Chenin Blanc is an aromatic white variety that produces wines that have a fragrance similar to Sauvignon Blanc, but a flavor similar to Chardonnay. It is a grape of high extract and higher acidity which can become anything - a still wine, a sweet wine, or a sparkling wine. Lofty acidity also makes it capable of aging.
Grapes with higher acid levels flourish in a cooler climate. As you can imagine, such a grape would need to be hardy and tolerant of wind and Chenin Blanc fits the bill. Another association with cooler climates are limestone or clay soils, other affinities of this varietal.
The lower temperatures of the Loire Valley in France make a great home for Chenin Blanc. Areas of particular interest within the valley are Anjou, Saumur, and Savennieres. Here it may be blended with either Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, but 80% of the wine must consist of Chenin Blanc. If it is a “Vouvray,” however, it must be 100% Chenin Blanc.
France is not the only place Chenin Blanc does well. Known as “Steen” to the locals, it is the most planted grape in South Africa, making up about 20% of their vine acreage. South African wine laws dictate that a wine labeled by varietal must be made from at least 75 percent of the grape on the label.
Choose still wines for this tasting. Your first choice should be a Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Look for Anjou (specifically, Savennieres), Saumur or Vouvray. If you can, stop by the produce section and pick up an Anjou pear as well. Although it is now found in other places, this fruit was named after the region where it originated. You should find similar aroma and flavor in the wines of this region. Other fruit you will taste will run the gamut from green fruit to tropical fruit, depending on the ripeness level of the grapes at the time of harvest. What you should also find is a hint of minerality and, if the wine is older, some honey.
Compare the Old World example against a Chenin Blanc from South Africa if you can. You may also find one from the Central Valley of Chile, the North Island of New Zealand or Australia.
On The Label
Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, Saumur, Savennieres, Anjou Blanc, Steen
In The Bottle
Citrus fruit, tropical fruit, stone fruit, green fruit, mineral, honey
At The Table
Seafood, salads, pork, fowl, creamy soups