After years of being a deep underground favorite, chenin blanc is finally emerging. Because the grape’s never been fashionable, most producers who remain in the game appear serious and committed to quality—so you’re almost guaranteed to get a delicious (and affordable) white wine. The only issue is style. Like that other chameleon, riesling, chenin goes from bone dry to very sweet, with every shade in between. In its Loire Valley homeland, the most famous chenin originates in the commune of Vouvray; it often features some residual sugar, and if it’s designated as demi-sec or tendre, you will taste sweetness along with the fruit and tart acids. If it’s from Savennieres, it will be bone dry. The South African examples are usually dry and softer in texture, with less mineral notes, while California producers are mostly churning out dry chenins. If you’re new to chenin and want to find out what it’s all about, you’ll enjoy these three very different wines.
Ken Forrester Vineyards “Old Vine Reserve” Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, 2012
A favorite I’ve tracked over several vintages, it’s never disappointing in the mellower, rounder dry style. This is a gently textured wine with apricot and nectarine fruit, dry and apple-like on the finish. It’s got some lovely baking spice and earthy notes that make it an outstanding match for a wide variety of flavorful seafood dishes.
($17, Marty’s Fine Wines, Newton)
Domaine des Baumard, Savennières, Loire Valley, 2009
This estate wine is situated behind cliffs that drop steeply to the Loire River; its chenin vines are planted on rocky southeast-facing slopes, which keep yields low. Its pear-blossom aromas and signature herb and lemon flavors are piercing. This vintage features a bit more body than most, but it is dry, lingering and an appetizing match for seared sea scallops.
($25, Brookline Liquor Mart, Brookline)
Chappellet Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley, 2011
The story of chenin blanc’s reversal of fortune is best highlighted at this California vineyard. About a decade ago, the Chappellet family had some great old-vine chenin planted on their Pritchard Hill estate that they decided to rip out because there was no market for the grape, and red wines were in such high demand. Today, it’s a different tune, but the style is the same as in the past: rich, toasty, pear-like, dry and lush, with honeysuckle notes and a stone fruit finish. It’s ideal for the chardonnay drinker looking to branch out.
($40, Urban Grape, Boston)