Before chardonnay began to grow in popularity in the 1970s, chenin blanc was the most widely planted classic white grape in California. That it is found there now in a smaller amount is not a reflection of chenin blanc’s merits but evidence of chardonnay’s easy likeability and successful promotion.
The most famous, vibrant chenin blancs in the world come from the Loire Valley of France. Specifically from the appellations Vouvray, Savennieres, Anjou, and Saumur. In particular, the great Vouvrays and savennieres are stunningly complex, long-lived vines with shimmering acidity. In the Loire, chenin blanc is made in a variety of degrees of sweetness from bone-dry to quite sweet.
Several varieties have a subtle touch of sweetness that is barely noticeble, the result of leaving a tiny bit of the natural grape sugar or the residual sugar in the wine to better accentuate roundness and balance the acidity. Consequently, a fully sweet chenin blanc, can be absolutely phenomenal. One of the most legendary of all is Quarts de Chaume, from a little known area in the center of the Loire Valley.
Chenin blanc is also the leading white grape of South Africa, where it is known as steen. Therein, however, it is most unfortunately made primarily into a very simple, innocuous quaffing wine. Nonetheless, in California, chenin blanc becomes a wine that is utterly effortless to drink, with soft, round flavors reminiscent of pears, melons, apricots, red apples, peaches, and fruit-cocktail syrup. Although riesling in California can seem similar to chenin blanc, chenin is usually a fuller wine.
If by association or example, modern life allowed us, such seemingly lost but, guilty pleasures as sitting in a field of wildflowers and reading Madame Bovary or The Age of Innocence, then, chenin blanc would be the fitting wine to partake in.
Chenin Blanc is primarily grown and produced principally in: California; France in the Loire Valley – where it is used vouvray, Savennieres, and other wines. South Africa; Texas, and Washington State.
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