10 Essential Facts on Chenin Blanc

Its origins lie in Central France and today it is one of the world’s most planted white grape varieties. Its wines range from steely and precise to luscious and round, and it’s also used to make sparkling to boot. While all of the above applies to Chardonnay , the same can be said for Chenin Blanc, one of the unsung heroes of white wine. Like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc is one of the most chameleonic grape varieties, yielding a shockingly diverse spectrum of wines from still to sparkling, and sticky sweet to bone dry. From Savennières to South Africa, get to know Chenin Blanc with these ten essential facts. 1. CHENIN ON THE GO—According to the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation, Chenin Blanc is the twenty-sixth most planted wine grape on earth and the eleventh among white varieties. Its vines can be found growing from Corsica to California, Israel to India. 2. ALL IN THE FAMILY—While Chenin Blanc’s complete parentage remains to be discovered, genetic studies have revealed Chenin Blanc to be the offspring of Savagnin and an unknown variety. This makes Chenin Blanc a half-sibling to the Loire Valley’s other star white grape, Sauvignon Blanc . 3. WHAT’S IN A NAME?—Chenin Blanc was most likely born in the Anjou region of France’s Loire Valley, although it probably derives its name further up the Loire River in Touraine from the Montchenin monastery. Near its birthplace, the grape has historically gone by such other names as Plant d’Anjou and Pineau de la Loire. 4. A STAR IS BORN—Chenin Blanc remains the Loire Valley’s most important white grape, responsible for the region’s most complex and longest-lived white wines. Here, it thrives in such appellations as Vouvray , Savennières , Anjou, Saumur , Montlouis , and Jasnières . Within Savennières, the tiny Coulée de Serrant is a micro-appellation of just 7 hectares. Owned entirely by the Joly family, the vineyard yields what is arguably Chenin Blanc’s most famous wine. 5. A SOUTH AFRICAN SPECIALTY—Outside of France, Chenin Blanc finds its greatest champion in South Africa. At over 18,000 hectares, the country grows nearly twice the amount of Chenin as the grape’s native homeland. Today thriving as the country’s most planted variety, Chenin Blanc most likely arrived in South Africa by way of the Dutch East India Company in a package of vine cuttings sent to Jan van Riebeeck in 1655. Grown all across the Cape and often referred to as “Steen,” Chenin Blanc has long held a reputation as a workhorse grape in South Africa. But, the tides are turning as a quorum of producers, especially those working with some of the nation’s oldest bush vines, are pioneering a new era for fine Chenin Blancs in South Africa. 6. THE SUGAR SPECTRUM—Like Riesling , fabulous renditions of Chenin Blanc are found at every notch on the sweetness scale. While several vintners choose to make steely, bone dry Chenins, a number of winemakers prefer to vinify the grape slightly off dry. In Vouvray, such wines are referred to as “demi-sec,” and bottles a step up in sweetness are called “moelleux,” meaning “mellow.” Chenin Blanc also transforms into some of the world’s most age-worthy botrytized dessert wines in the Loire appellations of Coteaux du Layon , Bonnezeaux , and Quarts de Chaume . 7. A BIT OF BUBBLY—While celebrated as a still wine, Chenin Blanc can also shine as a sparkler. In France, Chenin Blanc serves as the most important variety for the traditional method Crémant de Loire , as well as an authorized ingredient for Crémant de Limoux and Blanquette de Limoux further south in the Languedoc. Some South African winemakers also choose to make Chenin Blanc bubbly for the country’s signature “Méthode Cap Classique” wines. 8. CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’—Once one of California’s most important and widely planted white varieties, Chenin Blanc has been eclipsed in the Golden State by the likes of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris. Nonetheless, Chenin remains California’s fifth most cultivated white grape, often mixed with French Colombard to produce simple, inexpensive white blends from the Central Valley. Like in South Africa, however, a handful of passionate producers are working to realize Chenin’s full potential in California’s more premium wine regions. 9. A SPANISH SURPRISE—In 2006 a study revealed Chenin Blanc to be genetically identical to the Spanish grape Agudelo, which was grown in Catalonia and believed to be indigenous to Galicia. This came as a surprise to the French and Spanish alike, who had not anticipated any relationship between the varieties. 10. THE ACID QUEEN—How does Chenin Blanc achieve such a marvelous diversity of wine styles? The key is the grape’s naturally high acidity. Chenin’s intense acidity helps to bring structure and brightness to its wines, whether still or sparkling, as well as to provide a winning juxtaposition to its more waxen, honeycomb flavors. That acidity proves crucial in hot climates, as in much of South Africa, as well as in Chenin’s dessert renditions, where the acidity allows the wines the capacity to age for decades. — Bryce Wiatrak Have you enjoyed a bottle of Chenin Blanc recently? Scan the label or search by name to add your tasting notes on Delectable.

