Poor Chenin Blanc. The darling of the Loire Valley. The most popular wine in the United States during the 1970s. Now all too often thought of as a cheap, sweet wine, often found in a jug.
The Sad Story of the 1970s
In the 1970s, the U.S. wine industry was enamored by how easy it was grow Chenin Blanc grapes and market Chenin Blanc wine. So they went to town! They added sugar to appeal to sweet tooths. They sold it in jugs to appeal to jug lovers ☺ They overproduced it in the vineyards, taking away many of the grape’s distinct characteristics.
The long and short of it is that they grew the grape and produced the wine in an industrial fashion that resulted in a mass-market wine without a lot of character.
The Good News
The good news is that the mass-market Chenin Blanc didn’t eliminate the good Chenin Blanc. It’s quite available and quite wonderful. You just need to look for it.
Chenin Blanc is one of the most versatile wine grape varieties around. It can be used to produce crisp, dry table wines, sweeter table wines, light, sparkling wines, dessert wines and even brandy.
Wine expert Jancis Robinson describes Chenin Blanc as France’s answer to the German Riesling. I like to think of it as a fuller, richer Riesling.
Typical aromas and flavors of Chenin Blanc include apple, lime, pear, honey, honeysuckle, quince, melon, flint, smoke, grass and hay.
Chenin Blanc pairs beautifully with salads, mild to spicy rice dishes, sushi, seafood, poultry and ham.
Finding Chenin Blanc
While Chenin Blanc’s origin is the Loire Valley, there is less Chenin Blanc planted in all of France than in most wine-producing countries of the New World. In South Africa, where it goes by the name of Steen, Chenin Blanc accounts for nearly one third of all grape vines. In California, it is the third most widely planted white wine grape. It is also widely planted in Central and South America and Australia and New Zealand.
Cheers to a happier future for Chenin Blanc!