Wine Profile: Chenin Blanc
Have you heard of Chenin Blanc? How about Vouvray? Or maybe Steen? If you haven’t heard of any of those, the good news is they are all the same grape. The bad news is we think you have been missing out.
Chenin Blanc is incredibly versatile in style and has the ability to adapt to a wide range of tastes. It produces everything from a crisp, dry white, to a semi-sweet wine, dessert wine, or even a sparkling wine.
IT TAKES A LOIRE OF SKILL
Chenin Blanc’s original home is the Loire Valley in France, specifically the appellations of Vouvray, Savennières, Anjou, and Saumur. The Loire Valley is a relatively cool climate region, which means that the majority of the Chenin Blanc wines coming from there are made in the crisp and dry style. The climate is so cool the ripeness of the Chenin Blanc grapes can be so uneven that they are typically picked by hand. During harvest, they perform multiple passes through the vineyard and select ripest grapes each time to insure maturity. Though during the best vintages the grapes may be left on the vine to develop noble rot, which produces intense and viscous dessert wines.
IT'S NOT A POPULARITY CONTEST
While the Loire Valley may be the original home of Chenin Blanc, South Africa is actually the largest producer of the grape worldwide. In South Africa the grape is known as Steen. Here it is usually made into 2 different styles. The first is a richer style more reminiscent of Chardonnay, where it is often blended with other grapes like Viognier, Semillon, and Marsanne. Or, it is made into a more crisp dry style, occasionally blended with Sauvignon Blanc to really play up the zesty notes in the wine.
NOT ALL LOVE IS LOST
And last but not least, we come to the United States, namely California. Chenin Blanc was actually one of California’s first popular white grapes, outpacing Chardonnay in terms of consumption and acreage planted. Unfortunately, for much of its early reign in California it was made mostly into cheap, slightly sweet bulk wines. However, there has been a resurgence of Chenin Blanc in California in the past few years and more producers are looking to work with the grape every year. Interestingly today’s winemakers like it for much the same reasons that the bulk producers of the past liked it. It naturally holds on to its acidity and is a very versatile, adaptable grape. Luckily the wines coming out today are nothing like the sugary mass produced blends of the past.
MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A GRAPE
With regional variations and the grapes natural versatility it can be hard to pin down just one flavor profile for Chenin Blanc. However, regardless of the style there are a couple of qualities that always hold true. Firstly its natural acidity plays a crucial role in all of its iterations. It’s what gives the crispy and dry versions their refreshing zestiness. It helps the sweeter variations stay in balance and not become cloying. And high acid grapes make for the perfect base for sparkling wines. The flavors running through all these styles can vary from tart pear, quince, ginger, jasmine, plum, and chamomile to passion fruit, honeycomb, persimmon, mango, and mandarin orange.
A STYLE FOR ANY MEAL
Chenin Blanc’s natural acidity is what makes it such a great partner for food as well. And its range of styles means there is a huge array of foods it can partner with. The dry examples are great with seafood, mild poultry, white meat, and even charcuterie. While the sweeter examples are perfect with anything a little bit spicy. This is a wine full of acid but also bursting with fruit so any food that mimics that combination of sweet and sour can really sing. Choose vegetables that have a little natural sweetness to them but add a little heat or citrus to the dish. Chenin Blanc is also a great holiday wine; it can stand up to both the turkey and the cranberry sauce at the same time. Something not a lot of wines can claim.
So pick a style, or two, or hell all of them, and give Chenin Blanc a go.