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 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  and 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

Click here for a review of my Favorite Chenin Blanc of all Time!

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

 

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Viognier

The Soundbyte:  Viognier seemed literally an endangered variety only a few years ago, but is now recovering worldwide in terms of both both popularity and acreage. Viognier makes unique white wines that will bowl you over with a its outrageous floral aromas and peach-pear-apricot fruit flavors. While Viognier will beguile you with its gorgeous aroma and yellow-gold hue; make no mistake, this wine can pack a punch in terms of body, flavor, and alcohol…all in a great way, of course!   

 Typical Attributes of a Viognier-Based Wine:

  • Intriguing Floral Bouquet combined with apricot, peach, and pear aromas.
  • Tropical fruit flavors and a creamy mouthfeel.
  • Even without oak aging, Viognier can be as full-bodied as an oaky Chardonnay.
  • Deep golden color.
  • Rich and intense in flavor, sometimes high in alcohol, although the overall richness makes the alcohol not very noticeable.  Proceed with caution!
  • Viognier is quite low in acid. This makes for a smooth, velvety palate…but it might be best not to pair this wine with high acid foods.
  • I have had a few late-harvest dessert wines made from Viognier, and they are delicious!

Typical Aromas of a Viognier-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Apricot, Over-ripe Apricot, Mango, Pineapple, Citrus, Apple, Pear, Peach

Floral:  Honey, Acacia, Orange Blossom, Violet, Honeysuckle, Wildflowers

Spicy:  Anise, Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Vanilla

Herbal:  Mown Hay, Tobacco, Mint

Butter, Cream

Where The Best Viognier is Grown:

  • The Northern Rhône appellations of Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet produce amazing white wines from 100% Viognier.
  • In the Southern Rhône and throughout the south of France, Viognier is often used to add fragrance and to soften and lighten the red G-S-M or Syrah-based wines of the Rhône.  Even if you wouldn’t know it from looking at the label, a red Rhône or G-S-M blend can have up to 10% ov Viognier in the mix.
  • California, particularly the warmer regions such as Lodi and the Sierra Foothills.
  • The State of Virginia is beginning to make some excellent Viognier, and Texas makes some nice versions as well!
  • Australia makes some excellent versions.
  • Plantings in France’s Languedoc, Roussillon, and Provence regions are expanding.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Pungent Cheeses
  • Crab, Mussels, Shrimp, Salmon, Smoked Salmon
  • Smoked Food, Poultry, Turkey, Pork

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Tropical Fruits, Pears, Apricot, Peach, Orange
  • Curry, Ginger, Clove, Cinnamon
  • Sweet Onions, Garlic, Coconut, Honey
  • Herbs, Corn, Polenta, Walnuts, Hazelnuts
  • Butter, Cream, Fresh Cheeses

Click here for a recipe for Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic – a “perfect pairing partner” recipe for Viognier.