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New World: Chenin Blanc

While some New World white categories are floundering, Chenin Blanc continues to go from strength to strength. A star of 2012’s competition

There have been a few out-and-out successes in the Sommelier Wine Awards. It’s been heartening, for instance, to see the growth of Argentinian Malbec or Carmenère from humble beginnings. And now, we have to add Chenin Blanc to that list.

Not only did it manage to provide a high percentage of good-quality wines at hugely affordable prices this year (which you might expect), but it showed what it is capable of with a couple of genuinely excellent, more ambitious versions as well.

Key to this revival has been South Africa, which, for the second year on the trot, took all of the medals on offer – and did so at prices that had our tasters’ eyebrows shooting upwards – in a good way.

‘They’ve really gone up a notch,’ said consultant Caspar Auchterlonie. ‘The vines in the ground are better, the winemaking is better, and the prices haven’t gone mad.’

In the past, putting together the medal winners was easy. Our tasters simply weeded out the bad or faulty wines and what was left pretty well made the grade. But this year it was far, far harder. There were no out-and-out bad wines, and an awful lot to like.

‘Stick the Van Zylshof on a list for £20 and you’ll sell bucket loads of it,’ said one taster.

‘You could give a glass of that to anybody and they wouldn’t complain,’ concurred Serdar Balkaya of Hakkasan.

One of the reasons the wines did so well under £8 is that there was rarely any oak at that price. And the sommeliers wanted to see the grape’s varietal character.

‘You don’t want to mask it with oak. The cheapest wines were great,’ said Balkaya. ‘Great fruit, crisp and even a bit of complexity for the money.’

If the cheaper wines tended to be excellent examples of the ‘cheap, fruity, versatile’ style, and account for the majority of medals, they weren’t the only show in town. That two wines around the £15 mark both got medals (one of them Gold), showed that this category can be about more than value for money.

‘They would be good with food,’ said James Teng of Hakkasan. ‘I’m from a Chinese restaurant background, and these have a richness that would work with Chinese food.’

‘The De Trafford has a little bit of spice and is going towards that oily texture,’ said The French Table’s Sarah Guignard.

‘It’s an awesome food wine,’ concurred Hakkasan’s Christine Parkinson.

If you wanted proof of what this category can do, however, you need look no further than the Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection. Picking up a Gold, a Food Match, a Critics’ Choice and a By the Glass award was almost embarrassingly greedy. A truly great wine for the money and one of the stars of this year’s competition.

‘The cheapest wines here were the best. They had good freshness and affordability.’ Emilie Courtois, Terroirs.

‘If we had tried that flight five years ago there would have been more oak and less wines going through. They’ve come on a lot.’ Nicola Thomson, Practical Matters