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The Chenin Blanc Grape


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About Chenin Blanc

(Synonyms: Agudelo, Agudillo, Anjou, Blanc d’Aunis, Capbreton Blanc, Franc Blanc, Gros Chenin, Gros Pineau, Pineau d’Anjou, Pineau de la Loire, Plant d’Anjou, Ronchalin, Rouchelein, Rouchelin, Steen)

Background

Map showing the Loire region

Chenin Blanc is a white-wine grape originating in the Loire Valley of France. It is a famously high-acid grape, and can make wines suitable for very extended bottle aging. It is now extensively grown in other areas, notably South Africa (where the grape and wine are called “Steen”) but also including the U.S. Indeed, it is today widely considered one of the dozen and a half or so “Noble wine grapes” of the world.

Chenin Blanc is, like another world-class white grape, Chardonnay, basically neutral in taste, and thus when well-vinified excels in conveying terroir, distinctive qualities that reflect the soil and climate in which the grapes were grown.

If Chenin Blanc vines are grown in a warm climate and encouraged, they will be immensely productive—but productive of bland, low-quality grapes. If, on the other hand, they are well restrained, they yield much less but of superb quality. For that reason, in earlier times, especially in the U.S., Chenin Blanc was widely grown to make vast qualtities of cheap, rather awful jug wine, and thus acquired here an apparently unshakeable reputation as a trivial, useless grape and wine. Yet in its home it is recognized as making some of the world’s very greatest wines. Little by very little, some awareness of that is now dripping into the American wine consciousness.

Chenin Blanc can be made in numerous ways; it is often used to make excellent dessert wines, but we will restrict our attention to Chenin Blancs vinified dry for table-wine use. But, though we say “dry”, there are (as with, for example, Rieslings) varying degrees of “table-wine dry”. In cool areas, the grape is sweet but high in acid and with a full-bodied, fruity palate, unless it fails to fully ripen, in which case it will be low in sugar and excessivly acid. (Nowadays, less-ripe grapes are made into sparkling wines such as Crémant de Loire.)

Descriptions of the nature of Chenin Blanc often include minerality, greengages, angelica (herb), and honey, as well as apple and quince. In the New World, where the wines are not expected to be aged much if at all, vinification tends to bring out tropical fruit notes such as banana, guava, pear, and pineapple.

In the Vouvray region, the grape is made into a like-named wine, Vouvray. Vouvrays, even the driest, tend toward accenting the honeyed aspect of the grape, even when they are not technically sweet at all. Vouvrays come in five classes:

Another French style is that of the Anjou region, where the wines are said to have more the flavors of quince and apples. And there is also Savennières Chenin, for which the tradition is aging in acacia or chestnut barrels. Savennières wines are probably the highest fully dry expression of Chenin Blanc, but one needs to understand their idiosyncracies. To quote one recent reviewer:

I think the dichotomy among reviews is based on reviewers’ expectations of Savennieres. True, it is Chenin Blanc, but it’s not Vouvray or Anjou or Montlouis. Savenniere, IMHO, just isn’t as friendly when young as the other Loire Chenin Blanc appellations…No, you are not going to get a nice pow of tropical fruit to go with your acidity. This is not a Huet Vouvray and it’s not a Chidaine Montlouis. But that’s what’s so beautiful about Chenin Blanc: There is no hiding between terroir and glass. What nature puts into the vineyard is what you get out.

Some Savennières producers recommend aerating their wines for as much as 48 hours before serving them. That’s probably extreme, especially for young bottles, but bottle age brings up another point: as another reviewer said, most Savennieres is almost undrinkable without considerable age, like 20 years. Or drink them very young before they shut down around year 5. That is so because, like not a few ageworthy wines, Chenin Blancs experience what is commonly called a “dumb period”; to quote the WineAnorak column:

A wine that is closed is, in simple terms, one that doesn’t smell much. Many fine wines go through a ‘closed’ or ‘dumb’ period as part of their development, a period that may last for some years. Typically a wine destined for long life will show well for a couple of years and then close down for some 5-10 years, before developing the tertiary bouquet that is so highly prized in geek circles.

So pay attention to the vintage year of any Savennières you are contemplating buying and drinking soon after.

Factoid: dessert-style Chenin Blancs are said to be able to take a full century of bottle aging.

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Some Descriptions of Chenin Blanc Wines

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Some Chenin Blancs to Try

(About this list.)

Ken Forrester “Old Vine Reserve” Chenin Blanc

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Chateau de Brézé Arnaud Lambert “Clos du Midi” Saumur

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Badenhorst “Secateurs” Chenin Blanc
(They bottle several Chenins: this is their “Secateurs” bottling.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



L’Ecole No. 41 “Old Vines” Chenin Blanc

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Raats Chenin Blanc
(This is neither their “Original” nor their “Old Vines” bottling.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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For a Splurge

Our nomination is the Domaine Huet Vouvray “Clos du Bourg” Sec. (Note that they also bottle a similar-sounding “Demi-Sec” version: beware.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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This page was last modified on Monday, 23 March 2020, at 3:52 pm Pacific Time.