International Chenin Day
Sometimes I think that Chenin Blanc is my preferred grape – it can be vinified lean and settly, ever so off dry, sparkly, or as a dessert wine; it can age forever, and goes so well with so many foods.
Chenin blanc (known also as Pineau de la Loire among other names) is a white wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France. Its high acidity means it can be used to make everything from sparkling wines to well-balanced dessert wines, although it can produce very bland, neutral wines if the vine’s natural vigor is not controlled.
Outside the Loire it is found in most of the New World wine regions; it is the most widely planted variety in South Africa, where it was historically also known as Steen. The grape may have been one of the first to be grown in South Africa by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655, or it may have come to that country with Huguenots fleeing France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.
Chenin blanc was often misidentified in Australia as well, so tracing its early history in the country is not easy. It may have been introduced in James Busby’s collection of 1832, but C. Waterhouse was growing Steen at Highercombe in Houghton, South Australia, by 1862. It provides a fairly neutral palate for the expression of terroir, vintage variation, and the winemaker’s treatment.
In cool areas, the juice is sweet but high in acid with a full-bodied fruity palate. The white wines of the Anjou AOC are a popular expression of Chenin as a dry wine, with flavors of quince and apples. In nearby Vouvray AOC, they aim for an off-dry style, developing honey and floral characteristics with age. In the best vintages, the grapes can be left on the vines to develop noble rot, producing an intense, viscous dessert wine that may improve considerably with age.
In 1999, DNA analysis has shown that Chenin blanc has a parent-offspring relationship with the Jura wine grape Savagnin. Additional DNA evidence shows that Chenin blanc shares a sibling relationship with Trousseau and Sauvignon blanc (both grapes the likely offspring of Savagnin) which strongly suggest that it is Chenin blanc that is the offspring and Savagnin is the parent variety. Through Chenin’s half-sibling relationship with Sauvignon blanc, the grape is related as an aunt/uncle variety to the Bordeaux wine grape Cabernet Sauvignon which is the offspring of Sauvignon blanc and Cabernet Franc.
While Chenin blanc is planted across the globe from China to New Zealand, Canada, and Argentina, it is considered a “major” planting in only a few locations. Though France is the viticultural home of Chenin blanc, by the turn of the 21st century there was twice as much Chenin blanc planted in South Africa as there was in France. The grape’s versatility and ability to reflect terroir causes it to lead, what Jancis Robinson describes as, a “double life”. In the Loire Valley of France, it is prized as a premium quality wine grape able to produce world-class wines, while in many New World wine regions it used as a “workhorse variety”, contributing acidity to bulk white blends and showing more neutral flavors rather than terroir. Throughout all its manifestations, Chenin blanc’s characteristic acidity is found almost universally in all wine regions.
How to celebrate: Come into Farmstead and buy a bottle or five. Take bottles home and chill down. Open a bottle. Pour wine into a glass. Drink. Repeat the last two steps until the bottle is finished.