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Chenin Blanc

by Staff Writer - B. Scottenberg | July 05, 2011

Chenin Blanc has many floral flavors, and you can taste apples, pears, tropical fruits, honey, melon, peach, and sometimes hints of grass or hay. The wine tends to be very crisp due to the acid level of the wine. Chenin Blanc can be bone dry, semi-sweet, or even effervescent depending on how the wine is made. Chenin Blanc is fermented and aged in stainless tanks.

Chenin Blanc is a white grape that produces crisp, balanced wine that ages well. The Chenin Blanc grape is best known for its use in the Loire Valley of France. It is used to make Vouvray. Vouvray is well known for its white Chenin Blanc wine, named appropriately "Vouvray". These wines are made 100% from the Chenin Blanc grape. It is also planted in the Central Valley area of California.

Chenin Blanc is arguably one of the most versatile of all wine grape varieties. Crisp, dry table wines, light sparkling wines, nectar like dessert wines, and even Brandy are all produced in various areas of the wine world, all of Chenin Blanc. Resistance to many diseases, vine strength, and the tendency to bud early and late ripening suits Chenin Blanc to grow in climates too warm for many vinifera (common European grape) types. The vine grows well in many soil types and can be very vigorous in either sandy soil or clay. Production is fairly consistent from five to eight tons per acre. At three or four years old, the vines tend to overproduce and may set crops too large to fully ripen in the coolest areas. Chenin Blanc grapes can be susceptible to both bunch rot and sun burn. In spite of its wide plantings and potential flavor palates, most Chenin Blanc is made into functional, but generally bland wine. A general tendency to over-irrigate and over-crop can further reduce most Chenin Blanc to the ordinary, but careful viticulture (cultivation of grapes) practices can easily overcome Chenin Blanc's weaknesses and can result in excellent wine.

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In California, the wines made from Chenin Blanc tend to be mass-produced wines for general consumption, and as such are considerably more neutral in tone and character than the Loire Valley Vouvrays. Much of this has to do with the amount of yield the vines are pushed to, with California Chenin Blanc producing many times the grapes as those in the Loire Valley. It is rare for Chenin Blanc to be blended with any other grape, especially in its sweeter characterizations. When it is matched with another grape, it tends to be combined with either Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, both of which complement Chenin Blanc’s acidity.

Today there's more Chenin Blanc in California vineyards than in all of France. There's also more grown in South Africa, where it's widely known as Steen and occupies around 30% of all the country's vineyard area. In California Chenin Blanc was largely transferred to the hot Central Valley vineyards and used to support less acidic varieties such as Thompson Seedless and French Colombard for use in cheap jug wines. Chenin Blanc also played a leading role in many popular proprietary wines on the low end of the quality scale. It is estimated that as much as 95% of California Chenin Blanc is cropped at around 10 tons per acre compared to the 1-3 tons per acre associated with fine wine. Both California and South Africa now has more Chenin planted than in France. It is also known as Pinot Blanco (Latin America), Pinot de la Loire (Loire), Rouchalin/Rouchelin (S W France), Chenin and Pineau.

In California, Chenin Blancs are excellent bargains and value wines. Chenin Blanc is a perfect choice for a picnic lunch or on a summer afternoon. It matches with light foods such as light cheese, sandwiches with light meats, salads, and white fish. Chenin Blanc tends to be dry to semi-dry, and goes well with chicken, seafood, and fish. It can age for two to five years, and it should be served around 48F.

Chenin Blanc is one of those white grape varieties that seems to create wines made to last forever. While many Chenin Blanc wines are rather unoriginal, at their best they contend with the best of any varietal. Most of the best Chenin Blanc wines start young, with a level of acidity that opposes the sweetness waiting to mature. As these wines age, they develop a full, flattering body that is unmatched in nearly any other wine. A good Chenin Blanc can continue improving for over a decade, and can seemingly last forever.

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