The great English wine writer, Jancis Robinson, calls Chenin Blanc a chameleon. We couldn't agree more. In the few areas of the world where it is grown, it is primarily used as a blending grape because it grows rather effortlessly and produces acceptable wine with some character for everyday quaffing.
Chenin is a lighter-styled white wine, often reminiscent of ripe melons, pineapple and peaches. It may occasionally exhibit a slightly herbal aroma. In California, this wine can be very dry or very sweet. Most fall in the middle. In Vouvray, France however, it takes on totally different flavor profiles of pineapple and spice, along with a gripping acidity, and can be aged for many years.
Should be served slightly chilled.
For the few producers still willing to try, this grape offers lighter, elegant flavors to match well with food. The Sierra Foothills, especially around Clarksburg, seem to produce the best. This may be because it's just about the only place left growing this varietal and there are a few older vineyards with which to work.
If only based on the wines of Vouvray in the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc certainly would be considered a noble variety. Its flavor and intensity rivals Germany's Riesling by offering a plethora of flavors matched with gripping acidity enough of a soil to make one think that they have ingested liquid slate. It is easily one of the greatest white wine values in the world.
A myriad of styles are offered here. The most popular is labeled Demi-Sec, which literally translates to "half dry." Like a German Kabinet, the wines have a touch of sweetness to them, but it is balanced by such stinging acidity and finishes so cleanly, that it is not a distraction as much as it is a welcome sidekick.
This will be hard to believe by those who have not experienced them, but those dry versions labeled "Sec" need a minimum of 10 years to develop. This is pretty much unheard of for a dry white wine, but it holds up here like nowhere else. To experience these gems at their peak can only be described as liquid gold. The flavors are almost defy description.
Believe it or not, it gets better. The dessert wines labeled Quartz du Charmes rival the best of Sauternes and the best of Germany's BAs and TBAs. Unless you're a member of the cloth, it's as close to a religious experience as you'll get.
One of the best areas for this grape, South Africa boasts more vineyards of Chenin Blanc than France. It can be labeled "Steen" here, but regardless, offers not just a terrific value, but also many of the exotic melon and soil components that close in on Vouvray. Some of the better producers make outstanding values worth seeking out.
the few producers still willing to try, this grape offers lighter,
elegant flavors to match well with food. The Sierra Foothills, especially
around Clarksburg, seem to produce the best. This may be because
it's just about the only place left and their are a few older vineyards.