flowers, some riper yellow stonefruit, peach skin, acacia. There’s detail in the wine,” said Ryan. “It does a good job of balancing some riper fruits, pretty florals and acidity. Quite understated in a way – not as showy as others in the tasting, but there’s detail if you go looking. Easy to like. A wine to drink outside.” Prideax effused: “Candied pink grapefruit, dried sage, honeysuckle. Good balance. Nice line throughout with subtle depth of fruit. Bring me some Salt n Pepper Squid!” Szyman said, “People often describe lanolin as a scent in chenin. In this wine it’s more like the smell that lingers after it rains. The palate is generous without being heavy or rich. Juicy pineapple floods the palate, with a finish that gives and gives.” “I love the star anise, licorice, and coriander seeds. The wine seems to have lots of complexity in the non-fruit notes, however, distinctively discreet. I love the aromatics,” noted Vigier. “The hallmark of great Chenin is the purity of fruits on the first nose. The palate is delicious: lots of fruits I didn’t see on the nose, more towards the stone fruits characters like yellow peaches, nectarines, and grapefruits. There is an extra layer of herbal elements in the wine, including licorice, five spices, and star anise. The textures are delicious: the little residual sugar really brings dimension to the wine. The acidities are driving the wine on the finish. I love it to bits.”


2022 Marri Wood Park Chenin Blanc, Margaret River RRP $40

This was Carbonneau and Vigier’s top wine of the day, with Szyman and Gelot also including in their top three selections. “Nose is elegant and compelling with lovely florals and white pear,” bragn Carbonneau. “Palate is excellent, with good flavour, intensity and concentration. Great balance and length. A fine wine.” “The complexity in the fruit profile is extraordinary, showing maturity in winemaking, excellence in viticulture,” declared Vigier. “The winemaker captured that green olive, briny, goats cheese lactic aromatic on the nose, which is really reminiscent of the great whites of the Loire. The complexities also come from the judicious use of secondary winemaking techniques, such as lees contact, revealing layers of sour cream bitterness. The oak is well-integrated into the wine, bringing these extra layers of spices. As the wine warms up, it shows bigger shoulders and more opulence. The finish is savoury and fruity at once – perhaps the beauty of the Australian terroir. Definitely a wine to look for in the market as it certainly sets the benchmark, in my view.” “Lots of fleshy summer orchard fruits that mingle with some savoury cheesy character cut by saline mineral and bright acidity,” concurred Gelot. “There’s a little spice there too showcasing some clever winemaking techniques and makes the wine taste expensive. Everything comes together naturally and in balanced. Round and textural, chalky and mineral too. A chenin for chardonnay lovers.” “The lingering flavour reminds me of pineapple lumps – my favourite Kiwi treat: chewy pineapple centre with a thin coating of milk chocolate,” concluded Szyman.


2022 South by South West Margaret River Chenin Blanc, RRP $40

This was Snook’s second top wine of the tasting, with Carbonneau including it in her top three, and Gelot also had it among her top-six wines: “Playing the hand of the winemaker, you can straight away tell this is a well-made wine,” said Snook. “There has been some sexy French oak thrown at this but it’s very well integrated with the delicate fruit and floral profiles still shining as the leading role. On the nose, you are met with ripe yellow pear, candied apples, white florals, and a sweet hint of bronze fennel fronds. On the pallet this is classically chenin. Pear, apples, lemon, lemon curd and a nice rich mouthful of vanilla custard, a touch of sweet aniseed/clove spice from the oak and sake-like salinity. It’s refreshing and yet rich. Very morish. Yum!” “The nose is rich and layered with ripe fruit, fresh honey and honeycomb,” wrote Carbonneau. “Palate is opened and textured. Pear and flowers. A gastronomic wine for sure.” “On the palate, the attack is lively but then the wine mellows in the mid palate,” noted Gelot. “Textural yet showing great minerality at the end. Great concentration too. Pear and quince, as well as lemon curd. The fruit is vibrant and generous. After some time the wine started showing some secondary characters, soft baking spice, toasted bread. A wine that shows some clever winemaking techniques.”


2023 Sherrah Chenin Blanc, McLaren Vale RRP $28

Moret and Szyman both had this in their top two wines of the day, with Moret noting, “A sherbety nose that shows off dessert like characters of caramel, honey, lemon sorbet, and crystallised fruits. Fresh and pretty on the palate, with a core of golden pears and concentrated peaches, finishing with a honeyed length reminiscent of sweet pastries. While it is a rich style, the wine retains a freshness and pizzazz that lets it stand alone, or paired with food.” Szyman said, “This wine feels like a very classic Loire Chenin styled wine. Meyer lemon juice, fresh spring water minerality and a whisper of sweetness like a perfectly ripe golden apple. People often panic when you say a wine has a little sweetness, but it’s all about balance, which this wine has in spades!”


2020 Coriole ‘The Optimist’ Chenin Blanc, McLaren Vale RRP $34

This was in Prideaux’s top two wines, while Ryan also had it in his top six selections. “Well balanced chenin in my mind. Pithy ripe grapefruit at front, perfect balance between acid and fruit weight, finishes long and crisp. Ideal Summer afternoon quencher,” said Prideax. “Touch of honeysuckle, citrus blossom, great contrast of ripe stone fruits, nashi pear and quite tense acidity,” noted Ryan. “A pleasing, almost vegetal, funk, but it captures the spirit of Chenin blanc with that interest on the palate and cleansing acidity.”


