Oh Chenin Blanc, how I have grown to really love thee. My natural tendency is to lean more towards red wines. But Chenins have renewed my love of white wine. It is a versatile grape and is made into a variety of different styles; dry to sweet, still to sparkling, oaked to unoaked, and everything in between. So, if a medium bodied, medium to high acid wine that can taste like citrus, tropical fruits like pineapple, green leaf with some smoke or minerality to it, sounds delicious to you then there is a Chenin out there for you.
Chenin grapes can grow in cool, moderate or hot climates. It especially likes limestone soils. It is most commonly grown in the Loire Valley in France and in South Africa. Interestingly the grapes in a bunch will ripen at different speeds, so harvesting a Chenin is often done in a few different passes to ensure they get the right ripeness out of the grape and less grapes wasted if harvested one time.
Chenin Blancs are also susceptible to noble rot (botrytis) or are left on the vine to shrivel in the sun (called passerillage) to produce higher concentrated grapes to utilize in the production of sweeter wines. So, when looking at the label, if you are looking for a sweeter wine, look for words like noble rot, botrytis affected, or passerillage in the description, or medium dry, medium sweet or luscious (with luscious being the sweetest). Botrytis affected grapes will often have a rich orange marmalade flavor profile.
Vouvray is one of the most common styles to come out of the Loire Valley in France. It is usually medium-sweet with high acidity, medium bodied, unoaked and will have lovely citrus, green apple, pineapple flavours to it.
South Africa Chenin’s are often done in a drier style. It is most commonly dry to off-dry, medium to high acidity, medium bodied and is commonly oaked. It too has tropical and citrus notes on the nose and palate but may have some oak characteristics as well like toast, vanilla, smoke or coconut.
France also produces some great dry Chenins as well and other regions are planting this great grape as well. So, how do you pick a good Chenin that will match your taste? Read the labels. This is super important. Decide if you want a dry, off-dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet or luscious wine. Look for those words. If it is a Vouvray it will likely be medium-dry at the driest, and if you see other regions say it is in the Vouvray style than it will likely be similar to what I wrote about earlier. Take a look at the alcohol percentage, the higher the alcohol the dryer the wine will likely be. See if it is oaked or unoaked. I generally prefer unoaked white wines so that is an important indicator to me.
But of course, the best way to find a Chenin you love, is to taste it. Buy a variety of them and see what you like. Happy tasting!