Your 5 minute guide to Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc is a white variety that originally comes from the Loire Valley (pronounced Lou-WAHR). Known as ‘the garden of France’, the region stretches along parts of the 1006 kilometres of France’s longest river. Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are also happily at home there.
The variety is mostly grown in ‘middle’ Loire, around the cities of Tours and Angers. Here you’ll find Chenin Blanc named by the specific village where it’s grown, rather than by it’s varietal name. So look out for Savennières, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, Vouvray, Montlouis, and Jasnières.
Outside of France, Chenin Blanc is mostly grown in South Africa. In fact, it’s their most planted grape variety, with twice as much area under vine as France. Introduced to South Africa in the 1600s, it is to their wine industry what Sauvignon Blanc is to ours, an important work horse and export.
We grow Chenin Blanc in New Zealand too. It accounts for less than 1% of vineyard area nationally. Given the success a few local producers have had with it, and because of our fondness for fresh, aromatic white wines, we think we’ll be seeing more kiwi-grown Chenin Blanc in future.
‘What’s it like to drink?’ we hear you ask. Well, Chenin Blanc is characterised by it’s high acidity. Citrusy freshness gives it drive, structure and vitality to taste.
As a generalisation in terms of flavour, it doesn’t have the distinctive boldness of a variety like Sauvignon Blanc, but has more lifted, aromatic fruit than a variety like Chardonnay. It’s spectrum of flavours include apple, pear, quince, citrus florals, honey and ginger.
What we love about Chenin Blanc is the broad range of styles it can be made in; from bone-dry, to off-dry, to rich and unctuously sweet. It’s even made into delicious sparkling wine often using the same method as Champagne.
Each producer of Chenin Blanc makes a choice of what style they’d like to make. This will depend on factors like where it’s grown, and on the particular conditions of a growing season. Like Riesling, grape sugar is often left unfermented in the wine to balance out racy acidity. Some producers will use oak in it’s production (in South Africa for example), but the aromatic quality of the variety often makes oak influence unnecessary. With the right vineyard conditions, noble rot (Botrytis) can help create some of the greatest sweet wines in the world. There’s certainly plenty to discover.
Get acquainted with 4 of our faves...
A Sophisticated FrenchieBernard Fouquet Aubuisières Cuvée de Silex Vouvray 2019
Chalky freshness is balanced with the most gentle suggestion of sweetness. We love this as an afternoon aperitif.
A Kiwi IconMillton Te Arai Chenin Blanc 2019
Sought after by Sommeliers around the world, this biodynamic classic is exuberant and textured with wonderful tension.
Goodbye Chablis, Hello Hawkes BayOrganised Chaos Chenin Blanc 2020
This is lean, fresh and dry HB Chenin that’ll leave you wanting Oysters ASAP.
South Africa’s Cool KidA.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2021
There’s a touch more waxy, savoury flavour in this dry example from the best of a new generation of South African winegrowers. It’s outstanding value to boot.