Many ways to love Chenin Blanc

Fresh and invigorating, slightly sweet or honied, but always perfumey, Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most versatile wines.

I’ve always been partial to this grape that calls France’s Loire Valley its spiritual home. Thanks to a tasting hosted by Val de Loire Millesime at the impressive Chateau Royal in Blois, France, overlooking the Loire River, I’ve discovered many ways to love Chenin Blanc.

Up to now I’ve had sparkling, dry and dessert-style sweet Chenins. Tasting more than 50 wines side-by-side, each one was very different, depending on the soil it was grown in, when it was harvested, how dry it was fermented (meaning zero to a small percentage of residual sugar remaining) and what region, or appellation it came from.

Some wines were minerally, fresh and aromatic, while others were more bold and expressive, with a heady fragrance and a hint of sweetness. Others were syrupy in texture and sweet, but not overly cloying, just well-balanced.

Here’s a guide to decoding the label. “Sec” means dry, “semi sec” or “moelleux” means semi-sweet and “doux” means sweet. “Off dry” indicates a slightly sweet wine. You’ll find these styles in still wines, but you’ll also find the dry to sweet range in sparkling Chenin Blancs too. 
Look for Chenin Blanc from Vouvray (where the only grape grown is Chenin Blanc), Anjou, Savennieres, Touraine and Chinon. Most are made by small, family-owned wineries, producing less than 10,000 cases. Domaine Huet is one producer to look for at your local wine boutique.

While Chenin has been hard to find in the U.S., I’ve been seeing more of it, both from France and California producers. I recommend Chenins from Chappellet and Casa Nuestra in Napa Valley, Broc Cellars in Berkeley, Leo Steen in Sonoma, Sandlands in Napa Valley, LoFi Wines in Lompoc, Lieu Dit in Lompoc, Vinum Cellars in Napa and Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa (I also love their Chenin Blanc Viognier)

The wines, in France at least, are ridiculously cheap – most less than 10 Euros (about $12). They’re a little more expensive here, starting at about $12-$15 and up. Try whatever you can find – and you just may fall in love with the many expressions of this beautiful wine.

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