Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Chenin Blanc

The Soundbyte:  Chenin Blanc is native to the Loire Valley Region of France and is widely grown throughout the Loire and the new world.

Chenin Blanc produces a fruity, floral, easy to drink white wine with clean, fresh flavors and a good zing of acidity.   However, this is no simple little white wine grape; Chenin Blanc can be made into serious, mineral-driven dry wines, methode traditionnelle sparkling wines, and decadent botrytis-affected dessert wines in addition to the well-known, and much beloved “porch sipper” style.

Typical Attributes of a Chenin Blanc Based Wine:

  • Dry Chenin Blanc wines are generally light bodied and fruity, with floral and nutty overtones.
  • Chenin Blanc has a good deal of acidity, but balanced with the fruity, or sometimes sweet, tastes and flavors typical of the grape it generally comes across as a smooth, easy to drink and easy to love wine.
  • Dry Chenin Blanc tends to be low-alcohol and refreshing to drink.
  • Chenin Blanc’s delicate character makes it a good match for delicately flavored foods.  It can also be used as a wine match for interesting, spicy, or blended “fusion-style” flavors;   Its delicacy means there are few flavors that will “clash” with such foods.
  • Chenin Blanc is also made into Sparkling wines in the Loire Valley and other regions.
  • Due to its racy acidity, Chenin Blanc also stars as a dessert wine often produced in a late harvest or botrytis-affected style.
  • Chenin Blanc also has a serious side, and the steely, nervy, mineral-driven wines of Savenniéres have been called “the most cerebral wines in the world”.

Typical Aromas of a Chenin Blanc Based Wine:

Fruity:  Apricot, Melon, Green Apple, Green Plum, Pear, Quince, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, Greengage (a light green plum popular in France and England).

Floral/Herbal:  Orange Blossom, Wildflowers, Perfume, Honey, Honeysuckle, Acacia, Grass, Hay, Angelica (a herb that smells somewhat like celery, is often candied, and is used to flavor Chartreuse)

Chalk, Mineral:  Flint, Smoke, “Steely”

Nutty:  Almond, Marzipan

Where The Best Chenin Blanc is Grown:

  • The Loire Valley in France, notably the regions of Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, Savevnnières, and Saumur.  The Loire Valley is thought to be the native home of Chenin Blanc, and it is used to make just about every type of white wine possible.  The region of Savennières produces bone-dry, steely versions, while Anjou, Montlouis, and Vouvray are made in a variety of styles from dry to sweet.  Saumur and other Loire regions produce sparkling Chenin Blanc from dry to sweet, and world-class dessert wines are the specialty of Bonnezeaux and Quarts-de-Chaume.
  • Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted white wine grape in South Africa, where for centuries it has gone by the name of “Steen.”  The grape may have been one of the original grapes planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655, or it may have come to South Africa with the French Huguenots who arrived a bit later.
  • California, Washington, New Mexico and several other U.S. States
  • Australia, where it is often blended with Semillon, and New Zealand, where it is grown in small amounts on the North Island.
  • Many other wine producing regions and countries—including the emerging regions of Israel, Brazil, Urugauy, and Mexico—have plantings of Chenin Blanc.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Delicately Flavored Seafood, Smoked Seafood, Shellfish
  • Chicken, other types of Poultry, Chicken Liver, Foie Gras
  • Ham, Prosciutto, Bacon
  • Goat’s Cheese
  • Crudities and Dips
  • Potato Dishes, Vegetarian Dishes
Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:
  • Curry, Indian Spices, Asian Spices
  • Capers, Herbs
  • Mushrooms, Avocado, Zucchini, Endive, Spinach
  • Honey (go easy on the sweetness with dry wines)
  • Almonds, Hazelnuts
  • Apricot, Melon, Apple

Note: When it comes to food pairings, by all means—drink what you like!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas



Wine Reviews: Kanu Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2009

My favorite Chenin Blanc for the last 5 years…


Kanu Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2009 – Wine of Origin Stellenbosch

Looking like pale yellow sunlight-in-a-glass, Kanu Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2009 reveals lifted aromas of lime, peach, apricot, and mineral met in mid-air by the pure, precise scent of lemon peel and sweet almond.  On the palate, a thunderstorm of lime precedes a fast grip of minerality and a drive-by shot of almond, followed by a soothing balm of peach and apricot.  Walking a fine, perfectly balanced line between fruitiness and acidity, this wine is as fresh and edgy as a blind date with your best friend’s ex.

Food Pairing Suggestions for Kanu Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2009 :

This crisp white wine, while is has suggestions of a plump full-bodiedness in the texture, shows delicacy of flavor and is taking a lingering walk on the lighter side of life…so I would suggest sticking to lighter foods as base ingredients – fish, shellfish, chicken, cream-based pastas, vegetarian dishes and cheeses. 

I would love to pair this wine with Pecan-Crusted Chicken glazed with Dijon Mustard-Cream Sauce and Gruyere Cheese.  This chicken and wine are a good fit on texture, the pecans will add a bridge flavor to the subtle nuttiness in the wine, and the crisp lemon-like acidity in the wine will cut through the richness of the creamy sauce and the cheese. 

I would also relish this wine served alongside Grilled Salmon with Jalapeno-Mango Mojo.  Once again, we have a texture match, but the flavors in this meet-up do a different kind of dance. The subtle sweetness in the wine would cool the zing of jalapeno heat in a hurry, and the sweet mango mojo will be matched by sweet fruit in the wine, bringing forward the fruit flavors of the wine while relaxing its sweetness.  

As a tip of the hat to the legendary cuisine of South Africa, I would match this wine with Grilled Shrimp with Chakalaka, a spicy, slow-cooked blend of tomatoes, chilies, onion, and garlic.  This wine has the fruit, the acidity, and the crisp, fresh coolness to cut through the heat of the chakalaka and the let sweet, savory saltiness of the shrimp shine through. 

On a different note, if today brings on a balmy afternoon, I might just sip this wine by itself; with my toes in the pool, a close eye on the kids, an even closer eye on my anh (adorable new husband)…that’s always a perfect match!

If you would like more information on Chenin Blanc, click here for my Chenin Blanc Cheat Sheet!