Chenin Blanc is the most planted grape variety in South Africa, where it is also known as Steen. It is a very versatile grape with high acidity and makes dry, off-dry, sweet wines as well as sparkling wine.
In the Loire Valley in France, which is also known as the ‘home region’ for Chenin Blanc, it is made in all these styles and also used in some blends.
There is a high probability that the first Chenin Blanc you tried was an aromatic and off-dry one.
Because of the fruit flavours of pear and apple, the wine is full bodied yet fruity and pairs well with a lot of sweet and spicy Asian food.
Most New World regions such as South Africa, USA, Australia, New Zealand and India make a tart, fruity and dry Chenin Blanc with flavours of pear and apples. But the gamut of styles found in the Loire Valley of France is incomparable.
The high acidity of this grape helps in making dry styles as well as sweet wines around various French regions of Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, Layon, Anjou-Saumur, Savennières, and Vouvray.
You will do well to remember these names because if you find yourself with a bottle of French white wine with any of these regions on the label, you can be sure it is a Chenin Blanc.
Depending on the wine style, Chenin Blanc can pair well with a range of food. Given its fruit flavours of apple, pear, ginger and sometimes pineapple, it makes for an easy-drinking summer afternoon wine, too!
The fresh and crisp styles can go with salads and oysters, while the sweeter Chenin Blancs are best-suited for sweet, sour and spicy Asian dishes.
Some suggestions are :
1. Crunchy salad with lots of veggies like carrots, cauliflower and greens. The freshness of the salad matches with the crispness of wine.
2. Seared scallops/Prawns in light garlic butter sauce. The acidity of Chenin Blanc cuts through the fish and the garlic butter binds it all together.
3. Brie. The nuttiness of the rind contrasts the fruitiness of the wine and brings out both the flavours.
4. Honey chilli potato/Honey chilli chicken wings. The acidity of the wine lowers the spice while maintaining the sweet and sour flavours.
PS – I tried a Chenin Blanc with an Indian snack – Sabudana khichadi (Tapioca with roasted potatoes and peanuts) and it was yumm! Try it if it floats your boat.