In its native region of Anjou, in Loire, chenin blanc is often called pineau or pineau de la Loire.
Arguably the world’s most versatile grape variety, it is capable of producing some of the finest, longest living, sweet whites, although more commonly, basic New World white table wines.
Professor Galet suggests if may have been well established in Anjou in the 9th century and exported to Tourraine six centuries later.
Today chenin blanc is widely planted in the Loire Valley, South Africa, the U S A (California’s Central Valley), Mexico, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and Uruguay under a variety of false names.
In South Africa it is called steen, and has been used for brandy distillation, inexpensive white wines, in blends, and as a base for sparkling wines.
In California’s Central Valley, high yields up to 25 metric tones per hectare prompted many a winery to dilute, inexpensive blends of chardonnay; it is also used as a base for sparkling wines.
Chenin blanc is vigorous; buds early and ripens late, both of which are inconvenient attributes in the cool Loire Valley.
In New World vineyards these climatic characteristics are absent, but the resulting wines taste dull and lack the true taste of the grape.
While basic Loire chenin blanc exhibits floral aromas with a high acid backbone, the best display a thrilling concentration of honeyed flavours, whether it is made molleaux (sweet), dry or off dry. It is this high acidity that renders a well-made Loire chenin blanc worthy of long cellaring.
Some of the best sweet chenin blancs taste phenomenal even after 30 years of cellaring.
Chenin blanc is also used for cremant de Lorie or sparkling wines with great success.
Late November harvesting is common in the Loire Valley vineyards, and at this time the chenin blanc can be coaxed into making extraordinary wines.
Like Saurternes wines, botrytis attack late harvest grapes and concentrate flavours increasing sweetness.
The wines of the Loire are the most famous for their sweetness originate in the appellations of Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezaux, Anjou, Coteaux de l’Aubance, Jasnieres, Montlouis, Quarts des Chaumes, and Saumur.
In the New World, chenin blanc continues to be planted as “filler” grape variety, and for distillation, which unfortunately contributes to its low profile.
The best chenin blanc comes from the Loire Valley, particularly Anjou and Tourraine but only from low yielding vineyards, never exceeding 7 – 8 tones per hectare.