2022 Dune ‘Athabasca’ McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc, $28 RRP

This was in both Moret’s and Prideax’s top three wines. “Rockmelon and just ripe pineapple and white spices, perfectly balanced on palate, with generous tropical fruits,” wrote Prideax. “Finely structured with moreish acidity to finish. A plate of grilled sardines with fresh summer herbs and lemon zest would be an ideal match!” While More’s tasting note went, “Lemon meringue, quince, snow pea and peach crumble fragrances. There’s also a freshness to the nose that reminds me of alpine river water – crystal clear. A lovely silken palate highlights a lesser oaked, more elegant style of chenin blanc. Touches of freshly cut grass, green and golden apples and some pineapple adorn the palate. This will age like a beast and pair with a myriad of dishes – I’m thinking everything from roasted meats, to fish and chips by the beach.”


2023 Corymbia Rocket’s Vineyard Chenin Blanc, RRP $32

This was in Vigier’s top two wines of the day, with Szyman and Prideau also including it amongst their top-six. “The nose is complex. I love the white flowers and spices mingling. The palate is exotic, textural, and complex,” noted Vigier. “There is a ripeness of fruits, which balances the greener side of the wine. I love the complexity of the acidities, the oak components popping up on the side, and the lingering pithy, dry extract, phenolic DNA of the wine on the mid-palate. The finish feels fresh, juicy, and clean. Tidy. This is a well-made example of Chenin Blanc from great fruits. Perfectly ripe and fresh.” “This wine is a great chenin to break the mould with if you’ve been stuck drinking the same old crisp dry whites and want to shake things up,” said Szyman. “Zesty and fresh, the nose is bright and the palate offers fresh and fragrant flavours of honeydew melon, lemon verbena, fennel fronds and lime zest.” “Green pear and red apple. Beautifully composed on the palate, with generous fruits, hints of white spice and lingering finish. I’m taken by this expressive style, a ripe piece of Tomme chèvre would round it out nicely,” suggested Prideaux.


2019 Streicker Ironstone Block Chenin Blanc RRP $35

This was in Ryan’s top-three, while it also featured in Carbonneau’s top-six selections. “Nose reminiscent of elegant chardonnay. Good balance of stone fruit, yellow nectarine, with some textural interest and tastes of hazelnut and grapefruit pith,” wrote Ryan. “Quite detailed with great textural interest and cleansing acidity, driving the finish. Engaging in a fresher style. Stylish without being overworked – versatile with food.” “Complex nose with hay, dry herbs and dried flowers. Compelling,” noted Carbonneau. “Excellent body and texture. This is what you hope for from chenin. Yes! Touch of honeycomb on finish. One of the most complex and long wines in the tasting.”


2022 Sigurd Chenin Blanc, Clare Valley $40

This came second for Ryan, with Moret also giving it a top-six finish. “I like that this wine pushes the ripeness a little, it’s quite rich and powerful, there’s a touch of funk, almost bruised apple fruit. Golden hue, almost unctuous there’s grip,” said Ryan. “Not necessarily a wine of refreshment but certainly a wine of interest.” “Beeswax and honeycomb feature prominently on the nose, with an orchard grove of fruit to back it up,” noted Moret. “Toffee apples, caramel fudge, fig and green apples give complexity to the ripe stone fruits in this opulent weighty wine, which could probably lure a sweet wine drinker into the world of dry wines. It has a buttery and pillowy mouthfeel which is extremely appealing. The wine also has some phenolic structure to keep its decadence in check. Warm and beautiful.”


2022 Howard Park Arbor Novae Chenin Blanc, Margaret River $35 RRP

This was Moret’s number one wine. “Highly fragrant wine with notes of wattle, lemon juice, vanilla and yellow jasmine. The floral notes really sing. Really well balanced with a lovely weight to it, without being overblown. Flavours are tropical leaning, with pineapple and nectarine playing on the palate, with touches of almonds providing a savoury aspect. Reminds me of really good South African examples. This would appeal to both sauvignon blanc and chardonnay drinkers: the fruit reminiscent of good sauvignon blanc and the weight to chardonnay. Despite the weight of the wine, there’s a lot of elegance here, thanks to the fresh acidity.”


2023 Blood Moon ‘Sang de Soleil’ Sunbury Chenin Blanc, RRP $30

This was Gelot’s second top wine of the tasting. “Sometimes wine just takes you back or reminds you of something comforting. Getting to the end of the tasting with a palate getting tired this wine jumped out for me. This wine took me to the ‘Madeleine de Proust Patisserie’. The nose reminded me of the classic ‘Miel de Provence’, an all flowers honey from the south of France. The nose was so perfumed: floral and fruity, with a touch of savoury and earthy touch that honey can display sometimes. So inviting, it made me want to go back and smell it again and again. Creamed honey spread on lightly toasted fresh bread with a thin layer of butter. Beeswax, wild white flowers, chamomile and yellow orchard fruits. That honey is also there on the palate, without being overwhelming – gentle toasty almost biscuity feel. There’s maybe a little touch of botrytis and/or a little residual sugar in there, but there’s still plenty of freshness. Would not pick it as a classic chenin but it took me back to some lovely memories and that was great.”


