This may be coming out a bit too late as Thanksgiving is tomorrow, but it will hold true for any holiday table. Chenin Blanc is a fantastic wine to serve throughout the holiday season.
Chenin Blanc originated in the Loire Valley. The French region, spans 173 miles, is home of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and boasts being home to the longest river in Europe, the Loire River. The Loire Valley is located in central France and includes both the Pays de la Loire and Centre-Val de Loire regions. It is known for its beautiful châteaux and its famous towns of Angers, Saumur, Amboise, Tours, and Chinon. The river plays an active role on the region’s climate. It typically experiences cool Springs with potential frost as well as rain during harvest season. Summers are hot with breezes coming off the Atlantic Ocean.
If you think you have never had a Chenin Blanc before, you may have and didn’t even know it as it is often labeled not as Chenin Blanc, rather Steen, Vouvray, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, Montlouis, Coteaux du Layon, Savennieres or Anjou. That’s quite a long list of synonyms, no wonder people think the wine world is a confusing one.
The first mention of Chenin Blanc in Anjou, France was in 845 AD. While it flourishes in the middle Loire, it did not find its way to the United States, particularly California util after World War II. During the 1970s California saw an influx of Chenin Blanc vines planted until its peak in the early 1980s. At one point, it was the most planted white grape variety in California… then along came Chardonnay. Today, the highest quality vines are planted in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Deltas. It is also planted in the San Joaquin Valley which is used mostly for sparkling wine.
Chenin Blanc is an extremally versatile grape variety as well as being rather finicky. You can find Chenin Blanc across the spectrum of wines; anywhere between a dry, semi-dry, a sweet still wine and even as a sparkling. When grown in the right environment, Chenin Blanc is a wonderfully aromatic variety. Flavors range from mango to citrus to peach and even pineapple. It takes on more of a honey, nut and white flower aromatics when it is processed as a sweet wine.
According to Jancis Robinson “dry Chenin Blanc has shown itself to be one of the world’s great whites too – both in the Loire and, especially, in South Africa where it has long been the most planted vine variety of all.” It is estimated that one of every five vines in South Africa is Chenin Blanc.
In the vineyard, canopy management is key. Leaf removal is important after veraison to help reduce the risk of bunch rot. Young vines tend to be overly vegetative, so shoot and cluster thinning is important to help the vines remain in balance. Chenin Blanc has relatively good acid levels and enjoys cooler climates. The variety is an early bloomer and a late ripener. It is resistant to drought, but is extremely sensitive to cold spring temperatures. It is a chameleon depending on the soil. Vines planted in clay soils tend to be used for the production of dessert wines, while sandy, silty soils that drain well, produce lighter still wines.
Now that we understand what Chenin Blanc is and where it comes from, it’s time to talk about why it is such a great wine to have on your holiday table. With its versatility, Chenin Blanc is an ideal pairing for so many foods. Anything from the salad course to the final dessert. It is great with chicken, fish, turkey and even spicy foods.
There are so many different flavors on a holiday table. For Thanksgiving, you typically find mashed potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes and of course turkey. (not to mention all the appetizers – which for me is the best part!) Finding a single wine or a couple of wines to match with all those difficult flavors can be a difficult task. Chenin Blanc is light enough to be your welcome pour. The acidity will pair nicely with all your vegetables, and with its floral and fruit flavors it pairs fantastically with both the light and dark meat of the turkey. It’s the ideal holiday pairing.
Did I convince you? What will be on your holiday table? Leave me a comment to let me know. Have a very happy Thanksgiving.