Requests for Sauvignon Blanc recommendations have been coming pretty steadily as the temperatures have gotten warmer this spring. What I rarely hear a request for is Chenin Blanc. Sure, I get a request for Vouvray, a French village known for Chenin Blanc among those who "know", but Chenin seems more often overlooked by white wine seekers. Here's the 411 on this great grape: Recently I argued Albarino is the most versatile white wine; what readers found out was how terrifically versatile it is as a food wine. Chenin Blanc is perhaps the most versatile style of wine. It can be dry. It can be sweet. And it can be still - or sparkling! Oh, the possibilities! It is also grown widely throughout the world, in the Loire Valley, France, South Africa and domestically in California.
The Loire Valley delivers my favorite Chenin Blancs. They have lovely stone fruits and citrus flavors - and a unique minerality I quite adore. But remember the French don't always label their wines by varietal. So if you see "Vouvray", "Savenniers," or often "Saumur" (where Charadonnay is the other white grape permitted), grab a bottle! Better yet, head on in to your local shop and ask for a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc to give a swirl.
"Steen" is another name for Chenin Blanc you may find on a bottle of South African Chenin. These wines have more tropical fruit flavors and a distinct 'funk' you will either love or hate. (Note: "Funk" is a great, acceptable wine term that describes a special character in a wine. Funk can range from barnyard-like characteristics to wet wool, which is the one you're more likely to find in Chenin from South Africa. It's a love/hate thing, truly. Best to try it for yourself and see if you've been missing out on the South African Chenin fun.)
Chenin Blanc from California typically comes across the tasting table in the form of a blend, like 80% Chenin Blanc and 20% Viognier. These blends are enticingly fuller bodied, and offer dramatic floral aromas. Not too shabby in their own right!
Either which way you slice it, Chenin Blanc pairs well with goat cheese, fish, grilled chicken or many vegetarian dishes. Heck - they are brilliant on their own, too! My favorite hosts always have a bottle at the ready because they are so versatile and guest-friendly. But I also often characterize them as "porch guzzlers" - where friends are entirely optional. Some things are too good to share!
Which Chenin Blanc offerings are your favorites? Any particular country that makes your heart beat a bit faster?