Chenin Blanc is a somewhat lesser known, though highly versatile, crisp white varietal most often found in the Loire Valley, France’s most diverse wine region. Flavors range from ripe green apple to honey and apricot, making it an excellent food pairing wine and a casual sipper.
In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into Chenin Blanc wine, its growing region, tasting notes, serving recommendations, and of course, plenty of food pairings.
Characteristics of Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc is a light-bodied white wine made primarily in the Loire Valley of Central France. Chenin is the main white grape planted in the region and comes in a wide range of flavors and sweetness levels, from bone dry to subtly sweet, sparkling, and dessert wines. Flavors will vary depending on the grape’s ripeness, though green apple, yellow apple, guava, pear, lemon, lime, honey, and stonefruit are most common.
In France, Chenin Blanc is the only white grape permitted in the Loire appellations of Vouvray and Savennières. It’s these regions that produce the best examples of Chenin Blanc in the world.
In addition, Chenin is most commonly found in South Africa and the United States, though these wines tend to lack the complexity of Loire’s Chenin.
Chenin’s success in France comes down to its ability to succeed in varying climates. Like Riesling, it takes well to botrytis or “noble rot,” resulting in exceptional dessert wines. To achieve this the grapes were affected by a fungus, Botrytis cinerea, creating one of France’s most outstanding dessert wines, Quarts de Chaume, made entirely from Chenin Blanc.
Chenin Blanc is high-acid, light-bodied, and usually low in alcohol, around 11-13% ABV. It is an aromatic wine that will vary in flavor depending on the sweetness and ripeness of the grapes.
Dry Chenin Blanc can be expected to have flavors of green apple, peach, apricot, mango and lemon, along with a detectible minerality. Sweeter style Chenin Blanc will have more stonefruit, ginger, and candied citrus peel flavors. Dessert wines, in particular, made from Chenin will often possess a mouthcoating texture and plush flavors of honey, mango and almond.
Oak aging is a somewhat common winemaking style outside of France. These buttery and toasted flavors mellow out the acidity of the wine and reveal a remarkable similarity to Chardonnay. When unoaked, the wine maintains its snappy acidity, apple and citrus flavor on the palate.
Chenin Blanc is often kept as a single varietal, though in South Africa, it may be blended with Chardonnay or Viognier. Due to its bright acidity, it’s a wine that can easily be aged for several years. Over time, you can expect a honey-like earthiness and flavors of nut to develop in the bottle.
How to Serve
Chenin Blanc is best served in a standard white wine glass, chilled at around 45-49F. Decanting is not necessary. Sparkling Chenin may be served in a Champagne or coupe glass, well chilled at around 40-45F.
Notable Growing Regions for Chenin Blanc
Thanks to Chenin’s success growing in warm, moderate, and cool climates, it’s a wine that’s made its mark across the globe. Here are some of its most notable regions.
France’s Loire Valley
Loire Valley is located in Central France, France’s most eclectic growing region. You’ll find everything from sparkling to dry and dessert wines here. This is Chenin’s birthplace and, still to date, makes the best quality Chenin of any region.
Because of Loire’s size, it is impossible to generalize what makes it such a unique growing region. Much of the Loire Valley is daringly cool, making for barely-ripened grapes and youthful, taught wines. The two leading white grapes in the area are Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.
As mentioned earlier, Chenin Blanc is most prevalent in Central Loire, specifically in the appellations of Vouvray and Savennières. These wines are never oak-aged and possess delightful minerality, green apple, citrus peel, ginger flavors, and a long-lasting finish.
The best regions in France’s Loire Valley
South Africa is the largest producer of Chenin Blanc and accounts for nearly 50% of all Chenin planted. Here it may also be known as Steen. Quality varies extensively, ranging from cheap jug to neutral to high-quality wines.
Blending is common with both high-end and cheap jug wines. High-end South African Chenin Blanc wine may be blended with Semillon and Viognier to make aromatic, complex, and rich wines. Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc may also be blended in the Loire style to produce fresh and zippy dry wines.
Chenin was all the rage in California, USA up until the 1970s. It was commonly used for cheap jug wines and easy-drinking white wines with residual sugar. Its production has since decreased due to the popularity of Chardonnay. Still, California’s warmer climate, especially the napa valley, makes excellent examples of a riper, more full-bodied Chenin.
Chenin Blanc is an amazing food pairing wine due to its naturally high acidity, minerality, and crisp fruit flavor. A dry version of this wine is best paired with seafood, goat cheese, charcuterie, cream sauces, and fresh or roasted veggies.
Opt for an off-dry or semi-sweet version for spicy foods like this Sweet and Spicy Honey Sriracha Salmon or Indian, Thai, or Asian cuisine. You’ll find it pairs well with foods that have a sweet and sour element like this Sweet and Sour Pork Skewers. Meanwhile, fried foods like our Fried Goat Cheese Balls and Crispy Pan Fried Shrimp Toasts go best with sparkling Chenin Blanc.
While you should avoid hearty proteins like red meat or smoked meats, as these can be overpowered by the delicate citrus flavors of the wine, it goes extremely well with chicken and turkey dinners.
Consider Chenin Blanc the perfect pairing partner for anything you’d pair with Pinot Grigio, and don’t be afraid to experiment!