A Wine Lover’s View Of White Chenin Blanc Grapes

The Chenin Blanc grape is said to have originated in Anjou, in the Loire Valley of northwestern France where it was known as far back as the Ninth Century and later expanded into the Rhone Valley in eastern France. In addition to France, Chenin Blanc is grown in Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, etc. and in the United States, in particular in California, where it has taken a back seat to Chardonnay. It is the most widely planted white grape variety in South Africa, where it is called Steen and has been grown since the mid or late Seventeenth Century. Many experts believe that Chenin Blanc is a close relative of the more popular Sauvignon Blanc grape.

Chenin Blanc wine varies widely in style depending on the climate, the soil, and the winemaker’s art. Cool areas often produce a full-bodied, fruity, acidic, high-alcohol wine. Unlike most white wines, some top of the line Chenin Blanc wines can continue to develop for decades. In the right climate, such as in Anjou-Saumure of France’s Loire valley, these grapes produce an excellent dessert wine. The Vouvray region located in the eastern Loire Valley specializes in sparkling wines. Warm areas tend to produce large quantities of bland grapes for blending or for jug wines.

The wine region’s climate helps determine whether the Chenin Blanc will make a sweet or a dry wine, and vineyard’s soil type tends to influence the overall style of the wine. Heavy clay based soils, and the right climate, help make those delicious sweet (the technical term is botrized) dessert wines that mature slowly. Well-drained and less organic, predominately sandy soils tend to produce lighter styles of wine that mature more rapidly. Soils containing a high level of silex lead to wines with a mineral taste while limestone based soils make for sharply acidic wines. Enjoy Chenin Blanc wines with Clams, Oysters, Mussels, Shrimp, Quiche, spicy Asian and Mexican food and Camembert Cheese. Of course, different styles of Chenin Blanc go well with different foods. For example, light dry varieties such as Anjou AOC (Appellation d’origine controlee) may be best enjoyed with light dishes including chicken, fish, and salads. The medium versions may call for cream sauces and pates. Count on the sweeter types to deal best with spicy dishes.

I have reviewed Chenin Blanc wines coming from South Africa and France, tasting them with a wine variety of foods. But I have yet to taste a Texan Chenin Blanc.

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten computer and Internet books, but prefers drinking fine Iwine with good company. He teaches computer classes at an Ontario French-language community college. His global wine website www.theworldwidewine.com features a weekly review of $10 wines. His Italiian  travel website is http://www.travelitalytravel.com .

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