Chenin Blanc… Gem of Loire Valley, France
By THC on 7th December 2016, Natalie Wong
Chenin Blanc — otherwise known as Pineau de la Loire is a type of white wine grape variety hailing from Loire Valley, France (Anjou-Saumur & Touraine regions) that has been cultivated since approximately 1,300 years ago.
This variety had an extremely ‘rocky’ history — it was first mentioned in official French documents from as early as the year 845 and has appeared in many other documents under synonymous names. It was then somehow forgotten in the early 20th century, but however garnered enough attention to it starting from the 1980s with an invigorating position as a noble and classic grape variety.
Besides finding these grapes in Loire Valley, they have also seeked a second abode in New World wine regions such as South Africa. These grapes (also known as Steen in South Africa) found their way there possibly in 1655 when it was grown by Jan van Riebeeck, or it may have been due to the happenings of the Huguenots fleeing France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Either theory is still within the same century regardless.
South Africa is now in fact the largest producer and distributor of Chenin Blanc and its wines in the whole world as well as in the country itself. Its popularity originates from the variety’s versatility as well as its vigorously-high yields. It was originally just used to add more acidity to bulk blends or as a base for the distillation of brandy.
Today, it has the capability of being produced as a world-class wine on its own — with extraordinarily beautiful wines being produced from South African regions especially in Stellenbosch, Swartland and the Coastal Region (all in close proximity to Cape Town).
There are 4 main categories of styles/tastes for Chenin Blanc, and they are:
- Fresh & Fruity
A traditional Chenin Blanc wine that is consumed young has a refreshing and approachable style and brings out bright and fruity flavors ranging from Granny Smith apples to plums to tropical fruits, which is framed by lifting acidity. Occasionally there are also fruity and herbal aromas such as orange blossoms.
An aged Chenin Blanc wine that displays a depth of flavor and power. The wine is infused with the flavors of oxidation as well as the lees, which enables it to age and develop beautifully. Both woody and nutty aromas can be derived from the oak such as vanilla and cream.
This type contains a high level of acidity, which is extremely suitable to be blended with other types of wines. It is a versatile ‘canvas’ that has the potential to unleash a wide range of aromas and flavors as a base for a blend. Its most common blending partners are sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and clairette.
One of the most remarkable qualities of a Chenin Blanc wine is its ability to age gracefully and magnificently.
Meat: Chicken, turkey, halibut, smoked salmon, trout
Spices & Herbs: tarragon, clove, red pepper flakes, cilantro, cumin, peanuts, sesame seeds
Cheese: gruyere, cheddar, herb-crusted cheeses
Vegetables & Fungus: corns, red bell peppers, yams, carrots, cauliflowers, shallots, chives, oyster mushrooms