2019 Torrent Wines ‘La Famiglia’ Chenin Blanc, RRP $25

Carbonneau, Snook and Vigier all had this wine in their top-sex selections. “Enticing youthfulness on nose. White flowers, minerals, restraint and elegant. Fresh rose and white spices,” wrote Carbonneau. “Elegant on palate too. Highly drinkable.” “Showing signs of some development here, this wine might have some age to it,” said Snook. “Overripe apple, quince and honeycomb with a hint of ginger, lemongrass and honey. There is a real intensity to this wine. Cooked nectarine, honeycomb, apple, salted yellow plum. The acid though is still racy and alive keeping the richness in tune. This is a pure example of the versatility of this grape variety.” “I love the first nose of this wine,” declared Vigier. “Extremely delicate, detailed, and fine. The primary fruits are superb, reminiscent of green apples and nashi pears. I can clearly smell lots of white flowers and spices coming through, with a touch of lees as well as sour cream and yogurt. There is a plethora of light aromatics. The palate is textural, with a lovely beeswax and wet wool feeling in the mid-palate. There is also a bit of phenolic texture coming through, which adds to the drive, as well as the acidity, which feels nice and ripe. Overall, the wine is extremely well-made, showing great purity of fruits and maturity in the winemaking. I can clearly see the winemaker’s love for the variety. Incredible.”


2023 Carousal Chenin Blanc, Margaret River $30 RRP

This was in Vigier’s top-three wines. “A beautiful wine here, the nose is compact, showing beautiful aromatics from both fruits and non-fruits. The fruits are fresh, vibrant, and just ripe. Looking at some green fruits, red apples, red plums. I love the zesty, citrus fruits coming along. Despite the presence of the fruits, I also notice a lot of herbal aromatics – dill in particular, essential oils – almost eucalyptus, layers of lees contact – sour cream. The fruits are becoming a little more complex with air. The palate is pitch perfect. Textural, juicy with complex fruit aromatics and vibrant acidities. The finish is long, gourmand, and fresh. The acidities are sparkling.”


2023 Swan Valley Wines ‘Warrine’ Chenin Blanc, $38 RRP

This was in Snook’s top-three for the tasting. “This wine grabs you with curiosity. It’s a party in your mouth. Honey, ginger spiced apples and white miso. On the pallet, you are met with this powerful fruit of ripe yellow pears, yellow nectarine, pineapple and orange marmalade. There is this bitter phenolic grip perhaps showing the use of some skins here. You get this rich white miso umami saltiness. On the back pallet, you see the spices coming through showing that fruit cake, clove, ginger and cinnamon. Pushing the exploration of your senses here is a great wine to play with food.”


2023 Kalleske ‘Florentine’ Chenin Blanc, Barossa Valley RRP $23.00

This featured in Szyman’s top-six list. “This wine feels like a very classic Loire Chenin styled wine,” she said. “Meyer lemon juice, fresh spring water minerality and a whisper of sweetness like a perfectly ripe golden apple. People often panic when you say a wine has a little sweetness, but it’s all about balance – which this wine has in spades!”


2023 Wines of Merritt Chenin Blanc, Margaret River $40 RRP

Gelot had this towards the middle of her top-six wines of the tasting. “Very interesting. Nice texture, saltiness and mineral. Definitely more on the lo-fi style. High acids and a little skin contact that brings a beautiful phenolic grip. Soft entry followed by a wave of super fresh acidity. Salted lemon, fennel, and just ripe nectarines. There’s a salinity, oyster shell like edge that makes me think that the wine may come from a coastal region. So drinkable and fresh. Slightly reductive upon opening, the wine shows beautiful chalky and leesy characters and texture as it opens and warms up. The soft cloudiness adds an extra layer of texture. It’s young and fresh. It kind of reminds me of the Envinate Benje Blanco. So drinkable”.


2022 Pierro Chenin ‘Nunc Tempus Est’ Margaret River, RRP $55

Prideaux gave this wine a top-six finish. “Wet wool, fresh thyme and tarragon, and granny smith apples,” he wrote in his tastimg note. “A more restrained style, with firm tension throughout the palate… Kick proceedings off with a glass of this and grilled scallops in lemon butter!”


2023 Aphelion ‘Pir’ Chenin Blanc, McLaren Vale / Adelaide Hills RRP $38

“There is something very subtly graceful about this wine. Not trying to show off but speaks real purity,” noted Snook in giving this a top-six placing. “Aromas of lemon, green tea, and honeysuckle. On the pallet green apples, nashi pear, and lemon sherbet with this slippery sake-like mouthfeel that is pure but slightly salty. Nice zippy acidity super fresh and shows off its fruit purity.”


2023 Dormilona Chenin Blanc, Margaret River $34 RRP

Both Gelot and Carbonneau gave this a top-six finish “Love the nose,” begins Gelot’s tasting note, “At first I get a lovely gentle baking spice, green cardamom, and nutmeg. There’s some savoury aspect too. Fresh dough and a little lanolin wet wool. The fruit is not jumping out at first, but you can tell there’s some yellow fruit there. Once the wine opens, it reveals more texture (maybe a bit of skin contact?), fine phenolic and great acids. With some air the fruits really starts showing: juicy and just ripe nectarines and yellow plums – the type of fruits with sweet flesh and tart skin. Very fresh and vibrant.” “Nose leans towards a natural and skinsy wine but has character: orange-rind and earthiness,” summed up Carbonneau. “Palate is fun with a kiss of sweetness, but clean. Easy-drinking and different.”


2023 Happs Margaret River Chenin Blanc, $22 RRP

Snook included this in her top-six wines of the tasting. “Nice fruit ripeness with lemon, apple, apple skin, white blossom with fennel fronds on the nose. This follows through on the pallet with lemon, lemon sorbet, apple jasmine and fennel. A kiss of residual sweetness perhaps here, balanced with the acidity keeping things in tune.”


