Chenin Blanc gets no respect in North America. You may call it the most undervalued of all grapes, and even though it is white, people still insist on calling it Chenin Blanc, as if there was a red variety. South Africans call it something different altogether – Steen. Don’t ask me why.
Pineau d’Aunis has a reddish colour and is made to rose wine in the Loire Valley, where the grape originated.
To this day the best wines are being produced there simply because the terroir happens to be the most suitable, and more importantly, in the Loire most wine makers know how to handle the grape.
In the right hands, it can produce delectable Vouvray, Anjou, Saumur, Quarts de Chaume, Montlouis, Bonnezaux and Savennieres. Noel Pinguet, of the Huet property, in Vouvray produces an outstanding dry version as do the Champalous family, Domaine de Touchais, Sauvion et Fils, Marc Bredif, Francois Pineau of Domaine du Clos Naudin.
Vouvray can be bone dry, off-dry (sec-tendre) or sweet from botrysized grapes . Chenin Blanc is a high-acid grape and thus all Chenin wines for the Loire Valley age well, especially those that are sweet.
In Canada some wineries make a Chenin Blanc, but the grape seems to be either not at home in the Okanagan Valley or the right sites have not been yet established.
California grows huge quantities of this prolific grape especially in the Central Valley, but because over cropping, their Chenin Blanc tends to be neutral in taste, often used in sparkling wine blends.
Chalone, Chappellet, Hacienda, Kenwood Vineyards and Dry Creek Vineyard are known to produce fine Chenin Blanc from the Gavilan Mountain region , Napa Valley and Clarksburg fruit.
South African Chenin Blanc a.k.a Steen can be great if grown on high altitude vineyards, and severely pruned, but most Chenin Blanc goes to distilleries.
New Zealand grows some fine Chenin Blanc but in very small quantities, thus practically the total production remains in the country.
Loire’s Coteaux du Layon always produced fine Bonnezaux, a sweet, but extraordinarily well balanced, aromatic and seductive wine. Unfortunately it has been poorly marketed both in France and abroad. A fine Bonnezaux can rival any fine Sauternes anytime – if only people knew about it.
Robert de Goulaine and Chateau des Fesles, owned by the famous patissier Gaston Lenotre are only two of the best producers. They age well and compared to other sweet wines cost much less.
Vintages in Ontario brings in a few cases now and them, but SAQ
(Societe d’Alcool du Quebec) stocks a few. For those who live in Ottawa it is a quick hop over the river to reach Hull.
Dry Chenin Blanc goes well with pan-fried or poached white fleshed delicate fish specialties, seafood pastas, quiche Lorraine and grilled chicken breast flavoured with tarragon butter.
Off-dry Chenin is fine on its own or in fruit bowls and fruit punches.
Sparkling versions can be enjoyed whenever the mood calls!
Sweet Coteaux du Layon, Anjou, Touraine and others should be reserved for fine desserts, or better yet, to meditate!