Chenin Blanc originates from the Loire Valley of France, where it has been cultivated for nearly 1,300 years. It is a versatile, classic, and noble white-wine grape. Initially, it was solely grown for use in making sparkling and dessert wines in France. However, after around 1655 it found its way to other parts of the globe. It is probably the world’s most versatile grape variety.

Chenin Blanc’s quality begins in the vineyard. The topographical and climatic conditions of the region as well as harvesting the right kind of grapes at the right time are the critical success factors for its production.

While this grape variety is the most versatile globally, it buds quite early but ripens late. This may not be excellent quality in some sense as it allows for the early formation of frost, which is a risk in the cooler parts of the world. Chenin Blanc grapes tend to thrive well in warm areas. It still has a thick skin that ideally enables it to thrive in even cooler places but under constant check.

It is also referred to as Chenin, Steen, Pineau, Pineau de la Loire, or Pineau d’Anjou.

Uncorked: Chenin Blanc
Wine glass and bottle on the table @drinkabeat

Popularity: Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc’s first journey to the rest of the world started when Afrikaners took the grape from France to South Africa. Afrikaners are believed to be the fathers of the South African nation. It then spread widely, and soon South Africa became the largest producer of Chenin Blanc in the world.

It gained so much popularity because of its productivity and ability to generate and maintain high acidity, even in hot conditions. Chenin Blanc accounts for nearly one-fifth of vineyards in South Africa. The vines South Africa are revered for their splendid wine. It is referred to as Steen in this part of the world.

Though it is popular and widespread in South Africa, the best variety is said to be found in the Stellenbosch region. In this African region, it is well blended with Viognier, Semillon, and Marsanne to make a richer-styled wine similar to an Oaked Chardonnay though sweeter. Wines from Chenin are assertively acidic and rich in aromas of fine apple and pear-like flavor.

Other parts of the world

Other than South Africa, places like California, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand produce Chenin Blanc in minimal amounts. California is said to produce more Chenin Blanc than all of France, and this is used in the production of the generic white wine. On the other hand, the majority of Chenin Blanc grapes are blended with brands like Chardonnay or Torrentes to create distinct-flavored white wines.

Uncorked: Chenin Blanc
Bottles of wine on a barrel @derooisewijnboer

Chenin Blanc production styles

The controlled climatic conditions of Loire and the yields from the grapes help in explaining why Chenin Blanc’s character in taste comes across as cheap and diluted elsewhere. In France, it is marked by high acid, which gives dry and medium-dry white wines a much longer life than other varieties. Outside France, its reliable acidic levels drive its reputation as a sparkling wine base.

As the grape grows, the professionals need to make sure that its flavors converge and its floral tinge can come through. This will later reflect in the quality and overall taste of the product.

Up until recently, Chenin Blanc was disregarded in the wine industry and more often used as a table wine in its home region of the Loire Valley, France. Unfortunately, not all wine consumers still appreciate Chenin Blanc, even with the attention it has gained. For this reason, it has a less-than-stellar reputation, especially in the United States.

For a very long time, it was used to create a base spirit for the brandy trade. Before gaining popularity, it was relegated to the lows of bulk-wine production and often blended with other white varieties.

Uncorked: Chenin Blanc
A bottle of wine and glass on the table @lovevader

Chenin Blanc Varieties

Chenin Blanc is now easily found because of its widespread nature. It also maintains high acidity even in hot climatic conditions. It is a winemakers’ favorite as it can be used to create a dry, zesty, crisp, dessert, sweet, light, honeyed sparkling wines as well as full-bodied white wines. Due to its natural acidity levels, it has been used for decades as a base for sparkling wine. More reason it can be created into different styles is that apart from being high in acidity, it is also high in sugar level.

In most cases, the kind and style of wine produced are dictated by the geographical region. However, Chenin Blanc creates an array of cuvées with its diverse nature. They range from the very intensely sweet, fruity, and earthy to bone dry. It is often easily confused with Chardonnay. Its wide range of distinct flavors and aromas should differentiate it from other varieties like Chardonnay. Most of its types have an earthy-minerally taste.

Fermentation

Chenin Blanc goes through a low and slow fermentation process in large stainless-steel tanks where it can be allowed to age for a long time. Its acidic and flavor complexity, alongside its natural sugars, allows it to undergo long aging without losing its taste. There have been reported vintage varieties in the market dating back to the early and mid-19th century (in the 1930s and 1940s and beyond).

In France, Chenin Blanc from the Loire is the sweet, botrytized wine from Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux regions. It is said that the autumn mists in the Loire’s serene side valleys have the perfect conditions for the desired noble rot. In South Africa, the best brand is known to be from the Stellenbosch region.

