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Chenin Blanc is the summer white wine you’ve been waiting for

Chenin blanc wine guide

Chenin blanc has lurked in the shadows for some time. When it’s on the verge of a breakout, something else eclipses the trend, like funky orange wine a decade or so ago and chardonnay’s recent rebound.

Abroad, it’s always been a bit of a bigger deal. It’s huge in South Africa and the Loire Valley of France, but it’s also gaining some traction in places like Argentina, Canada, and New Zealand. Stateside, it’s sprouting to life as well, a viable option for less traditional young winemakers or those just looking for something with a little less market saturation.

It’s not uncommon for a variety so nimble to be overlooked. Chenin blanc’s downfall may just be that it’s too flexible. Generally, more direct wines like zinfandel (bold and steak-ready) and pinot gris (a pear-flavored thirst quencher) appeal to the masses, perhaps because they don’t necessarily need to be dwelled upon. Yet, chenin blanc can be simple or complicated. It’s great because it’s a white that’ll do just about anything you ask of it.

Also known as Pineau de Loire, chenin started in the Loire region of France. In South Africa, where it enjoys the most vineyard rows on the planet and the most of any variety in the country, it’s simply called Steen. In fact, it’s believed to go back as far as the mid-17th century there, although it wasn’t properly recognized as such until much later. In France, where it all started, the grape is turned into all kinds of things, from sparkling types in Vouvray to sweet and dry takes in Anjou, Saumur, and more.

In the U.S., chenin got its footing in California. It was a utility wine of sorts, used to add some volume to jug wine blends. Only recently have domestic vintners looked to harness the power of the variety on its own. Some good versions have come out of the West Coast, especially, but it’s certainly not confined to there. Today, you can find it in patches in Texas wine country, New York state, and a number of other growing areas.

Is chenin blanc dry or sweet?

White wine glass tip
Rafael Barquero / Unsplash

In short, chenin blanc an easy-going white that’s at once welcoming and something a bit different from your standard-issue chardonnays or pinot grigios. It tends to be dry but there are sweeter versions out there. The dryer, lighter versions are ideal with a wide array of salads, poultry dishes, and seafood options. Heftier, sweeter takes stand up beautifully to spicier cuisine like Thai or Chinese.

Producers in South Africa and the U.S. seem to be especially fond of chenin’s unfussy side. They’re turning out quaffable batches for somewhere in the vicinity of $20 a pop that have wide appeal and enough in the flavor department to enjoy on their own. Some might consider it a challenge to find the perfect food match for such a chameleon of a white wine. Others embrace it as an entertaining opportunity to mix and match and find what works. Thanks to chenin’s agile nature, there’s no wrong way to do it, you’ll just find that some things work better than others.

How does chenin blanc taste?

Sliced melon
Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto / Pexels

The flavor that tends to jump out of chenin blanc is melon. White flower aromatics are common, as are notes of apple and citrus. Straw and honeysuckle are signature characteristics, too. The dry ones will pop with a nice acidity while sweeter versions will show more in the way of candied fruit qualities.

What is chenin blanc similar to?

Glass of white wine
Kichigin / Shutterstock

As mentioned, chenin blanc is approachable and flexible, not unlike pinot grigio. However, the aromatics and flavors are more reminiscent of a milder sauvignon blanc or chablis-style Old World chardonnay. The refreshing elements of chenin blanc can remind of Geurztraminer or Grüner Veltliner, as well.

When should I drink chenin blanc?

Flight of white wines
henry fournier / Unsplash

Early and often. While a well-made chenin can age 10 to 20 years, kinda like a chardonnay or riesling, we prefer the freshness and zip of a younger option. That lively acidity allows it to age some but also shows more early on, making it all the more a food-friendly wine, lining up perfectly with things like seafood, goat cheese, Thai food, and grilled vegetables.

If you’re going to have the wine with food, go with a younger release. If you plan to enjoy the wine on its own, try an older vintage to see how it’s evolved in the bottle. Serve it with a slight chill.

Now that you know a bit more about the great and summer-ready wine, here are a few to check out.

LangeTwins Chenin Blanc

LangeTwins Chenin Blanc
LangeTwins

Showing grapefruit and ripe apple, this clean take is practically clean in the glass. The fruit comes from the Clarksburg American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the Sacramento Valley of California. Crisp and eminently enjoyable, this wine’s purpose is to please.

Lievland Chenin Blanc

Lievland Chenin Blanc
Lievland

A South African wine, this chenin blanc comes in at a nice price point, given that it’s the product of older, more sophisticated vines. This one bursts out of the glass, teeming with tropical fruit and pleasant minerality.

Julien Pinon Chenin Blanc

Julien Pinon Vouvray
Julien Pinon

This Vouvray out of France shows excellent orchard fruit notes with a clean acidity. There’s elegance and restraint here, so don’t over-chill the bottle. In fact, enjoy at room temperature with your favorite bit of chevre.

Domaine de Brizé Chenin Blanc

Domaine de Brize Chenin Blanc
Domaine de Brize

While a little more expensive, you get what you pay for with this French bottle. There are layers of aromas and flavors, centering around pear and peach. Aged and fermented in wood, the wine has a great mouthfeel and texture.

Painted Wolf The Den Chenin Blanc

Painted Wolf The Den 2017 Chenin Blanc
Painted Wolf

This South African riff is a total bargain, with zero frills but enough to keep you coming back for more. The winery touts its ability to play alongside complex food dishes like macaroni and cheese. Really, though, it’s great for the money, offering tropical fruit like a good Sauv Blanc but not beating you over the head with it.

Kiona Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc

Kiona 2018 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc
Kiona Columbia Valley

Kiona has been making chenin since 1980 and knows the grape well. Whatever the vintage, expect a crisp wine made all the more so thanks to production in stainless steel. The brand’s chenin is clean and built around flavors of honeydew, with a tiny but balancing pinch of residual sugar on the backend.

Day Wines Chenin Blanc

Day Wines 2017 Chenin Blanc
Day Wines

Brianne Day is a real champion of under-celebrated varieties so it’s not a shocker that she’s making a standup chenin blanc. Her version is made from Ribbon Ridge fruit in the Willamette Valley and affords a great mouthfeel thanks to neutral oak fermentation.

Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc

Lieu Dit 2017 Chenin Blanc
Lieu Dit

This California producer is behind an intoxicating New World chenin. Made from fruit grown in the Santa Ynez Valley, the wine is one more fine Loire-inspired wine in the brand’s portfolio. You can almost taste some of the great French producers who inspired both the label and this wine.

Domaine Francois Pinon Vouvray Trois Argiles

Domaine Francois Pinon Vouvray Trois Argiles 2018
Domaine François et Julien Pinon

It wouldn’t be a valid chenin list without a reliable French producer. This classic option is produced from older vines rooted in Vouvray’s legendary chalky limestone soil. It’s organic and a great mashup of minerality and ripe fruit.

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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