Chenin Blanc Is The Best White Wine You Don’t Know
Chenin blanc, probably the best white wine you never tried, finally has a growing presence.
You can now reliably find a few coming from the Pacific Northwest and South Africa. Chenin blanc’s Old World roots stretch back to France’s Loire Valley, where it served as a reliable producer for basic wines and as a feedstock for distilling.
Through the centuries, the grape showed an almost riesling-like versatility, making fine dry, sweet, off-dry wines and even dessert wines. The dry Chenin blanc Savennières has a cult-like fan base and sells for more than $20 a bottle, considered a screaming deal by fans and collectors.
Just across the Loire River, the same grape produces more basic wines as Vouvray, showing a great range of the quality with plenty of boring options among world-class selections.
A durable grape, Chenin blanc was common in California in the middle of the last century and used as a base in generic white wines. So, California Chenin shouldn’t surprise us today.
Terra d’Oro 2016 Clarksburg Chenin Blanc / Viognier is a smart blend with fresh quince, green apple and citrus with a round texture. Green plum finish and mouth-watering tartness is offset by a touch of juicy sweetness in this well-made wine. $16.
These days, outside of France, the only country that gives Chenin blanc any serious attention is South Africa. If the wine world were just, Chenin would be South Africa’s signature white grape. But Chenin lacks the profile of chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.
At a versatile value, Simonsing Stellenboch 2016 Chenin Blanc shows lovely melon and green apple character with floral notes and nice acidy. This is one to stock up on for weekday diners and get-togethers. $9.
Domaine de la Pisonniere 2015 Demi-Sec Vouvray is a good example of a basic and simple Chenin blanc. Light, simple, refreshing and somewhat underwhelming, it shows tropical fruit and a touch of sweetness. $15. ½
Chenin blanc pairs great with Middle Eastern food. Many are so cheap that it offers a great opportunity to explore several producers.
GRADE: Exceptional ★★★★★, Above average ★★★★, Good ★★★, Below Average ★★, Poor ★
DAVID FALCHEK, executive director of the American
Wine Society, reviews wines each week.