When comparing this to other brands, botrytized Chenin wines are quite light. Still, they are capable of aging for a long time— longer than even the well-known aged Bordeaux sweet wines. A perfect, sweet Vouvray needs ten years to hit its aging peak.

Uncorked: Chenin Blanc
Wine and fruits on the table @thewineant19

Chenin Blanc’s Famous Styles

  • The sweet Chenin Blanc has rich flavors of dried persimmon, mango, mandarin orange, ginger, and toasted almond.
  • Dry Chenin Blanc is an after-product of fermented dry grapes kept fresh that produce a very lean drink with tart pear, quince, ginger, and chamomile flavored drink.
  • Off-dry Chenin Blanc drinks that result when some of the riper grapes’ natural sugars are left in the wine, producing a richly aromatic end product. It is rich in flavors like a honeycomb, ginger, ripe pear, jasmine, and passion fruit. Usually, these late-harvest grapes affected with noble rot. This botrytis concentrates the grapes’ natural sugars giving rise to a richly flavored drink. Well-known products of these late harvest Chenin Blanc grapes include Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux.

Chenin Blanc forms an excellent base for sparkling wine styles. As a result, wines like dry and sweet Chenin Blanc are produced. Such wines have the unique and citrusy, classic yellow apple, plum, quince, and ginger properties in them. It also has a rich texture that gives it vibrancy and freshness upon consumption. 

Depending on the desired final product, winemakers could employ stainless steel, extended-lees contact, and barrel maturation techniques in Chenin Blanc winemaking.

Uncorked: Chenin Blanc
Wine on the kitchen counter @vinomonolith

Well-Known Chenin Blanc Varieties

  • Champalou Vouvray Brut; a traditional high-toned and fresh sparkler with a citrusy, red apple and limestone flavor with a delicate touch of sweetness and brioche at the end.
  • François Chidaine Pétillant Brut VN; this exceptionally layered and complex wine is aged for three years before release and consumption. It has full of minerality and good qualities.
  • Secateurs Chenin Blanc; featuring an acidic and earth driven taste, this yellow apple and orange juice flavored drink runs the market.
  • Lieu-dit Chenin Blanc 2015; fresh crispy and a savory finish and a ripe citrusy taste
  • Ken Forrester
  • Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection Bush Vines
  • Moulin Touchais
  • Domaine Huet’ Le Haut-Lieu’ Vouvray Sec 2016

Cost and market availability

Most of the Chenin Blanc varieties are readily available and quite affordable in the market. One cannot break a bank to obtain a good bottle of Chenin Blanc. A high-quality Chenin Blanc costs a few bucks.

There is a wide range to choose from, and online stores have made the identification and selection of a good quality Chenin Blanc or any brand for that reason easy. They have provided an adequate amount of information to guide you through the process.

Uncorked: Chenin Blanc
Wine bottle and wine glasses on a surface @wanceywong

Food Pairing

Although it is known for its acidity, bottle-aging transforms this wine into a more subtle and drier wine that becomes an excellent accompaniment for several foods. Its acidity levels tend to often match fatty or spicy dishes without necessarily overwhelming the delicate textures and flavors in the foods.

Curried dishes

The Chenin Blanc range of dry and off-dry wines make it a great wine to pair with curried dishes like curried chicken salad. The rich flavors in this wine take away the curries’ heat, thus bringing out the flavors of the meal. Again, due to this acidic nature, Chenin Blanc is well paired with rich seafood that has both sweet and sour element elements in them. Its acidity levels also allow it to be perfectly paired with tomato sauces as it can cut through the dense, creamy delicacy.

Asian cuisine

Consider pairing Asian cuisine, fresh oysters, pies like the sweet lemon meringue pie as well as pork chops with Chenin Blanc. You can also moisten your turkey meals with a quality Chenin Blanc for your Thanksgiving dinner. Vegetable salads and cheesy foods are also great with Chenin Blanc. The acidity tears through protein, giving each bite a tantalizing fresh taste.

You might have unknowingly tasted Chenin Blanc in your life either as a cheap varietal from South Africa or California as table wine or as a base for sparkling wines. It has often been used to create a base spirit for the brandy trade. This has, however, changed over time, and it is now gaining popularity and acceptance in the wine production field.

Uncorked: Chenin Blanc
Wine bottle and glass @winesofnesli

In the Chenin Blanc world, there is something for everyone. Its versatile nature provides a wide array of styles to choose from, and this equates to a spread in the price range in the market. Depending on style and preference, one can always do sampling and to truly establish what works for him/her. You don’t necessarily have to break the bank to get yourself a bottle of this wine variety.

Enjoyed learning about Chenin Blanc? Check out our additional Uncorked series of articles: Uncorked: Retsina, Uncorked: Charbono, Uncorked: Trebbiano, and more!

Thanks for reading with us today, bottoms up! 🍷

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