Chenin blanc is a French white grape variety in the aromatic category, where it shares some qualities with grapes like sauvignon blanc, riesling, and gewürztraminer. It achieves its most “classic” expression in the Loire Valley in Northwest France, where it thrives in chalky limestone soils along the Loire River.
French white wines and appellations that feature chenin blanc include Vouvray, Anjou, Bonnezeaux, Saumur, Savennières, Quarts de Chaume, Coteaux du Layon, Crémant de Loire (a sparkling chenin blanc), and others. These wines are almost always 100% chenin blancs and are made in a range of styles from bone-dry to semi-sweet (Sec) and late-harvest dessert style (Moelleaux).
While chenin from the Loire can be simple, such as a delightfully sweet Anjou, or quite serious, like a Savennières, other countries, like South Africa, are also well-known for the grape. South African chenin blanc is often described as the “pinot grigio of the Cape” for it is light-bodied, easy-drinking, and available virtually everywhere you go.
Other regions where you’ll find chenin blanc include the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Napa Valley, in particular, has a few excellent varietal chenin blancs that are well worth checking out.
What Does Chenin Blanc Taste Like?
Though chenin blanc can be made in many different styles and is available in various quality levels and price points, it has an incredibly distinct flavor and aromatic profile that is instantly recognizable to the experienced taster.
Typical aromas include white floral notes, almond paste, almond blossom, and lanolin, the latter of which can often be quite pronounced. In traditionally-styled chenin, this smell can come across as slightly animal, what some may describe as “wet sheep” or “wet wool.” However, modernist winemakers tend to prefer a cleaner style, and although the telltale hint of lanolin is present, you’re more likely to pick up notes of fresh lime and white flowers with a hint of almond paste.
On the palate, chenin blanc is light to medium-bodied, high-acid, and replete with minerality, especially when grown in the Loire.
What to Pair with Chenin Blanc
Because chenin blanc is a high-acid wine, it is an excellent match for all kinds of cuisine. If you are choosing a menu based on the wine, first consider the style. Dry chenin blanc pairs well with lighter dishes, such as white fish, roast chicken, roast pork, grain salads (bulghur, quinoa, wheat berries, etc.), or grilled vegetables. A light cream sauce does well, but avoid sauces that are heavy on the butter unless the wine has a little sweetness.
Medium sweet chenin blanc is an excellent match for all types of Asian cuisine, especially Thai, Chinese, and Indian. Spicy ethnic dishes also do well with sweeter chenin, so if you have a craving for paella, chenin blanc would be a good choice.
If you’re looking for an outside-the-box pairing for your holiday meals, dry or medium sweet chenin blanc does exceedingly well with turkey dinners but choose one on the sweeter side to go with ham.