VINcabulary : Chenin Blanc

Chenin blanc might just be the world’s most versatile grape. Wines from this early-budding, late ripening grape arc from searingly bone dry to nobly sweet and from serious sparkling wines to potent fortified pours. Firmly rooted in France’s Loire Valley since the 9th century, this accomplished, if not idiosyncratic, grape still reins over France’s garden valley today, transmitting terroir in sought after appellations like Savennières, Vouvray and Touraine. Part of chenin’s mystery is its chameleon-like nature; is it going to be one of the green, vegetal and meadow examples? Or will this waxy pour be full of lanolin, honey and chamomile? Will it be racy and dry or heady and sweet? Unmistakably constant is the spiking acidity, apparent even through softening with time in wood. The acidity also contributes to the longevity of well-crafted chenins – they can continue to mature for decades, transforming the greengage and angelica notes into mushroom, salt, honey and toast. When noble rot – botrytis cinera – affects this grape, the results can be otherworldly – Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume are such galactic examples. In many parts of the world chenin is relegated to a workhorse status and blending partner. Though the Loire is still considered the zenith, twice as much chenin is planted in South Africa, where it is known as steen.

Chenin blanc: {shen in blahnk}



Paul Buisse
Cremant de Loire
AC Loire Protégée
$25  +602508

This chenin based traditional-method sparkling is splashed with chardonnay and sourced from clay, limestone and flinty soils in Touraine. Struck stone, green apple and light biscuit with fresh lemon, chalky shell and nut notes. Fantastic French character at half the price of Champagne.


Spier Chenin BlancGREENGAGE

Chenin Blanc 2013
WO Western Cape, South Africa
$14  +659037

This steen from Stellenbosch is a steal at $14. Meadow, greengage and white  grapefruit in a sauvignon blanc vein, but with the perfumed gooseberry, white honey, youthful white flowers and ripe pear weight of chenin.


Road 13 Vineyards
Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2012
Okanagan Valley, BC
*$24  +450890

Grapes from this wine were planted in 1968 on the Golden Mile bench, so you’ll have to forgive that these gnarly old vines can only squeak out enough concentrated juice for 275 cases. Light smoked stone, honey, orchard pear, herbed quince and spice, concentrated and off dry but buoyed by streaking acidity. BC – do more of this.



Domaine Baumard
Clos Saint-Yves Savennières 2009
AC Savennières, Loire, France
$35  +654095

This is a stunning terroir-driven wine, transmitting the schist soiled monopole Clos de Saint Yves vineyard. Bone dry and expressive with struck stone, savoury sea salt, tight pear, wild honey, lanolin and fragrant chamomile. Precise and focused, with a pulsing, surging palate and exceptional length. Cellar for 10+ years.



Domaine du Clos du Bourg
Touraine Demi-Sec 2010
AC Touraine, Loire, France
$15  +126508

If you’re afraid of ‘sweet’ wines, try this lovely demi-sec, so acutely balanced with ripping acidity that you won’t even notice the honeyed succulence and you’ll ask for a second helping of the rabbit rillette or pork and apricot tangine. Honey, eraser, baked red apple, rock sugared pear and perfumed quince, with a shimmery acidity and waxy palate.



Domaine Le Mont
Bonnezeaux, Cuvee Privilege 2002
AC Bonnezeaux, Loire, France

This is botrytis in its noblest form: marmalade, golden citrus, honeycomb, whiffs of savoury stone and lengthy, lingering candied apricot and perfumed nougat notes. Heady concentration and richness is carried with focused, driving acidity and exceptional vitality.


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*Asterisks denote wines that are only available at the winery or select private liquor stores. All other wines are available through BC Liquor Stores.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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