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Guide to White Wine Grape Varieties & Types

Wine Guide

The Chenin Blanc
Wine Grape:
A White Wine with Backbone and Finesse

Chenin Blanc Wine Grape

There may not be a more versatile grape - or one that is more fickle. Used for bulk wine and fine wines running the complete gamut from still to sparkling and dry to dessert, this grape requires a very limited set of growing conditions to truly shine. Lean and racy, this is the antithesis of the popular 'fat' Chardonnays of the '80s and '90s.

The History of Chenin Blanc

A native French variety, the first reference to Chenin Blanc appears in writings as early as 845. Believed to have originated in the Anjoy region, the Loire Valley's winegrowing history and current reputation are both centered around this fine varietal. In the mid 1600s it was also brought into South Africa and has been widely planted there since then, and today is the major varietal of that country.

Qualities of the Chenin Blanc Grape

A late ripener that also maintains high acidity, these vines can produce large crops if their vigor is not controlled. In warm climates and fertile soils, Chenin can be used for bulk wine production although the quality suffers. For quality wines, yields must be kept thin and conditions must hit a narrow margin between cool and warm. Therefore Chenin Blanc can be sensitive to vintage variation and finer bottlings are rarer than its widespread cultivation would suggest. This grape takes well to the noble rot 'botrytis' for dessert wine production and also is used well as a base for sparkling wines.

Chenin Blanc Wine Characteristics

Body: light to medium
Acidity: high
Flavors: drier styles will show more mineral and tart fruit characteristics, such as apple, sweeter versions honeyed and floral notes

Regions Where Chenin Blanc is Grown

- In France's Middle Loire Valley in the Anjou region - in particular the Vouvray appellation
- In the Stellenbosch region of South Africa
- Widely grown in California's Central Valley for bulk wines, but there are a few quality wines in other parts of the state and in Washington

Chenin Blanc Fast Facts

- Bottled by regional name in France (Vouvray), those bottled as Crémant are sparkling
-
Bottled by varietal name in South Africa, or by the local varietal name Steen
- Bottled by varietal name in the U.S.
- Famous Producers: Clos Baduin, Domaine du Clos Naudin, Ken Forrester
- High acidity gives Chenin Blanc excellent aging potential, and sweeter/dessert versions can have even more longevity. 10-30 years and possibly longer for the best bottlings.

Chenin Blanc Wine & Food Pairing

- It's important to factor in the sweetness and body of the style - light, dry versions will do well with chicken and salads; richer, off-dry styles can be excellent with spicy or exotic dishes, such as Curries
- Easy Food and Wine pairings with Chenin Blanc:
     Curried Cauliflower with Chickpeas & Potatoes

Here are some of our favorites:

  2007 Domaine Champalou, Vouvray Sec
Fresh with a striking acidity, and bright fruit flavors of green apple and pineapple. ($17)

Ken Forrester "Petit" Chenin Blanc
Bracing yet delicate at the same time. A hint of off-dry sweetness adds body. ($9)

Next Variety:   Pinot Blanc Wine Grape

 



 

 


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