Chenin blanc is a white grape that’s beloved in many wine circles, but might not be in your everyday rotation.
Generally, it produces a wine that is neither too heavy nor too light in body, and always has a velvety texture and a nice kick of acid on the finish. We love chenin blanc all of the time, but it is particularly nice as a transitional white from late summer into early fall. Also, this grape shines at a diverse dinner table (think: giant Thanksgiving spread), so take note for the coming holiday season.
The grape’s French home is the Loire Valley, where the styles made with it range from lean and mineral-focused, to sweet and floral, to dynamic sparkling wines. Regional names such as Vouvray, Savennieres and Saumur blanc use chenin.
While classically French, it is the most widely planted grape in South Africa, where it also goes by the name steen. Although it accounts for a lot of mediocre wine in that country, there are producers — both classic and cutting-edge — making wines of quality with it that are worth seeking out.
Finally, there is California, where chenin is having a bit of a renaissance. This grape is not new to the Golden State, although for most of the past century it was used to make generally low-quality wines, often as part of bulk blends. A true golden child, the grape tends to produce wine evocative of yellow fruit, such as golden apple, lemon, pineapple and star fruit.
Here are three very distinct chenin blanc wines worth seeking out:
Guiberteau Saumur blanc 2021. This serious wine, which comes from an incredible producer in the Loire Valley, is effortlessly enjoyable. The clay limestone soil translates a beautiful river stone minerality, layered with notes of honey, lemon and golden apple. It’s also the most light-bodied and delicate of the three featured wines.
J.Brix Wild Wild Sea chenin blanc 2020. This truly is a wild wine, produced from vines grown in an area that was an ancient seabed in the Santa Ynez Valley in California. Emily Towe and Jody Brix Towe make beautiful, small-production wines that showcase old vines from special plots in Southern California. Riper and richer than the Guiberteau, this wine has a pleasant salinity on top of notes of pineapple vinegar, ripe apple and star fruit.
Reigning Sun white wine 2022. Hailing from the Western Cape of South Africa, this wine showcases the opulent side of chenin. The most texturally rich of the group, this wine has a touch of muscat and semillon grapes. Expect lush flavors and aromas of melon, apricot, green banana and paw paw fruit, with a touch of chamomile on the finish.
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