Chenin Blanc is a grape that is capable of greatness, but the sad truth is that it is often dished up as that cheap neutral glass on a wine list. The reason is that it is naturally high yielding, so the farmer who is just looking to produce plentiful grapes without much flavour finds it very useful. But when tamed into producing less and more intense grapes its character totally changes. So at one end of its style spectrum it has crisp apple and citrus flavour, with mouth watering acidity. Riper and even late harvest, dessert wine styles have intense peach and cream fruit flavour.
Vouvray in Loire, France is the classic region. Here the styles have that baked apple creamy influence, along with a distinct wet wool aroma and often a bit of residual sweetness. The high acidity of Chenin give these wines great ability to age bringing out a beautiful honey’d sweetness.
More youthful dry styles of Chenin are produced elsewhere and are sometimes oaked, delivering layers of peppery spice to the crisp apple fruit. A very refreshing style, that is similar to a classic oaked Chardonnay. South Africa has particularly taken to this newer style of Chenin.
A grape with high acidity. It has high yields and thin skins that can rot. Late harvest sweet styles often have touches of the beneficial botrytis rot, that can add some almond oil richness to its flavour. One of the few white grapes with great ageing potential. Loire producers often give the grapes skin contact to concentrate the flavours, and soften acidity with a bit of malolactic fermentation. Lees stirring is also used to add body and texture.
Chardonnay, Semillon, Furmint, Gruner Veltliner
France: Loire (Vouvray, Montlouis, Coteaux de Layon)
South Africa: Elgin, Robertson
New Zealand: Gisbourne
Fish and chips, fish pie, salmon fish cakes, Ceasar salad, quiche
Sweet styles: hard cheese, cheesecakes or apple crumble