Where to start? Chenin has so many faces it’s hard to pin down a single characteristic that reliably gives it away. At the lower end of the quality scale, Chenin makes pretty, clean, crisp white wine with nicely refreshing acidity and fresh orchard fruit flavours. With an improvement in quality and lower yields you get much more concentration and flavour and then it really starts to get interesting. A little like Riesling, Chenin can be bone dry, lusciously sweet or anywhere in between. Depending on the bent of the winemaker, it can crisp and light, or more full and rich (the richer, fuller style is more likely from warmer climates).
Chenin’s most wonderful incarnation has to be in the form of a botrytised sweet dessert wine. These glorious wines are golden, multi-layered exotic beauties with acidity that just dances across your tongue refreshing your palate after every sip. These sweet wines can age for decades and are the reason Chenin Blanc has a reputation for greatness.
As a sparkling wine, Chenin glitters too. The sparkling wines of the Loire Valley may not have quite the depth or complexity of champagne, but they do make very attractive, very good value sparkling wines.
In France, you will find delicious Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley. Vouvray and Anjou are the names on the label that point to Chenin Blanc inside the bottle. Vouvray wines can be sweet or dry so you may need to dig a little to find out what’s inside. If you see the word ‘moelleux’ on the bottle you will know it is sweet.
Quarts de Chaume, Coteaux de Layon and Bonnezeaux are all wonderful appellations for dessert wines made from Chenin Blanc.
South Africa has large plantings of Chenin Blanc, but the quality is variable. Look for a reliable producer and be aware that cheap wines are unlikely to be thrilling. The good stuff is well worth seeking out though and there are gems to be found. As with most things, high yields mean low quality but low prices. You get what you pay for.
New Zealand has the ideal climate for good quality Chenin and indeed there are some lovely wines coming through.
Chenin will happily blend with other white grapes. It is sometimes blended with Chardonnay, but there are other blends of Chardonnay/Viognier/Sauvignon and so on emerging.
This largely depends on the style of the wine – the light, crisp styles of Chenin work with different foods than the richer, fuller styles.
Crisp, young, light Chenin works brilliantly with nearly all fish including, prawns, crab, oysters, smoked salmon, fish and chips and oysters. It is also fantastic with fresh spring vegetables and fresh goats cheese.
Fuller styles of Chenin work with gravadlax, scallops, fishcakes, omelettes and frittatas, dishes in creamy sauces, salmon en croute, roasted root vegetables, roast chicken and particularly well with pork and apple combinations.
Chenin with a touch of sweetness works really well with mild fruity curries or south Asian salads.
Dessert wines made from Chenin are a match made in heaven with pear or apricot tart or even peach crumble.
JN Sparkling Saumur, Loire Valley
Bouvet Brut Saphir, Loire Valley
Forrest Chenin Blanc, New Zealand
Secateurs Chenin Blanc, South Africa
Wines with a little sweetness
La Grille Chenin Blanc, Loire. Off dry
Chateau Gaudrelle Vouvray, Loire. Medium dry
Long Beach Chenin Blanc, South Africa. Off dry
Domaine de Ventenac Colombard/Chenin, Regional France
Rives Blanques Chardonnay/Chenin, Regional France
Pikes White Mullet, Australia
Reyneke Organic White (Chenin, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc), South Africa
Wolftrap White (Viognier, Chenin, Grenache Blanc), South Africa