Why chenin blanc deserves your cellar space

Thursday, 10 August, 2017
Montreal Gazette
I was asked by a reader to name my favourite white wine. Another one of those desert-island questions. After a few minutes of thinking, I told her I couldn’t answer that, but my favourite grape variety is probably chenin blanc.

A quick stroll through my wine cellar will reveal it is the wine that I collect most, followed by Alsatian Grand Cru pinot gris. Why does chenin blanc take up so much space and, more importantly, so much of my wine budget? I have many reasons. So to continue my quest to turn everyone into white-wine lovers, here’s why you should drink chenin blanc.

It’s rarely boring. Chenin cuts a nice line between the richness and texture of chardonnay and the acid-driven refreshing qualities of sauvignon blanc. While chardonnay is the most-planted white-wine grape worldwide, one could make the case that many of the resulting wines are rather innocuous. The reason is that chardonnay is very climate-sensitive. Chenin is a little more forgiving.

Price. Don’t get me wrong - there are some staggeringly good chardonnays out there, but they are often very expensive. You can find magnificent chenins for $20 to $30. Check out today’s suggestions and taste for yourself.

Complexity. Chenin can be seen as the riesling of the Loire because it has so much personality. Its fruit qualities are often enigmatic, leaving you scratching your head as to what to call it. I find chenin shows everything from melon to apricot to quince to citrus to mandarin. But after years of trying to figure it out, I now just call it “chenin fruit.”

Versatility. While chardonnay can produce stellar still and sparkling wines, and arguably more refined examples of the latter in Champagne, chenin blanc still has the edge in my books. Chenin makes excellent and very budget-friendly sparkling wine, intense dry table wines, aromatic off-dry wines and extraordinary sweet wines.

It has the ability to age, and for a long time. Last year I found a 17-year-old Vouvray chenin blanc hidden under a stack of bottles. The wine, Domaine des Aubuisières’ Cuvée Silex, sells for under $20. It was staggeringly good. Chenin blanc has two qualities that give it ageability: acid and, quite often, residual sugar. That’s not to say you can taste the sweetness - the acid is usually quite high, and they balance one another. The bottom line is that chenins are very reliable for the long haul, and 10 years of aging is not a problem.

So, why don’t more people know about chenin blanc? 

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