2023 Vallee du Venom Margaret Chenin Blanc, RRP $25

Vigier included this in his top-six. “Although it’s not the style a typically go to, I am rating this wine quite high. Secondary notes on the nose of oak spices and lees contact, reminiscent of chardonnay winemaking, the fruits that follow are of great quality and complexity. I love the primary and secondary interplay, even in the fruit profile, with grilled nut aldehydes showing. The lees notes give a hint of ripe goat cheese rind on the side. As I delve into it, I am actually finding this wine to be perhaps one of the most complex, intriguing, and savory styles of chenin blanc. Hints of cheese and ripe fruits are reminiscent of the great Loire Valley producers of Saumur. The palate is also well articulated with enough richness to balance the strong acidity. The finish is savoury. Incredible.”


2023 Intrepidus Chenin Blanc Gundagai, RRP $27

“Varietal aromas of nashi pear and lanolin, beautifully poised in the mouth,” noted Prideaux when naming this in his top-six wines of the tasting. “Nice generosity of fruit with a balanced crunchy acid. Lingering finish, calling for another glass to be poured!”


2023 Cape Grace Chenin Blanc, Margaret River RRP $26

“Another chenin that is delightfully versatile, with a little of something for everyone to enjoy,” wrote Szyman, in placing this among her top-six wines. “Initially restrained, it opens in the glass to reveal white peach and pomelo fragrance, alongside a bright and brisk palate and a slightly nutty, savoury feel to the finish.”


2022 MMAD Vineyard Blewitt Springs (McLaren Vale) Chenin Blanc, RRP $49

Moret included this in her top-six wines of the day. “Boasting wattleseed, marshmallow, caramel, lemon juice and candlewax. Framed with oak but oak is not the main character. Flavours are crisp and crunchy, citrus, green apple, tangerine, mango and pastry notes. There’s an undercurrent of minerality that lends a savoury aspect to the palate, and well balanced phenolics serve as a structure for the flavour profile. A wine with great balance, made with care and purpose. Will age beautifully.”


2022 Vino Volta ‘Nothing Wrong With Old Skool’ Chenin Blanc, Swan Valley $30 RRP

“Yellow apple, nashi, touch chamomile, acacia, well balanced,” wrote Ryan in his tatsing note when including this wine in his top-six selections of the tasting. “Balances ripe fruit without over ripeness of winemaking artefact. A moreish wine to elevate the midweek!”

Chenin Blanc History

While it has established a significant second home in South Africa, chenin blanc’s spiritual heartland is in France, with a history thought to stretch back over a millennium. Although South African plantings now eclipse those of chenin’s homeland, and their best expressions are compelling, world-class wines, the wealth of top examples still emerge from the Middle Loire Valley appellations of Vouvray, Anjou, Montlouis and Savennières.

Somewhat like riesling, chenin blanc is an incredibly versatile grape, making everything from racy, dry and mineral wines to opulently sweet ones, laced with botrytis. The pinnacle sweeter wines – though they make dry ones, too – mostly come from Vouvray, Anjou and Montlouis, while Savennières is associated with dry wine, though it is typically powerful, intense and age-worthy. Chenin blanc also contributes to sparkling wine, both the broadly sourced Crémant de Loire, which can come from most areas of the Middle Loire, as well as for, though to a lesser degree, Limoux further south in the Languedoc.

Also much like riesling, the best chenin blancs can age for a considerable time, with many decades not unusual, and a century not unheard of. The longest lived are typically the sweeter wines, with the qualities of the sugar paired with characteristically electric acid preserving the wines exceptionally well.

Photos courtesy of Swan Valley Winemakers, and photographer Frances Andrijich.

Chenin makes a compelling case as one of the great grapes of the world, and therefore a compelling case for it to be planted more broadly. The truth is, though, that chenin has struggled to live up to that reputation around the world, with it more often than not being overcropped and employed as a bland, high-acid contributor to generic white wines, either solo or chaperoned in blends. This has been historically true in South Africa and California, and also to an extent in Western Australia.

In Australia

Many of the earliest vineyards planted in Australia were done so with material propagated from the fabled Busby Collection. When he landed in Australia in the 1830s, James Busby brought with him a collection of over 400 different vine cuttings gathered from his travels in France and Spain. They were planted out in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia with their genetic legacy still having a lasting imprint on vines and wine, but Western Australia has a slightly different story.

Australia’s second oldest continuously producing wine region, the Swan Valley, on Perth’s doorstep, was first planted with cuttings from South Africa, which included chenin blanc, in 1829, a few years before Busby returned to Australia from England with his haul.

Western Australian plantings with South African roots

Chenin blanc came to South Africa courtesy of the Dutch East India Company, taking up residence there in the mid-17th century. Jan van Riebeeck established the first Dutch colonial settlement, which would become Cape Town, as a waystation for the company’s ships. Along with planting other crops to restock the ships, Van Riebeeck planted grapes as a means of staving off scurvy.

One of those first grapes was chenin blanc, though inconclusive record keeping, morphing nomenclature and phylloxera make it hard to properly trace. Chenin grape was referred to as “steen” for centuries, and the name is still used today, though less commonly. It wasn’t until the 1960s that steen was formally identified as chenin blanc.

Synonyms aside, some of the first vines planted in the Swan Valley – and much of the material thereafter – are descended from those early chenin plantings, with no doubt the most adapted plants – after over 150 years in a similar climate to the Swan – selected for propagation.

