The Chenin Blanc grape is best known for its use in the Loire Valley in France. There, it is used to make Vouvray. High in acidity, this grape is very versatile and is used to produce anything from still and sparkling wines to sweet dessert wines. Chenin Blanc can be found throughout the world, but the major plantings are to be found in France, South Africa(where it is the most planted grape in the country), and the United States. This late ripening white grape produces anything from crisp, bone dry wines, to super sweet dessert wines.
Chenin Blanc is thought to have originated in the Anjou wine region sometime in the 9th century. In 1445 the grape was grown by the lord of Chenonceaux in a site known as Mont Chenin in Touraine. Experts believe this is where the grape got its name. From here the grape spread throughout the Loire Valley and later made its way to the Rhone region.
In 1655 Chenin Blanc was first introduced to South Africa by Jan Van Riebeeck. It soon became popular for its high productivity and its ability to retain high amounts of acidity, even in hot conditions. Here it was used to produce a base spirit for use in the Brandy trade and also as a blending wine. The late 20th century saw a change in attitude toward Chenin Blanc. Wine producers, and consumers started to appreciate Chenin Blanc not only as a blending wine, but as a quality varietal in its own right.
The major plantings of Chenin Blanc are found in France, South Africa and California in the United States.
South Africa: Chenin Blanc in South Africa has extensive depth in terms of terroir diversity, vineyards and winemaking styles. Chenin Blanc's exceptional versatility and the excellent selection of fruit available, due to the Cape Winelands' and diverse terroir, help the region produce a great diversity of wine styles and flavors. Winemaking techniques depend on the style of wine desired. The most intensely flavoured Chenin Blanc wines are produced from older vines that have been carefully managed for balanced yields. The majority of Chenin blanc planted in South Africa can be found in the Worcester, Paarl, and Stellenbosch regions, with Swartland's Malmesbury also having sizable plantings.
France: Chenin Blanc is believed to have originated in the Loire Valley in the 9th century. The grape is still extensively grown there, and is used to produce world class Chenin Blanc varietal wines. Major plantings of this grape can also be found in the Anjou region.
United States: The main areas growing Chenin Blanc in the United States are California, the Washington wine regions and the Texas high plains. This grape has mainly been used here for blending with Colombard and Chardonnay, but more recent times have seen an increase in it's use as a Varietal.
As stated earlier Chenin Blanc wines can be anything from super dry to sweet dessert style wines, depending on the methods used by the winemaker. The dry ones are heavily influenced by the terroir and tend to exhibit a zesty acidity along with a certain floral, honeyed character sometimes with a hint of vanilla. Melon, honeydew, apple, pear and cantaloupe fruit flavors are typical with some having mineral tastes of flint or smoke. Oaked Chenin Blanc's pair well with cream based chicken dishes and rich fish. Fresh fruity Chenin Blancs go well with salads or vegetable dishes, While the sweet dessert style Chenin Blancs pair well rich aged cheeses.