Sandlands

Amador County Chenin Blanc 2016

Alex Jones
9.0

Delicious. Lemon zest, minerality, herbs and green apple. Focused and easy to gulp. — a year ago

Sharon and Craig liked this

Domaine Guiberteau

Brézé Saumur Chenin Blanc 2012

Marc Stubblefield
9.3

Still needs some cellar time to suck up all the wood into a fully harmonious glass of wine, but with a little time in the decanter, this is pretty darn tasty already. Manages to balance zippy acidity against lightly oxidized orchard fruit, with the whole thing in a pretty weighty package. Yum, but wait 5 years. — 2 years ago

P, Scott and 27 others liked this

Domaine des Baumard

Quarts de Chaume Chenin Blanc 2005

all hail botryis! this is one of the best noble-rots ever.... dried papaya, saffron, apple cider, toasted hazelnuts and organic earth/white button mushrooms... just magical. — 2 years ago

Severn liked this

Lieu Dit

Santa Ynez Valley Chenin Blanc 2014

Killer new world chenin complete with tropical fruit slight minerality and cheese rind — 4 years ago

Craig, Severn and 1 other liked this

Château d'Epiré

Cuvée Spéciale Savennières Chenin Blanc 2013

Newly-arrived v2013. Green apple and crushed oyster shell on the nose and palate, with some green herbal and ginger notes. The acidity is zinging, as one would expect, and it is leaner than the 2012, but the balance is there, and should develop nicely. — 3 years ago

Alheit Vineyards

Cartology Bushvines Chenin Blanc Blend 2014

Christopher Bates
9.4

Really love this stuff. It's beginning to define a whole new category of sa wine and is so unique. More Rhone white that Loire, the wines is rich, creamy, round and concentrated without being overripe. — 3 years ago

Evan, Daniel P. and 7 others liked this

Clos Rougeard

"Brézé" Saumur Chenin Blanc 2008

Just fantastic. So many things going on in this. Adore it on every level. Emotionally charged & powerful, it reads like the most memorable moment of a great ballet. You get the grace & finesse, but are patently aware of the strength & work underpinning it. Both electric & brooding. Truly great wine. — 4 years ago

Chris, Bill and 61 others liked this
Izek Jasper

Izek Jasper Influencer Badge

Had this same wine recently. The bottle I had came off a bit oxidized. Any signs of that in your bottle? There was some discussion around if it was an off bottle vs. stylistic choice.
Anthony Lombardi

Anthony Lombardi Premium Badge

@Tom Kobylarz - indeed. @Izek Jasper - maybe a very mild note, but overall nothing resembling a flawed bottle. It was decanted & opened up beautifully throughout the evening.

Ken Forrester

The FMC Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2015

Yellow apple, acacia, perfume, apricot and honeycomb. M+ acid. M body, long finish. The richness balanced by the acid. — 2 years ago

Hugh, David and 4 others liked this

Champalou

Brut Vouvray Chenin Blanc

My love affair with sparkling Chenin continues. Plump but wooly. Clean and gently fruited. — 5 years ago

Matt liked this

A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines

Secateurs Swartland Chenin Blanc 2015

A wine for fall, with ripe golden apples, creamy plump hazelnuts touched with vanilla. Heady honeysuckle sweetness and barley sugar give way to a note of dry hay on the nose. The nose continues to the palate which is complemented by a rich, luscious texture. The acidity is in beautiful harmony and a delicate, dry mineral quality prevails despite the suggestion of sweetness hinted at on the nose. The finish is deliciously long and rich. Perfect drinking and savoring on its own or paired with oven roasted chicken and squash.
— 3 years ago