Chenin’s Working-Class History

Chenin blanc became a workhorse grape for centuries in South Africa, with it often going to simple wines, and later, especially in the early 20th century, it was often distilled into brandy. The technological revolution that gripped the wine world in the latter half of the century saw the grape once again become a staple for table wine, with ultra-clean and fresh wines made with temperature-controlled ferments, cultured yeasts and a quick rest in tank before an early bottling.

Chenin blanc’s ability to produce large yields of grapes per vine with good acidity made it a fine candidate for this particular industrial revolution, if genuine wine quality was not much of a consideration. On the other side of the world, chenin was performing a similar function in California, with berries bloated by irrigation to make bountiful amounts of nondescript jug wine. And in Australia, its contribution was no more celebrated.

While the variety had little recognisable identity in Australia until the latter half of the 20th century – when simple fruit-forward expressions were varietally labelled – chenin was largely responsible for one of the country’s most famous and important wines, Jack Mann’s Houghton’s White Burgundy. It is easy to deride a wine that was sold as an economical everyday white, an opaque blend where vintage was more or less irrelevant, but it genuinely changed the face of Australian wine.

Above: Old Houghton White Burgundy bottles and labels. Opposite: 90 year old chenin blanc vine in Swan Valley, photo by Kate Johnson.

Winning the Open Class at Royal Melbourne in 1937, Mann’s take on chenin blanc began to destabilise the monopoly of fortified wines, which didn’t let go of their grip on the public imagination until a couple of decades later. That wine became one of this country’s most popular – later being blended with some semillon and sauvignon blanc, and no doubt verdelho – and it also saw to it that a decent amount of chenin blanc was planted, which is now a valuable resource for makers wanting to experiment with the grape.

The Chenin Revolution

Around the world, a kind of revolution is taking place, with the grape being planted again in large amounts in South Africa, and largely with a quality focus. The potential of those more youthful vines is also being shored up by the exemplary bottlings from old vines across a range of sites, which make it South Africa’s most prized white variety. In California, too, there is a renewed interest, if a little tentative, and in Australia, and principally the Swan Valley and Margaret River, that revolution is hard to miss.

“The climates chenin is grown in South Africa span similar extremes to those of Margaret River and the Swan Valley, more or less. It ripens well here, and on the best vineyards it retains good acidity. It works really well. It makes wines with vibrant citrus and nectarine flavours as a base, but it can go in lots of different directions, depending on when it’s picked and how it’s made.”

Nic Peterkin is the son of one of Margaret River wine’s great pioneers. Dr Mike Peterkin planted the family’s Pierro vineyard in the golden zone of Willyabrup in 1980. Each years since 2019, Peterkin has hosted an ‘International Chenin Blanc Symposium & Sausage Sizzle’, gathering around 60 attendees, “to learn about it in order for producers to make better wines and for drinkers to understand the variety in a deeper way.”

“It’s been a beautiful journey with Chenin Blanc in the past 10 years,” says Nic Peterkin. “When we started producing chenin blanc there were not many producers making it in the styles we are seeing now and Australian consumers weren’t really interested, we sold most of it to the UK where the South Africans had already established a market . Over the years through awareness, education and a group of new producers making chenin in styles that consumers enjoy we have seen an incredible transformation in the market and appetite for the wine.”

Peterkin makes wines in Margaret River under his own label, L.A.S. Vino, which he lunched in 2013. “In Margaret River, most of the chenin vines are between 20-40 years old, so they are mature enough to produce balanced fruit,” he says. “The cool ocean breezes lead to balance and acid in the fruit and an element of salinity in some of the wines that are produced. In comparison, the Swan Valley has chenin with lower natural acid, riper fruit flavours and older vines. A little more freshness from Margaret River and fullness from the Swan. Both regions make incredible chenin.”

Opposite: Nic Peterkin. Above: With his father, one of Margaret River wine’s great pioneers, Dr Mike Peterkin who planted the family’s Pierro vineyard in the golden zone of Willyabrup in 1980.

In his experiences with expressing the variety into wine, Peterkin says, “I have learnt that chenin can be diverse in style and in the vineyard is adaptive to a warmer climate. It retains natural acidity and pairs well with food. Older vines produce less but more balanced fruit and in the winery their are many ways it which it can be made.”

“There are lots of expressions around, both here and around the country,” says Vino Volta’s Garth Cliff. “It’s happening everywhere, but we’re lucky as we’ve had two very successful wines over the years – Houghton’s and Amberley – which means we have lots of mature chenin vines in lots of sites, from the Swan Valley to Margaret River.”

Cliff worked as a winemaker at Houghton for a decade before branching out on his own, making the most of what he saw as a somewhat underused resource of vines in the unglamorous Swan District. Chenin is a grape that he believes performs particularly well there, even if its home territory of the Loire Valley is markedly cooler.

Climate Control

“We’ve seen with a lot of classic varieties planted around the world, that they can do well in other climates; chardonnay and shiraz are great examples,” says Cliff. “The climates chenin is grown in South Africa span similar extremes to those of Margaret River and the Swan Valley, more or less. It ripens well here, and on the best vineyards it retains good acidity. It works really well. It makes wines with vibrant citrus and nectarine flavours as a base, but it can go in lots of different directions, depending on when it’s picked and how it’s made.”

The Swan Valley makes up about 30 per cent of the 400-odd hectares of chenin blanc plantings in the country, with – like most grapes – the Riverland, Murray Darling and Riverina accounting for over half of the vineyards, with 54 per cent, but when you add in 11 per cent from Margaret River, Western Australia stakes an irrefutable claim to being the quality heartland for the grape.

