Chenin Blanc (SHEN-in-blahnk)
The most famous, vibrant chenin blancs in the world come from the Loire Valley of France, specifically from the appellations Vouvray and Savennières. The Loire Valley is also the ancestral home for this grape which arose as a natural cross of savagnin and an unknown parent. The best examples of chenin blanc are stunningly complex wines with a flavor of apples and honey (though not necessarily honey’s sweetness). They are shimmering with acidity and minerally, and are long-lived. If modern life allowed for such seemingly lost pleasures as sitting in a meadow reading Madame Bovary or The Age of Innocence, chenin blanc would be the fitting wine to drink. Loire Valley chenin blanc is made in a variety of degrees of sweetness from bone-dry to just a touch of sweetness (to balance the wine’s dramatic acidity) to fully sweet. The latter can make for phenomenal dessert wines, as evidenced by the most legendary and luscious of all, Quarts de Chaume, from a tiny area in the middle of the Loire Valley. Chenin blanc is also a well known white grape in South Africa, where it is sometimes known as steen. There, however, it is unfortunately made mostly into a simple, innocuous quaffing wine. In California, chenin blanc was a major white grape prior to the 1960s. Today, most California chenin blanc grapes are overcropped for high yields and are destined for jug wines, a sad fate given the grapes’ potential character.