Chenin Blanc could easily be classified as one of the great ‘noble’ grapes. That’s because all around the world, in different climates and soils, it can produce exceptional wine.
In France, in Joan of Arc country along the Loire river, it shows its diversity. The dry whites range from basic to very fine. It’s important to read the label, especially with Vouvray, as styles vary from sec (dry) through demi-sec to moelleux (sweet). The sweet Chenins can be outstanding: honeyed but with a tell-tale freshness. They include Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon and can be better value than the sweet wines of Bordeaux. Look out also for sparkling Chenin, including Crémant de Loire. It’s good value, often with a pleasing hint of ripe apple. In South Africa, Chenin has for a long time been a base for making spirits and fortified wines. Recently quality has been improving fast, and Ken Forrester of Stellenbosch is a leading producer.
Colour: white: varying from very pale to deep gold
Body: light to full bodied
Tastes: notes of baked apple and honey often with refreshing lemon acidity, in three styles – dry, medium sweet to sweet and sparkling
AKA: Steen (in South Africa)
Often blended with: Chardonnay, Semillon and Colombard, especially in mass-market blends from the New World
Price range: from £3.99-£8.99 for the mass market dry wines; up to £15 for good quality dry wines; from £10-£30 for sweet wines.