Photo courtesy of Swan Valley Winemakers, and photographer Frances Andrijich.

The other region that is typically talked about, though the volume of vines is obviously markedly lower, is McLaren Vale, with smatterings in the Barossa and examples from the Adelaide Hills also popping up more and more frequently.

“I work with varieties that have a suitability to where they’re grown, and also a versatility to how they can be made, that are receptive to different techniques and processes,” says Aphelion’s Rob Mack. “Chenin ticks those requirements off. I played around with off-dry styles, earlier and later picked wines, and even one blushed with a little grenache.”

Mack makes one wine from a vineyard in Kuitpo, in the Adelaide Hills, and one from 50-year-old vines in Blewitt Springs, which he notes is a cooler part of McLaren Vale. “Even though the Vale is much warmer than the Hills, the warmer years don’t stress the vines out, with no issue with natural acidity in the fruit,” he says, noting that while it may not tolerate extreme heat, there’s still a good deal of longevity for the variety. “The Swan Valley is a lot hotter than the Vale, and they’re making some very good styles. I think it does have a future, even as the years get hotter.”

Getting Cool

Ben Ranken, winemaker/viticulturist/owner of Wilimee in the Macedon Ranges also sees great prospects for the grape in his region, with the chilly climate more in keeping with chenin’s homeland of the Loire Valley than the path that has been hewn through South Africa first then warmer zones in Australia.

“We’re at 600 metres and cool climate,” he says. “I’m interested in it because it’s easily the most diverse grape variety that we grow: you can have dry, sweet, young, old, you can make sparkling as well – very few varieties give you that flexibility. I think it’s grown in regions in Australia that are too warm, and if we can grow it without adding acid, which we don’t for anything, then that’s got a big plus to it. And if you don’t get ripeness, it can go to sparkling, so you’ve got that flexibility.”

Many Ways to Skin a Chenin Blanc

That flexibility is something that’s not lost on any of the makers, with varying climatic conditions driving styles just as much as the sheer adaptability of the grape allows winemakers to experiment. Cliff, for example, makes an “old-school style” that is fermented and matured in tank, which he believes will age particularly well, while he also makes a high-solids, barrel-ferment style, a pét-nat and even one matured under flor yeast, in the style of wines from the Jura.

Mack also believes this diversity is a strength. “I think having a couple of different styles is important, rather than nailing down one style across the whole country. The Hills wine, I pick early, ferment in stainless steel and bottle early, so people can see the varietal characters. From Blewitt Spring, I let it hang a bit longer, then put half through oak with full solids, chasing texture. I make it like chardonnay.”

Cliff says that they’re not alone, with more and more makers testing the boundaries. He also notes that a careful inclusion of phenolics at the press adds a lot of character to the wine, building texture while not compromising acidity or skewing flavours too much, which gives winemakers another tool to build detail. “Chenin juice stays bright well into the press cycle, allowing us to press a little harder, adding texture to the wine. I want a bit more edge and flavour, and the wines age so well.”

Chenin blanc is unlikely to dominate the shelves of retail stores anytime soon, but the possibility of it growing into an exciting category in the short term is a very real prospect, from Western Australia at least. With mature vines across a raft of sites coupled with relatively low fruit costs, the possibility of makers of all stripes experimenting with the grape is an accessible prospect, as evidenced by Vino Volta, Remi Guise’s tripe.Iscariot, Nic Peterkin’s LAS Vino and Jo Perry’s Dormilona, to name just a few.

In South Australia, those opportunities are there, too, though more limited, and some of Victoria’s central regions, such as Rutherglen, have some vines – often from very established estates – but there is little bottled evidence to properly judge the potential – an interesting project for a maker with the right connections. It is in the cooler zones that we’ll have to wait somewhat longer, with makers like Ranken only just dipping their toes in the water. Nonetheless, the future is looking bright, with chenin having the potential for being one of this country’s most versatile and characterful grapes.

We gathered every Australian chenin blanc we could find. Sparkling and dessert wine excluded. All wines tasted blind.

Outtakes from the tasting

We gathered as many bottlings as we could find and enlisted the help of eight of this country’s finest palates to check in to see just where Australian chenin blanc is at.

Our panel: Chris Ryan, Senior Wine Buyer, Trader House Group; Isabelle Szyman, Rathdowne Cellars Wine Buyer; Sophie Carbonneau, National Sales Manager Bibendum Wine Co.; Abby Moret, owner Atlas Vinifera; Jeremy Prideaux, Principal Wine; Xavier Vigier DipWSET, Wine Buyer/Advisor/Head Sommelier Mr Claremont Wines; Coralie Gelot, Beverage Manager, The Windsor Hotel Group. All wines were tasted blind.

All the chenin blancs in the blind lineup were ‘current’ wines for the market, meaning they mostly from the last couple of vintages, with just a few older exceptions. They were all still table wines: no dessert wines and no sparkling wines included.

“It was very broad ranging spectrum of chenin blanc,” said Prideaux, opening the post-tasting discussion. “From the quiet lean and focused and green fruited I suppose to some really rich. In my notes, a few times probably worked-styles or made-styles. And then there were just a couple there that could put you off your game, with a bit of skin contact and processes which really changed their aroma and flavour profile.

Opposite: Jeremy Prideaux. Above: Abby Moret and Sophie Carbonnneau.
“There was clearly two schools of thought: the kind of natural camp and the more kind of opulent, maybe ‘classic’, chenin.”

