Previous to chardonnay growing in popularity in the 1970s, chenin blanc was regarded as the most widely planted classic white grape in California. The fact, that it is found there now, in modest amounts is not a reflection of chenin blanc’s merits but, more evidence of chardonnay’s easy likeability and successful marketing.
The most famous, vibrant chenin blancs in the world come from the Loire Valley of France. Specifically from the appellations Vouvray, Savennieres, Anjou, and Saumur. In particular, the great Vouvrays and savennieres are stunningly complex, long-lived vines with shimmering acidity. In the Loire, chenin blanc is made in a variety of degrees of sweetness from bone-dry to quite sweet.
Many have a touch of sweetness that is barely perceptible, the result of leaving a tiny bit of natural grape sugar or residual sugar in the wines to accentuate roundness and balance the acidity. Fully sweet chenin blancs can be phenomenal. The most legendary of all is Quarts de Chaume, from a tiny area in the center of the Loire Valley.
Chenin blanc is also the leading white grape of South Africa, where it is known as steen. Therein, however, it is most unfortunately made primarily into a very simple, innocuous quaffing wine. Nonetheless, in California, chenin blanc becomes a wine that is utterly effortless to drink, with soft, round flavors reminiscent of pears, melons, apricots, red apples, peaches, and fruit-cocktail syrup. Although riesling in California can seem similar to chenin blanc, chenin is usually a fuller wine.
If all modern lives allowed for such seemingly lost pleasures, as to be sitting in a field of wildflowers and reading Madame Bovary or The Age of Innocence, then chenin blanc would be the most fitting wine to drink.
Chenin Blanc is primarily grown and produced principally in: California; France in the Loire Valley – where it is used vouvray, Savennieres, and other wines. South Africa; Texas, and Washington State.
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