I’m often asked about my favorite wines or grapes, and when I volunteer Chenin blanc when it comes to whites, I’m amazed at how often the reply will be, “Not Sauvignon blanc? Is that what you meant?”
No, I don’t mean Sauvignon blanc. And while we’re at it, seems like Chenin needs some better PR, doesn’t it?
Native to France’s Loire Valley, Chenin blanc is, for me, a standout white wine grape. Naturally high in acidity, it can be vinified into all kinds of wines: sparkling or still, dry, off-dry, or lusciously sweet, unoaked and fresh, or barrel-fermented and aged to give some added weight. It’s such a versatile player, but it’s often overshadowed by the ‘holy trinity’ of white wine grapes popular among consumers, especially locally: Sauvignon blanc, Pinot grigio, and Chardonnay.
In France, perhaps the most famous appellation for Chenin-based wines is Vouvray, an area in the Loire Valley noted for a style of wine that’s often off-dry to medium in sweetness. Here the grapes retain their trademark high acidity, and that’s what helps balance out the residual sugar of these wines to keep them immensely quaffable (and a great match for spicy foods!). At Dreadnought, we’ve got a real value in the Monmousseau Vouvray, which gives aromas and flavors of sweet yellow apple, candied lemon, and pear with some beeswax to round it all out. Although there’s some sugar on the finish, it isn’t a dessert wine, and it’s a great match for Thai and Indian cuisines, in particular, especially dishes with chili heat that incorporate an element of fruit. Monmousseau also does an amazing range of sparklers with Chenin as the base material, so if you’re looking for an affordable alternative to Champagne, these should be on your radar.
Most of the Chenin in the world these days does not, however, grow in France. Over half of the world’s Chenin vineyards are located in South Africa, and you’ll find nearly 1 vine in every 5 there to be Chenin(although there used to be much more a few decades ago). Often praised for its ability to produce plentiful fruit in warm, dry areas of the country, Chenin was historically not seen as a fine wine grape, and much of it was destined for distillation or bulk wine blends. Thankfully, pioneering and skilled winemakers knew better, and with folks like Ken Forrester leading the charge in the 1990s, Chenin is now seen as the signature white grape of South Africa. Here, too, it’s made into a variety of styles, but the dry table wines are, in my view, where it does its best work. Forrester’s FMC is a true flagship wine made from Chenin, and he even incorporates some berries affected by botrytis to make this rich, palate-coating beauty. Other producers doing wonderful things with the grape include Keermont, Mullineux, David & Nadia, Beaumont, Kaapzicht, Bosman, AA Badenhorst, Alheit, and many more. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on bottlings from them; I think you’ll see why this grape deserves a lot more attention.
Which Chenin will be in your glass for #drinkchenin day the 15th? Let us know!
A NOTE FROM DEB:
Adam has told you about the ins and outs of Chenin but wait there is one more Chenin to offer you.
Last year I was in Cahors visiting Chateau Mercues sipping away on their Malbec as one would do in Cahors. But then dinner came along and we started with a white wine and low and behold a beautiful Chenin was produced.
The other day I was digging around in the warehouse for something and I came across this six pack of wine that I wasn’t sure what it was and discovered this very Chenin…….Knowing Adam’s love for Chenin I said “did you see this in the warehouse?”Adam was sure that it was a typo on our master list of wines so thought it was something completely different.
Well I’m on my way back to Chateau Mercues in a week or so and I’ll report back on this years’ Chenin and then perhaps a vertical tasting of Cahors Chenin will have to happen!!