“The beauty I think of chenin is the texture and the flavours. I definitely prefered the riper end of the spectrum,” said Carbonneau. “I guess that’s what I’m looking for when I’m looking to buy chenin. I am looking for concentration, body, layers… To me, the examples I preferred were in that spectrum – but you know, with balance and refreshing acidity… I really felt there was like two schools of thoughts”

“I feel like we had a similar discussion last time,” said Szyman, reflecting on our previous chenin blanc panel tasting three years ago. “There was clearly two schools of thought: the kind of natural camp and the more kind of opulent, maybe ‘classic’, chenin, and I think they still exist… I feel like it was an overall stronger bracket today. I feel like we saw some more thoughtful winemaking in the natural-spectrum and that kind of like ‘crisp green side of things’ had a little more promise and I think a lot of the worked styles were also pulling back from being so worked that you didn’t see chenin varietally. Like both are kind of trying to actually identify the best parts of chenin as opposed to creating wines where those schools of thought like to go: not trying to make another chardonnay; not trying to make another skin contact sauvignon blanc… I think they’ve definitely pulled back a little bit give chenin a bit more of a stage.”

Isabelle Szyman

“I think for me, one of the great things about chenin is its versatility,” said Moret. “Because it’s got that natural acidity to it, it can be anything from sparkling, to opulent. I thought a lot of the wines tried to hide some sour acid with a lot of winemaking which I picked up on in a few. When that opulent style works, it really works. It works really well and it’s a good side step, for people who like chardonnay, into something else. I also thought that some of the more linear styles were really good, compared to what I’ve seen in the last few years. I prefer, like Sophie, the textural and the layers. But there were a few in there that had like beautiful river water characters to them and had a real freshness to them and the acid worked so well, and in balance, and you can just see it working with so many different food styles as well. That versatility for me is my favourite thing about chenin blanc.”

"For me, it is more about maturity versus immaturity with the grape variety itself,” said Xavier Vigier.

“There’s a lot I really like about chenin blanc,” said Vigier. “That goats cheese, almost rindy like… reminds me almost of sauvignon blanc, when you get that almost sparkling acidity, almost like a powdery texture on the mid palate, with the concentration the fruit. Almost like green apple and nashi pears as opposed to stone fruit character. I like the line of acidity and richness of the fruit. I felt today, for me – and I agree with everyone in terms of different styles – for me, it is more about maturity versus immaturity with the grape variety itself.”

Vigier continued to elaborate, suggesting his ‘maturity versus immaturity’ was about the approach from winemakers: “A lot of wine today… Might be too much oak. Maybe not enough oak. Maybe early picked. Maybe picked too late. And you see that… I think they’re just looking for their own style. But there was clearly a grouo of winemakers that were like really like hitting the spot with exactly what I believe I like much about chenin blanc: there that is a freshness. But he’s it’s not that searing acidity. It’s just a freshness within the fruit that I got on the wine that I especially liked – that grapefruit character. That primary fruit. That balance between cool ferment and lees contact and oak ageing and all that is all absorbed by the fruit.”

Snook noted how when she turned to make a chenin blanc, she had a few false starts sourcing grapes in her home state of Victoria – such is the relative scarcity in Victoria – that she ventured interstate, to McLaren Vale in South Australia to purchase and make her first wine, but has recently sourced from Swan Hill in the warm northern reaches of Victoria.

Snook then offered what she loves about the variety. “For me, when I started in the wine world, you go to the motherland, Burgundy, and it’s one of those ones that you realise you can’t drink Burgundy all the time, and so for me it opened another exploration… Going into the Loire Valley and being so wowed by these wines that spoke of variety but also spoke of place,” she said.

“If you can't afford Burgundy, try some Loire Valley Chenin Blanc!”
Above: Steffi Snook. Opposite: Chris Ryan.
“It's pretty easy to like! It’s a good middle ground: between the table, if someone wants a crisp white wine and someone wants an oaky chardonnay, chenin blanc can kind of split the middle in a lot of cases. It has a wide appeal.”

“If you can’t afford Burgundy, try some Loire Valley Chenin Blanc!” Called Ryan, from his sommelier playbook. “My main interest is in Loire Valley, but there’s some great stuff in South Africa. So there’s lots of stories; there’s wines of place in the Loire Valley that have personality. I think it’s a good side step for chardonnay drinkers and then you can play around with oak and things but also have really great refreshing mineral sort of feel . So all of that stuff works, of course, in restaurants. South Africa’s really exciting just from the discovery perspective because there’s a lot of really old vines there and new stories there – they can be good in a riper more sort of textural style. It’s pretty easy to like! It’s a good middle ground: between the table, if someone wants a crisp white wine and someone wants an oaky chardonnay, chenin blanc can kind of split the middle in a lot of cases. It has a wide appeal.”

Prideaux replied, “I find the consumers have quite strong opinions about sauvignon blanc. They have strong opinions about chardonnay. If you say, ‘how about a chenin blanc?’, no one ever says ‘no’. So they’re really open to trying that.”

“It doesn’t have the stigma!” Declared Szyman.

Opposite: Isabelle Szyman and Jermey Prideaux. Above: Coralie Gelot.
“I find the consumers have quite strong opinions about sauvignon blanc. They have strong opinions about chardonnay. If you say, ‘how about a chenin blanc?’, no one ever says ‘no’. So they’re really open to trying that.”

