The versatile varietal
Spring, the season of many types of weather, is a fine time to drink wines based on the chenin blanc grape, which offers styles of wine to suit every taste.
Chenin blanc, also known as pineau de la Loire, is one of the most important white grapes of the Loire Valley and indigenous to the region. Chenin grapes are typically made as a single varietal wine, showing a blonde or straw color while presenting its best characteristics throughout the many appellations in Loire—Anjou, Coteaux du Layon, Saumur, Savennières, Vouvray, and more.
Loire is the largest white wine region in France, producing the finest chenin blanc. Vineyards are widespread throughout the region. The grapes have thin skins and a high sugar content that produces refreshing and fruity dry and semidry whites as well as elegant sparkling wines. The world famous Vouvrays and Savennières are complex, long-lasting, well-balanced wines.
The best sparkling wines come from Saumur, made mostly in the méthode traditionelle, a process where the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. The grapes are grown in chalky soils with the wines showing lovely apple and lemon notes and just enough sweetness, with good minerality. Aging improves the quality by bringing out the fruit.
Chenin blanc grapes bud early but ripen very late, which can expose the grapes to botrytis. Also called “noble rot,” botrytis is the mold responsible for all the great sweet wines of the world. Chenin sweet wines are extremely well balanced, honeyed, and intense.
The grape is similar to riesling for several reasons. Both grapes can be misunderstood due to their versatility producing wines with a wide range, from bone dry to richly sweet. Both grapes excel in their native country but do well in other areas.
Chenin blanc has made its way to the United States, feeling especially at home in parts of California (mainly the little-known Clarksburg region), Washington State, New York, and Texas. In the past, we used chenin blanc as a blending grape, but today you can find noteworthy single varietal chenins produced here.
In the Southern Hemisphere, chenin blanc is the most important white grape in South Africa, where it is known as Steen, and produces tart, medium-bodied whites with flavors of citrus, apple, and peach. They are some of the best-value white wines around.
Versatile chenin produces the greatest food-friendly white wines imaginable. Their natural acidity pairs well with all types of fish, yet they are robust and balanced enough for poultry and white meats. Chenin blanc stands up to pungent cheeses and the richest cream sauces. Sweet chenin blanc fittingly matches any dessert.
The following are recommendations found at your favorite restaurant, wine retailer, or online:
Bouvet Ladubay Tresor Saumur AOC Brut, Loire, France
From one of the oldest sparkling wine producers in the Loire valley, the Tresor cuvée is aged in oak barrels with toasty notes and citrus drop flavors, leading to a lovely lingering finish. Serve on special occasions or any occasion.
Domaine Patrick Baudouin Savennières, Loire, France
One of the finest expressions of dry chenins, well rounded with floral aromas followed by flavors of citrus and honey. Enjoy with mushroom risotto and creamy fish dishes.
Marc Brédif Vouvray, Loire, France
Aromas of white flowers, peaches, and pears along with bright citrus and mineral flavors. A good choice with onion soup and chicken paillard.
Laurent Kraft Vouvray, Loire, France
This wine has tropical aromas with flavors of baked pear, apples, and hazelnut. Pair with smoked trout, creamy cheeses, and tarte tatin—the famous French upside-down apple tart.
Domaine Fournier-Longchamps “Le Chenin” 2010, Loire, France
Located in the heart of Anjou from organically grown grapes. Aromas of gooseberry, lime, and citrus with a burst of peach flavors. Seafood and ceviche are perfect choices for pairing.
Domaine de La Bergerie Coteaux du Layon “Le Clos de le Bergerie” 2011, Loire, France
A deliciously sweet caramel taste that is nicely balanced with great acidity. Pair with foie gras, blue cheese, and fruit pie.
A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2013, South Africa
Racy and refreshing, an approachable full-bodied wine with herbal, floral, and citrus flavors. Camembert cheese and white meats pair well.
Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc, South Africa
A youthful wine showing grapefruit, apple, and pear flavors with a zesty fun finish. Serve with sushi, tuna tartare, and avocado rolls.
De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2013, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Elegant and fresh with aromas and flavors of ripe melon, lemon, honey, and butter finishing with nutty influences. Excellent with rich fish, seafood, and sushi.
Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc 2013, Clarksville, California
White peach, melon, and citrus on the nose, red apple tastes with good minerality and acidity. Serve with salads, goat cheese, and seafood.
Kiona Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington
This off-dry chenin blanc has refreshing aromas of tart green apples and fresh-cut straw. The crisp tropical flavors are emphasized when the wine is served chilled. Asian and spicy foods are good food pairings.
Paumanok Chenin Blanc, Long Island, New York
A fresh, crisp, medium-bodied dry chenin that suggests citrus scents with flavors of apple and melon. Enjoy with oysters, lobster, and baked white fish.
Vinum Chenin Blanc 2013, Clarksburg, California
Clean, crisp, and springy, with flavors of melons, apples, and hints of honey. Beet and goat cheese salads or figs wrapped in prosciutto are perfect pairings.
L.A. Cetto Chenin Blanc 2013, Baja California, Mexico
A semisweet, well-balanced wine that offers citrus and tropical fruit flavors of mango and orange. Serve with salads and fresh fish, or enjoy as an aperitif.