by Kevin Keith
CHENIN BLANC. A noble grape variety thought to have originated in the Loire Valley in France, it’s planted around the world and used for a variety of wines - dry whites, dessert wines and even sparkling wine. While a dominant variety in the Anjou region of Loire (which encompasses Vouvray, Savennieres, and of course Anjou), the grape has been an almost signature varietal in South Africa (where it has been known as Steen), as well as the U.S., Australia, and Argentina.
(Not to be too much of a nerd, but it is hypothesized that Chenin Blanc, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Trousseau are all descendents of the grape Savagnin from France’s Jura region.)
Chenin Blanc is primarily known for drier-styled white wines, though it shows up as sparkling and sweet wines in Vouvray, and as dessert wines in the areas of Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts des Charmes. As stated before, South Africa has done incredible things with Chenin Blanc - until recently it has been known primarily as Steen - and has been their signature white grape for decades. Again, it runs the gamut of dry to sweet, and even shows up in sparkling wines there.
Chenin Blanc in the U.S. out-produced France early on, but plantings have declined in California over the years. Primary usage had been and still is to some extent in jug and boxed wines from California, yet most of the plantings now occur in Clarksburg and Mendocino, as well as in Columbia Valley (Washington State), Texas High Plains AVA (Texas) and also Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona.
Typical notes found in Chenin Blanc range from stone fruits like apples and pears, medium-sized plums (called greengages), marzipan or almond, and even honey. The dynamism of the grape’s applications are impressive, as is shown in these few offerings: