|Enjoying a Vouvray at Petit Valentin in Santa Barbara|
Chenin Blanc, when done well, is a delightful white wine that often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. This wine has the ability to be an excellent aperitif, a great summertime sipper and makes an excellent and adaptable food pairing wine, especially with lighter fare.
The history of this grape traces back to the Anjou region of France where its usage was noted as early as the Ninth Century. It rose to its greatest prominence in nearby Vouvray where some of the best examples of this grape’s diversity are seen. Chenin Blanc produces a sweet juice with high acidity that lends itself to making wines that range from great sparkling to botryrized dessert wines. It migrated to South Africa in the mid 1600’s and today is the most widely planted varietal in that country. In that country, it was commonly known then as “Steen” and that reference is still utilized in many of the wines bottled there today.
Though some consider it fairly neutral to the influence of terroir, different soil conditions do play a very great factor in highlighting its characteristics. Clay based soil produce grapes with sweeter juice and will enhance the development of noble rot and wines more capable of ageing. Sandy soils produce lighter wines that mature quickly. Grapes grown in limestone soils produce wines with accented acidity and stony or rocky soils have enhanced minerality. Full ripening and controlled yields are generally necessary to get the best expression of flavors from this grape and, as a consequence, the utilization of high volume yields and under ripe grapes can produce some very marginal wines. Hence the production of good wines from Chenin Blanc has as greater dependency on proper viniculture than many other white varietals.
Chenin Blanc can be found in many wine growing regions but it is France and South Africa where it is most commonly utilized as a principal varietal in wines. It was highly popular in California in the 1980’s when it’s plantings there exceeded those in France but it usage has since slipped in favor of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. British Columbia and the American Northwest produces some appreciable Chenin Blanc but in very limited quantity. Australia’s usage of the varietal is principally in white blends and the single varietal wines from there tend to be very, very fruity. Mexico also grows a fair amount of the grape but it is utilized mostly in cheaper, mass-produced white blends.
The best sources tend to be the French and South African producers and a few lingering good producers from California. Here are a few recommendations from The Wine Guy if you’re considering exploration of Chenin Blanc:
B&G Vouvray Gold Label:
This is an affordable entry into to trying the Loire Valley style of Chenin Blanc. The French style places an emphasis on a floral nose with delivery of a mixture of white fruit and citrus flavors. This wine has nice, light hints of melon, peach and pear.
Sebeka Chenin Blanc Steen:
This South African wine has a distinct minerality some pineapple citrus notes and a wonderfully crisp light acidity. It’s a great pairing with shrimp stir-fry!
Man Vintners Chenin Blanc Steen:
A small portion (15%) is fermented in small oak and the remainder is allowed to develop on the lees which adds some subtle differences to this wine. It has a nice blend of citrus and melon fruit flavors and the light use of oak adds an interesting hint of butterscotch.
Dry Creek Vineyards Clarksburg Chenin Blanc:
Delta grown grapes from this Sonoma County producer offers a nice delicate orange blossom nose accented with mostly citrus fruit, particularly lemon. This has been California’s most awarded Chenin Blanc over the years, having earned over 30 gold medals. It was The Wine Guy’s first Chenin Blanc to make a highly favorable impression. I found it to be a great pairing with baked whitefish.
The dry styles of Chenin Blanc make great pairings with a variety of appetizers, seafood and salads. A sparkling Cremant d’Loire is a great alternative to Champagne. Demi-sec and sweeter versions are great sippers and aperitifs. All lend themselves well to enjoyment in hotter climates. Go ahead and explore and try a Chenin Blanc soon!