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If there’s one word that you could use to describe Chenin Blanc, it has to be versatile. This grape variety can grow in any sort of climate, and based on it, shows a spectrum of different aromas and flavours. It can produce diverse styles of wine- ranging from an absolute bone dry to unctuously sweet, and everything in between.
In cool climates, Chenin Blanc gets aromas of lime, lemon and green apples. As you move towards more moderate climates, the grape has aromas of stone fruits like peaches and apricots. In warmer climates, you’ll get expressions of tropical fruits like mango and pineapples in your Chenin Blanc.
The above features mean that Chenin Blanc is made in a broad range of styles. Some producers make a clean style in inert vessels, while others ferment and mature their wine in oak vessels. Due to the high acidity, premium quality Chenin Blanc can age in the bottle for many years.
Vouvray in Loire Valley: Vouvray AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), is located in the Loire Valley in France, it is a classic region for Chenin Blanc. Here wines are produced in a wide range of styles – dry, off-dry, medium, sweet and sparkling wines. Dry wines here have green fruit flavours like apples. Off-dry and medium styles are labelled as demi-sec.
Winemakers use ripe or Botrytis-affected grapes with tropical fruit flavours to make sweeter styles. Wines from Vouvray mostly do not undergo the process of oak ageing to maintain their fruitiness. However, there are exceptions like Savennières which are often oak aged. The wines have the ability to age and develop notes of honey and dried fruit.
Savennières in Loire Valley, France: This appellation is known to produce some of the best quality wines in the Loire region. The wines made here have intense flavours of straw, beeswax and chamomile. Some of the best examples from this region also have a distinct minerally taste to them. The wines are oak aged and after spending half a decade or so in a bottle, their structure gains complexity and the steeliness mellows down considerably.
Chenin Blanc is South Africa’s most widely planted white grape variety. It is prized here for its ability to retain high acidity in a warm climate. The winemakers make inexpensive wines using grapes from warmer regions and often blend them with other grape varieties such as Chardonnay.
Meanwhile, premium wines are produced from old vines that yield small quantities of concentrated fruit with aromas of tropical fruit like pineapple and mango, with notes of vanilla from oak maturation. Some producers also make a refreshing aromatic style by blending Chenin Blanc with Viognier.
The key appellations here are Stellenbosch and Swartland where old vines are producing flavourful wines with tropical notes of pineapple, banana, guava and melon.
Fun Wine Fact: Semillon, often overshadowed by its more famous counterparts, is a white grape with a hidden talent. While it may not hog the spotlight, it plays a crucial role in creating some of the world's finest dessert wines, lending its unique character to Sauternes and other lusciously sweet concoctions.
In Anjou, France, a dessert wine is made in some years when fog from the nearby river collects on the vineyards and leads to Botrytis which produces wines with candied ginger notes.
A noteworthy appellation here is Coteaux du Layon AOC, which makes some of the most renowned sweet wines in the region. The sweetest wines from Coteaux du Layon have Selection de Grains Nobles written on their labels, right after the name of the appellation. For these wines, the winemakers selectively harvest grapes affected by noble rot in the vineyard.
Some winemakers from Vouvray and Saumur (Loire Valley) make sparkling wines using Chenin Blanc. In South Africa, this grape variety is used in the blend of a premium sparkling wine known as Method Cap Classique.
Walla Walla and Columbia Valley in Washington, United States
Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Elgin in South Africa
Eden Valley (Barossa) and Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Paso Robles, Central and North Coast of California
Serving Temperature – 7 to 12 degrees Celsius
Glassware - Standard white wine glass
The trick to pairing foods with Viognier wine is to fully respect its delicate floral notes and medium acidity. Thus, as a general rule, focus on embellishing and expanding the wine’s core flavours while making sure that the foods you pair with it aren’t too acidic or bold. The aromas in the dish should intensify the fruit flavours and creaminess in the wine.
Meat dishes like roasted chicken, chicken curry and roast turkey breast pair well with this intensely aromatic wine, and so do seafood dishes such as pan-seared tilapia, sea bass, lobster, crab, shrimp, and poached salmon. Viognier is also a great companion for cheese fondue, farmer’s cheese, comté, baked brie, and gruyere. If you are a vegan, you can pair it with teriyaki tofu and sesame tempeh.
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Originally published 5th September, 2023
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