Noble Grape Challenge, Wine

The Underrated Chenin Blanc

It’s time for the next installment of the Noble Grape Challenge. Last time we explored acidity’s reining champ, Sauvignon Blanc, and this time around we get to know the delicious and underrated Chenin Blanc.

About the Noble Grape Challenge

Let’s refresh ourselves on what’s going on here – Wine Folly created the Noble Grape Challenge as a way to learn the spectrum of flavours and characteristics found in red and white wines. Taking nine reds and nine whites and going through them from lightest to darkest, we’ll learn about the key characteristics and flavours of each.

About Chenin Blanc

Like many of the more common grapes, Chenin Blanc’s home is in France – more specifically, the Loire Valley.

Side note: When I was 24 I went to the Loire Valley, had delicious wine, and then YEARS LATER realized just how special that place is for winemaking. I think it’s one of the many experiences I had pre-wine-blog that shows how meant to be this path I’m currently on really is.

So, the Loire Valley (just a bit South and West of Paris) is a sort of long, skinny stretch of wine country, starting at the coast and working inland. There are a bunch of different sub-regions but generally speaking the region turns out stellar Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre, anyone?), and Chenin Blanc. Oh, and they make amazing traditional method sparkling wine, called Cremant de Loire. Just a little tip, from me to you.

Aside from the Loire the other major region for Chenin Blanc is South Africa. In fact, when this wine region was first getting established winemakers made a conscious choice to make Chenin the signature grape of South Africa (not unlike Argentina and Chile choosing Malbec and Carmenère as their signature grapes).

Chenin is a bit like Chardonnay – it is an extremely versatile grape that can easily go from fresh and fruity to oaky to sweet to sparkling to whatever. It’s because of this that I feel like lots of people (myself included) have trouble conjuring a standard flavour profile when they think of Chenin Blanc. To be honest, what first comes to my mind when I think ‘Chenin Blanc’ is ‘I like that!’ and then ‘South Africa! The Loire!’… and not anything about how it smells or tastes.

Thus is the main challenge for this delicious yet underrated grape.

The Test Case

Today’s test case is from the Vouvray in the Loire Valley. Vouvrays tend to be fresh and fruity, light in body and often accompanied by some floral notes. An excellent and elegant summer sipper, in other words.

I went Loire over South Africa for this tasting mostly because it’s been a while since I had anything from the Vouvray. Plus, this bottle was on sale at the LCBO. Cost and budget are very important factors, people!

Tasting Notes

  • The colour is very pale, and since it’s summer the condensation on the glass makes it glow a little bit. Romantic, really.
  • I get a bunch of stone fruit on the nose – peach, apricot, maybe a bit of plummy sweetness.
  • There’s also a bit of acidity and citrus. Some lemon, and maybe some lime?
  • It smells a bit sweet on the nose. I might have accidentally bought something sweet – EEK!
  • Oh yeah, definitely off-dry on the palate. But you know what? It’s also got a bunch of acidity, so it balances out… for the most part anyway. The finish is still thoroughly in the sweet camp.
  • I get the same stone fruit (peach, apricot) and citrus (lemon, lime) on the palate.
  • It’s very fresh and fruit, exactly what I’d expect from a Chenin, and from a Vouvray. I’m calling that a win.

Bottom Line

If I could describe this wine in one word it would be delightful. Fresh and bright on the palate, it’s welcoming and friendly and completely unpretentious. It’s sweetness is tempered by a solid backbone of bright acidity. It doesn’t make you work to enjoy it, instead greeting you in a bouncy way, saying, ‘Hi! I’m Chenin! Let’s play!’  

It’s a definite recommend, sweetness and all.

Next time on NGC – Moscato!


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