CorkQuiz.comLearn about Wine
HomeWine Tasting 101Wine Study ProgramsWine Tasting Party KitsWine Profile
Home | White Varieties | Chenin Blanc- Versatility sheathed i . . .

Chenin Blanc- Versatility sheathed in grape skin

Although it goes mostly unrecognized amidst the stars of the white wine world (most prominently Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc) Chenin Blanc makes some of the world's best wines. Because it does not receive name recognition, due to French tradition and regulations, South Africa's unique naming, and California's inability to launch the grape by itself, Chenin Blanc is not recognized as a major wine grape. Yet it possesses a naturally high acidity which makes it ideal to craft a wide array of wines. Winemakers in various spots on the globe produce crisp, dry table wines, light sparkling wines, long-lived decadent dessert wines, and even brandy. The trick for consumers is to recognize which styles come from which region.

Where is Chenin Blanc Grown?

Making its appearance in the Loire Valley approximately 1,000 years ago, Chenin Blanc remains at its pinnacle in western France. The grape is also widely cultivated in South Africa and California.

France- Along the rolling hillsides that follow the Loire River 625 miles from its source to the Atlantic, white varietals are king. White production accounts for over half of all the wine made in one of the northernmost viticultural areas of France. Across the middle AOCs of the Loire Valley (Vouvray, Savennieres, Cremant de Loire, Jasnieres, Mountlouis, Anjou, Quarts de Chaume, Saumur, Coteaux de l'Aubance, and Coteaux du Layon) vineyards are chocked full of Chenin Blanc. The grape buds early and ripens late which sometimes poses

problems for the area's winemakers. Although spring frosts and early winters can negatively affect entire vintages, the flip side of the coin can produce dramatic wines. Warm, dry autumns and late frosts result in perfect conditions for “noble rot” or botrytis. The naturally occurring mold concentrates flavors and sugar while retaining the grape's acidity and is the reason the vineyards of the Loire can make delicious dessert wines. In other regions of Loire, Chenin Blanc is crafted to make rich, dry table wines. In Savennieres and parts of Vouvray, winemakers harness the pungency of Chenin Blanc to balance with the acidity and even sparingly use oak to add to the complexity. Vintners across the region also choose to make sparkling wines in under-ripe vintages. Yet, no matter the style, Chenin Blanc can be found along the many miles of the Loire.

French Producers to look for: Chateau de Villeneuve, Coulee de Serrant, Domaine des Baumard, Domaine Patrick Baudouin, Domaine du Clos Naudin, Domaine Huet, Nicholas Joly, Chateau Moncontour, and Domaine La Peu de la Moriette.

South Africa- Chenin Blanc made its debut in South Africa in 1655, fresh off the ship of Jan Van Riebeeck who may have incorrectly identified the grape's origins as German. Thoughts were that the wines were similar to German Stein wines and the South Africans used Steen for the next three centuries. The grape was widely cultivated and integral in the production of brandy. Quite popular at the time, Steen came to dominate the percentage of vines planted and remains around one-fifth of all vineyard plantings. In 1963, the Head of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch proved Steen and Chenin Blanc were one in the same and it led a sort of renaissance with white wines in South Africa. New technologies and increased investments led vintners to craft off-dry, crisp easy-drinking wine. In the last 20 years, as South Africa has become a major force in the international wine world, new research has led to dramatic increases in quality. The majority of Chenin Blanc production remains in Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Worcester but areas in Swartland have increased production lately.

South African Producers to look for: De Stafford Wines, Ken Forrester, Flagstone, Bellingham, Raats Family Wines, Riebeck Cellars, Mulderbosch, De Morgenzon, and Rudera.

Chenin Blanc Styles

The versatility of the grape produces an array of styles, as seen above. Wine enthusiasts can enjoy the variety of styles produced and even present a welcomed challenge for food pairings. The typical aroma and flavor descriptors coming from Loire wines usually include minerality, apple, greengage, and angelica. The sweet dessert wines will also have hints of honey and peaches. One will encounter the spectrum of sweetness throughout the valley as well as wines which are meant to be cellared for upwards of 100 years (dessert wines) and others to enjoyed relatively young (dry and sparkling). In South Africa, Chenin Blanc is made to be enjoyed young and the wines exude more tropical fruits of guava, banana, pineapple, and pear. And while a bit of residual sugar may be used in some table wines, South Africa does not tend to produce too many dessert wines like their French cousins.

Chenin Blanc Profile













Dry, sweet, or sparkling


Alcohol content: generally medium to high depending on the style produced.
Acidity levels: High

Tannin: None

Very affordable Chenin Blancs can be found for under $15.  Sweet Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley can be pricey




To help understand your wine profile read Your Wine Profile.

Printer-Friendly Format   Print to PDF
·  Loire Valley - The Garden of France
·  Paarl
·  Coastal Region
·  Worcester
·  Robertson
·  Stellenbosch
·  South Africa


 CQ Weekly
Free Newsletter Signup
The Juice

"I can't believe I didn't find out about your site sooner."
"It was exactly what I was looking for." 

Jim P.
Hot Springs, AR

"My wife and I have never had so much fun learning about wine.  You put everything in one place and let us learn at our own pace - keep up the excellent work!"

John Kerrville, TX

"The wine tasting kits are perfect!" "I love to host wine parties but never have enough time to prepare - now you've done all the work"

Robert K.
London, UK

"I love the quizzes - I haven't made it to Grand Cru yet but I'm on my way!"

Bruce G
Parkers Cove, NS