Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape that originated in the Loire Valley in France, and has become an important grape in South Africa, as well as other new world regions. It is versatile in the sense that it’s high acid, complexity of aromas and flavors, and ability to become deeply concentrated, lend itself to a variety of styles. Chenin Blanc is made as a dry, still white, sparkling, dessert wine, plus demi-sec wines. It truly has something for everyone.
In 1936 Vouvray, in the Loire Valley, was created as an Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC). The region is set along the right bank of the Loire River and has decidedly perfect soil anatomy for Chenin Blanc. Vineyards are usually planted on the plateau above the river bank in soils composed of gravel and clay on top of tuffeau. The climate is also special, in that the cooler regions are perfect for growing grapes for sparkling wine, while the more humid areas are conducive to the growth of noble rot for sweeter wines.
South Africa has long been beating the drum for Chenin Blanc, focusing on the grape for still wines, as well as their dessert wines (called straw wines), that are made by raisining the grapes on straw.
The region in South Africa that spearheaded the Chenin movement (sometimes called Steen there) was the Swartland, under producers such as Chris and Andrea Mullineux, Eben Sadie, David and Nadia Sadie, and Adi Badenhorst.
California and Washington have had success with the grape as well, mostly using it in blends to add complexity or in dry single varietal bottlings. Lots of other new world wineries are picking up on the trend, with Chenin shining in New York State, Virginia, Oregon and beyond.
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