Beer & Wine Wine

Chenin Blanc: What to Know and 7 Bottles to Try

Wines don’t get much more food-friendly than this winning white grape.

Chenin blanc bottles
Image: / Laura Sant

What’s zesty with notes of apples and versatile beyond belief? If you guessed chenin blanc, you’re correct. Known for its high acid, fruit-forward flavors, and ability to pair well with a plethora of foods, it’s no surprise that this grape has become a go-to favorite. 

What Is Chenin Blanc?

Chenin blanc is a white grape variety used to make still and sparkling wines ranging the dryness/sweetness spectrum. The grape is known for producing high-acid and medium-to-full-bodied wines with ample fruit-forwardness. In specific climate conditions, and when left on the vine long enough, chenin blanc is also capable of developing botrytis, also known as “noble rot,” which makes it a great contender for sweet-wine production.  

Where Does Chenin Blanc Come From?

Chenin blanc originally finds its roots in France’s Loire Valley. Today, the grape is grown all over the world, and beyond the Loire Valley, it is a key player in the viticultural scenes of South Africa, Australia, and California. 

How Is Chenin Blanc Made?

Chenin blanc is produced all over the flavor profile spectrum, from bone-dry to very sweet and everywhere in between. Because of its high acidity, chenin blanc is capable of making high-quality still and sparkling wines. Beyond still or sparkling and dry or sweet, specific vinficiation details, including but not limited to fermentation time, skin contact, and aging vessel, are all at the discretion of the winemaker.

What Are Some Other Names for Chenin Blanc?

In the Loire Valley, chenin blanc is locally referred to as pineau de la Loire. In South Africa, the grape goes by the name steen.

What Does Chenin Blanc Taste Like?

Chenin blanc’s unique flavor characteristics largely depend on how long the fruit was left on the vine and the vessels in which the grapes were vinified and aged. Generally speaking, common notes found in wines made from chenin blanc are apple, pear, quince, white flowers, and honey. 

What Are Good Food Pairings with Chenin Blanc?

Due to its high acid and fruit-forwardness, chenin blanc is one of the most versatile grapes for pairing with food. Dry (still or sparkling) expressions are ideal with fried croquettes, fresh salads, soft cheeses, and a variety of hors d'oeuvres, whereas off-dry (slightly sweet) expressions come to life with sushi and spicy dishes. Sweet botrytized expressions are heavenly with dessert, especially if said course contains apples, pears, or other stone-fruit bases. 

These are seven bottles to try.

  • Arnaud Lambert ‘Clos de Midi’ Saumur Blanc

    Arnaud Lambert 'Clos de Midi' Saumur Blanc chenin blanc / Laura Sant

    In the realm of dry Loire Valley chenin, this cuvée may just be the best quality-to-price ratio bottle out there. Fruit comes from a cooler site on the famed Brézé hill and is all farmed organically. The wine is vinified and aged 90% in stainless steel and 10% in old French oak barrels, although experimentations with concrete eggs are being executed. Rich and round flavors of yellow apple, quince, and crushed rocks create a palate-coating, flavor-packed mouthfeel. Although it’s made wirth 100% chenin blanc, you can think of this wine as a combination of the zestiness of Sancerre and the delicate power of refined Burgundian chardonnay.

  • Craven Wines Chenin Blanc

    Craven Wines Chenin Blanc / Laura Sant

    Although Mick and Jeanine Craven have been making wines in South Africa’s Stellenbosch region since 2007, it wasn’t until 2015 that the duo decided to dive into the chenin blanc game. Fruit for their sustainably farmed wine comes from the Polkadraai Hills and is vinified bone-dry. The wine sees no oak aging, which keeps the juice fresh, zesty, and acid-forward. Expect flavors of nectarine, beeswax, and lemon rind. It’s a must with fresh seafood favorites.

  • Domaine Guiberteau ‘Les Moulins’ Saumur Blanc

    Domaine Guiberteau ‘Les Moulins” Saumur Blanc chenin blanc / Laura Sant

    Located in the heart of Saumur, this producer has become a go-to pick for wine professionals, and it’s no surprise why. The estate’s wines are both approachable and complex, and its top-tier cuvées cost a fraction of some of its flashier neighbors. The estate comprises nearly 10 hectares of organically farmed vines ranging from five to 80 years in age. “Les Moulins” is a racy and mineral-driven expression of chenin blanc from Brézé, the area’s most sought-after site for the grape. Notes of lemon, yellow apple, saline, and crushed rocks lead to a salty, acid-driven finish.

  • Domaine Taille Aux Loups Brut Tradition

    Domaine Taille Aux Loups Brut Tradition chenin blanc / Laura Sant

    This is one of the Loire Valley’s pioneering producers of the natural wine movement, and its brut tradition bubbles are perfect for enjoying at any occasion. Crafted entirely from chenin blanc, this zesty sparkling wine jumps with flavors of juicy tropical fruits, honeysuckle, and citrus. The wine ages for 14 months sur lie and is bottled with just three grams of dosage, leading to a bone-dry, thirst-quenching finish.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec

    Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec chenin blanc / Laura Sant

    When it comes to world-class chenin blanc, Domaine Huet is as good as it gets. This benchmark producer has been producing superior-quality, ageworthy chenin blanc across the flavor profile spectrum since 1928. For those looking to whet their palates with an off-dry expression of the grape, Huet is a great place to start. Le Haut Lieu strikes the hard-to-achieve balance between dense yet refreshing and is dominated by flavors of orchard fruit, mandarin orange, chalk, and sweet spice. An optimal balance of sugar and acid leads to a sweet yet salty (and ultra-refreshing) finish. Drink it now or lay down for another 10 to 15 years: This wine has loads of time.

  • Millton Vineyard ‘Te Arai Vineyard’ Chenin Blanc

    Millton Vineyard 'Te Arai Vineyard' Chenin Blanc / Laura Sant

    Millton Vineyards has been pioneering organic and biodynamic viticulture in New Zealand since the mid-1980s. Its varietal chenin blanc comes from the Te Arai Vineyard, which is dedicated solely to the grape. Similar to Lambert, the Milltons use a combination of steel and oak to vinify and age their mouth-coating chenin, which jumps with flavors of green apple, gardenia flower, and juicy citrus.

  • Nicolas Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant

    Nicolas Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant chenin blanc / Laura Sant

    For the king of all chenin blancs, look no further than this bottle. Joly is deemed the father of biodynamic farming in France. His Coulée de Serrant vineyard, which bears its own eponymous appellation, spans seven hectares of vines located on staggering hillsides that overlook the Loire River. Fruit for the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts and is vinified/aged in barrel, with only 5% new oak used in the process. Notes of crunchy tree fruits, honey, grilled almonds, ginger, and peach skin lead to a silky and spice-tinged finish. (For a more approachable expression of Joly’s work, check out his Clos de la Bergerie cuvée.)