Chenin blanc is one of my favorite grapes, with a singular texture and a rare versatility. It’s capable not only of transparently expressing the qualities of different terroirs but of making bone-dry wines, succulently sweet wines and a whole range in between.
For all its abilities, chenin has not spread through the world like, say, riesling, its peer in versatility among white grapes. Is this because, like nebbiolo, the great red grape of northern Italy, chenin blanc simply does best in its home territory? Or is it an issue of marketing? That is, few authorities in late 20th-century wine history spent much time extolling its virtues.
That has changed some in recent years. Pascaline Lepeltier, for one, a partner in Racines NY and a world-renowned sommelier, has been an apostle of chenin blanc for most of the past decade. As her influence in the wine world has grown, she has helped chenin blanc find more of an audience.
Ms. Lepeltier grew up in the Anjou region of the Loire Valley, which, along with the Touraine region nearby, accounts for the areas in which the greatest examples of chenin blanc have been made. It also does wonderfully in South Africa and once was popular in California.
In mid-20th century California, chenin blanc was used often in cheap jug wines and in sweet whites, before interest seemed to ebb in favor of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. In the last decade, however, the state has seen a sort of mini-renaissance, with the rediscovery of older plots of chenin blanc and renewed interest in the wines.
Aside from a few other pockets — let’s not forget Limoux in the Languedoc, where it’s part of a blend in Crémant de Limoux, a sparkling wine — you don’t see much chenin blanc.
This month I thought we’d try chenin blancs from three different areas — Chinon in the Touraine, Swartland in South Africa and Dry Creek Valley in California. The point is not a microscopic examination of terroirs but an opportunity to drink and compare different expressions. The three bottles I suggest are:
A.A. Badenhorst Swartland Chenin Blanc Secateurs 2019 (Broadbent Selections, Sonoma, Calif.) $16
Leo Steen Dry Creek Valley Saini Farms Chenin Blanc 2019 $18
What to Cook This Week
Sam Sifton has menu suggestions for the week. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.
- A salty-sweet garlic and scallion marinade enhances these Korean beef burgers with sesame-cucumber pickles from Kay Chun.
- If you can get your hands on good salmon at the market, try this fine recipe for roasted dill salmon.
- Consider these dan dan noodles from Café China in New York. Outrageous.
- How about crispy bean cakes with harissa, lemon and herbs? Try them with some yogurt and lemon wedges.
- Angela Dimayuga’s bistek is one of the great feeds, with rice on the side.
Bernard Baudry Chinon Blanc Le Domaine 2019 (Louis/Dressner Selections, New York) $35
These are entry-level wines, though the price of the Baudry is perhaps inflated by the tariffs that President Donald J. Trump in 2019 levied on certain wines and spirits from the European Union, a tariff that has been suspended temporarily as the United States and Europe try to work out trade disputes.
If you can’t find these producers, please consider Ken Forrester, Thistle&Weed, Raats Family, Mullineux, Storm Point or Mother Rock among South African chenin blancs; Lo-Fi, Field Recordings, Sandlands, Lieu Dit, Broc Cellars, Lang&Reed or Rococo among California producers; and Huet, Breton, Château Yvonne, François Chidaine, Michel Autran, Vincent Carême and countless others from the Loire Valley.
Chenin blanc goes well with many different sorts of foods, including seafood, sushi, seasonal vegetables, cheeses, risottos, poultry and quiches just to name a few. Chill the wine moderately, and enjoy.
Join the Discussion
Eric Asimov, The New York Times wine critic, is discussing chenin blanc. Sample wines, and as you sip, ask yourself these questions. Join the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments of this article.
What does the wine feel like in the mouth?
Where do these wines range on a scale of dry to sweet?
How do they change in the glass over time?
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