“Chardonnay in France is too expensive. Australia too,” said Gelot “Then along comes chenin, like the little brother that’s been hiding! I tend to go towards the one that’s a bit more opulent that have maybe a bit more winemaking. But also, I did enjoy a couple that were clearly ‘lo-fi’ with a bit of skin contact. I love that saltiness. It kind of reminds me of Spanish whites where there is that clear minerality and very fruit friendly: you can just have it with anchovies and olives. I love that chenin can give you all of that.”

“What stood out for me in the tasting today: brightness!” Carbonneau said, “Which I think is always so important in any wine, but I think to me the least successful examples were really the ones that looked unripe, showing characters of grapefruit, hard acidity, very little flavour, a vegetal aspect. Other grape varieties could be more forgiving in that regard. With opulent styles, I was looking for honeycomb, yellow pair, lanolin, chamomile.”

“Juicy, stone fruit for me, honey, quince sometimes in the richer year, for me” said Gelot, noting the flavours she was looking for in opulent expressions.

Above" Coralie Gelot. Opposite: Abby Moret.
“It’s a ‘cool’ grape variety. But it’s not in many of the ‘cool’ regions. So it’s funny that we can talk about places like Swan Hill and Swan Valley, etc, and get excited about it as Melbourne sommeliers. You know what I mean… Chenin’s good because it opens up all these places!”

“Pineapple,” chimed Szyman. “Always pineapple! Chenin always smells like pineapple to me, no matter what. And It can be different types of pineapple or different parts of pineapple. Chenin has the acidity of pineapple where it can eat your mouth from the back, and it does that weird kind of fuzzy enzyme thing, and chenin can kind of feel like that.”

“Chenin is very site specific. It’s more than fruit characters. It’s also texture. It’s the full flavour profile that can be created from the site. I think we should be talking about the region, and the differences within the region,” said Vigier.

“It’s a ‘cool’ grape variety. But it’s not in many of the ‘cool’ regions,” said Ryan, “So it’s funny that we can talk about places like Swan Hill and Swan Valley, etc, and get excited about it as Melbourne sommeliers. You know what I mean… Chenin’s good because it opens up all these places!”

The Panel


Jeremy Pridueaux caught the wine bug from none other than Michael Hill Smith MW while working in restaurants and making his way through university in Adelaide. He assisted in the opening of the legendary City Wine Shop in 2004, maintaining the cellars and wine lists for both The European and Melbourne Supper Club, and became a WSET Educator during his time there. In the late 2000s, he had a sojourn to Sydney’s Rockpool Bar and Grill, working with one of the most comprehensive winelists in the country, before coming back to Melbourne and City Wine Shop. A Len Evans Tutorial Scholar in 2017, in 2021 Prideaux joined Principal Wine as a Victorian sales representative.

Coralie Gelot grew up in food and wine with her parents both restaurateurs in her home of France. She came to Australia in 2015 on a hospitality visa, and worked her way through varying roles around the country, from cellar doors to retail, to vintage work, and gaining her WSET Level 3 Certificate along the way. Following a role at Bibendum Wine Co, in 2022 she joined the Hotel Windsor Group where she is now Beverage Manager, responsible for wine buying and training across their venues.

Isabelle Szyman worked as a sommelier at the City Wine Shop and Carlton Wine Room before taking up a role at Rathdowne Cellars in mid-2020, where she is a Wine Buyer. She has a WSET Level 3 qualification, is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently undertaking the French Wine Scholar program.

Xavier Vigier is the Wine Buyer/Advisor/Head Sommelier for Mr Claremont, which was founded in 2022. Prior, he was the Head Sommelier for Ten Minutes by Tractor for three years. He has worked for French wine specialist Clos Cachet, for Merivale at Sydney’s Felix Bistro & Bar, Catalina, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Monopole and Ormeggio at the Spit. Vigier has complete the AWRI Wine Assessment Course and is a WSET Diploma holder.

Sophie Carbonneau worked for 10 years as a sommelier both in Australia and her native Montreal, Canada. She moved to the wholesale side of the business a decade ago, first alongside legendary retailer, importer and wine judge Randall Pollard at Heart & Soil, his import business, then at industry-leading independent importer and local wholesaler Bibendum Wine Co. She is now Bibendum’s National Sales Manager. Carbonneau is also a second year MW student, though she has pressed pause on her studies – for now.

Abby Moret has been working in the retail wine industry since she was 18, including working in London for Majestic Wine, gaining her WSET Level 3 Certificate while there. She was the Promotional Manager of Vintage Cellars, before moving into buying and product development for the national chains. After gaining her WSET Diploma, Abby founded Atlas Vinifera in 2017, an independent, boutique wine bar and wine store in Richmond that specialises in small-batch, interesting, hand-crafted and cult wines from all over the world.

Steffi Snook is winemaker and owner of new label, Yayoi Wines. A New Zealander who came to Australia to study and was so entranced by Melbourne’s rich food and wine culture, Snook worked her way through fine dining and wine distribution to land in Geelong. It was there that a passion for making wine really took hold, launching her label in 2022. Chenin blanc takes the lead – her key obsession.

Chris Ryan is a senior wine buyer with Trader House restaurants, which encompasses Andrew McConnell’s suite of venues, including Gimlet, Cutler & Co., Supernormal and Marion. Ryan holds diplomas from WSET and the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale, is a French Wine Scholar and also Court of Master Sommeliers certified. He was crowned the Best Sommelier of Australia in 2021. Ryan also makes wine in the Yarra Valley under his Honky Chateau label.


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