Chenin Blanc has a low profile as far as wine grapes go. When compared with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, poor Chenin is so often forgotten about. It may not be flashy, but any serious wine lover would surely appreciate what Chenin can offer when given half the chance! The Chenin Blanc grape is incredibly versatile, and is grown in a number of diverse locations throughout the world. Let’s learn a little about the grape by uncovering three facts that might just surprise you!
1. Chenin Blanc is South Africa’s signature white wine grape
As we said, Chenin’s profile is quite low. It’s not exactly a household name – unless you live in a house full of winegrowers or connoisseurs, of course! If you’ve ever been to a supermarket and spotted a wine with “Chenin Blanc” on the label, it’s likely to be from one place: South Africa. As this country is the world’s largest producer of the grape, South African Chenin Blanc ranges from entry-level to super premium, and can offer a wide range of flavours. For the most part, expect a light to medium-bodied wine with fruit aromas ranging from passion fruit and apple to peach. Chenin is known locally as “Steen”, and these wines usually offer a solid quality/price ratio.
2. But the best Chenin Blanc wines are French!
Winemaking in South Africa continues to come on leaps and bounds, so who knows how good South African Chenin will be in ten years. For now, though, it’s the French that are producing the best Chenin Blanc in the world. This should not be surprising, as France is the grape’s home, and the French know a thing or two about winemaking. The heartland of Chenin Blanc in France is the Loire Valley, where the grape is used to fantastic effect in dry, sweet and sparkling wines. High-quality Chenin can age for an incredibly long time, and is rightly considered as a top French wine. Appellations to look out for include:
- Côteaux du Layon
- Quarts de Chaume
- Crémant de Loire
Chenin Blanc in France is so versatile that you will be surprised and delighted by the variety of styles on offer. Ranging from bone dry to lusciously sweet, and everything in between, table wines of Chenin Blanc have something to offer every palate. The sparkling wines, like Crémant de Loire, can provide a value alternative to Champagne in many cases!
3. They grow Chenin Blanc in Spain, too!
Okay, so it’s never going to be as famous as Tempranillo or Albariño, but Chenin Blanc is grown in Spain, too. You’re unlikely to find many producers making single varietal Chenin wines, though scattered plantings exist in places like Penedès and Priorat. Spanish Chenin Blanc is used, if at all, for blending purposes. The grape is high in acidity and can have pleasant fruit aromas and so is suitable for blending with other grapes in an effort to achieve balance in the wine.
- Somiatruites is one such blend, from the Penedès region. Chenin Blanc is the primary grape in the blend, along with numerous other grapes including Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and Xarel.lo. While this wine does not solely express the varietal characteristics of Chenin, it is an interesting example to try as it demonstrates the balancing effect Chenin can have on a wine. Relatively low in alcohol, this is a bright and aromatic white with lots of tropical fruit aromas and flavours.
Have you tried any Chenin Blanc wine? Tell us about your favourite styles and regions in the comments below!