Chenin Blanc: Overlooked and Underappreciated in the Wine World

There are several significant milestones in a wine blogger’s early life:  The first time you hit the “publish” button and put your thoughts – and yourself – out there to the world.  The day you get a follower who isn’t a personal friend, or someone you’re related to. And then there’s the day you receive your first wine samples to review.  One year into my blogging adventure I have officially hit this particular milestone – and let me just say, it was worth the wait.

Tania and Vincent
Tania & Vincent Carême (photo credit: Cape Classics)

As one of their contributors, I’d been asked by The Vintner Project to write a piece on Vincent Carême and his wife, Tania – winemakers in both the Loire Valley and South Africa.  So, while I require a nap on most days, these two are busily making wine in two different hemispheres!  The primary focus of  their production in both regions is Chenin Blanc.  Now, I’m not overly familiar with Chenin Blanc – and while I don’t actively avoid it, I also don’t necessarily seek it out either.  Unfortunately, the majority of what I have had has been either underwhelming as a whole, or overwhelmingly full of that classic wet wool aroma that you can get in Loire Chenin Blancs.  (Which isn’t an altogether unpleasant aroma – but one that I’d usually prefer in my winter sweaters as opposed to my wine glass.)

So before I cracked open my samples, I did a little background research on Chenin Blanc with the hopes that I could understand (and appreciate) more of what I was tasting.

Chenin Blanc – The Grape.

Chenin Blanc originated in the Anjou region of France – which is located in the central portion of the Loire Valley.  The grape might have been cultivated as early as 845 A.D. – although the words “Chenin Blanc” don’t appear in print until 1534.  Today, France has just under 25,000 acres devoted to the grape.  And down in South Africa – it’s THE most planted variety at 46,000 acres. Chenin is also grown in Argentina, my beloved Washington state, as well as California.

Chenin Blanc is incredibly versatile and used to produce a wide range of wines from still, to sparkling (i.e. Crémant de Loire), to lusciously sweet wines (i.e. Quarts de Chaume) and even some fortified wines, particularly in South Africa.  As a still wine, Chenin is often quite high in acidity with aromas and flavors of citrus (tangerines, lemons), green or golden apples and honeysuckle . . . which is right in my wheelhouse of wines.  So, I have to ask myself: why aren’t I drinking more of this stuff??!  Chenin Blanc Unit 2

Unlike ubiquitous Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc isn’t very prevalent on restaurant wines lists or on wine store shelves.  It also isn’t a trendy grape like Assyrtiko or Grüner Veltliner (although it IS a helluva lot easier to pronounce!)  I mean – my WSET Unit 2 textbook even specifies that one of Chenin Blanc’s negative attributes is that it’s unfashionable! The fact is – I don’t drink a lot of Chenin Blanc because I don’t THINK about it.  It’s out of sight out of mind.  But a good producer can change all that . . .

Chenin Blanc – The Wines.

Onto the samples . . . and as always, all opinions and thoughts are my own…

Terre Brûlée 2017 ‘Le Blanc’ Chenin Blanc, Swartland, South Africa. (13% abv)

  • Color: Pale lemon-gold
  • Aromas: Yellow apple, Meyer Lemon, faint honeysuckle, minerality (wet stone), there’s some herbal notes in here too
  • Palate: Medium- body, high acidity.  More tart on the palate than expected with additional flavors of green apple and unripe pear.
  • My Thoughts: Super-refreshing, crisp wine.  The acid is definitely at the forefront and while I like (and actually gravitate towards) acid bombs, it might be a wee bit much for some people.  If that’s the case – I’d recommend balancing it out by pairing with a light salad dressed with a snappy vinaigrette.
  • Technical Bits: The Terre Brûlée estate was established by Vincent and Tania in 2013.  Located about an hour north of Cape Town, the soils here are mostly shale and granite.  Grapes are hand harvested and whole bunch pressed.  Only natural, wild yeasts were used for fermentation.

Domain Vincent Carême 2017 ‘Spring’ Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (13% abv)

  • Color: Pale lemon-gold
  • Aromas: Slightly riper yellow fruits on the nose with this one – apples and pears, white flowers, hints of cheese and white mushrooms
  • Palate: Medium body, medium+ acidity. Picked up flavors of honeysuckle and chamomile.  Riper palate and creamier texture than the ‘Le Blanc.’
  • My Thoughts: This wine was a little more complex to me than the first.  The acidity was less linear/searing, making the wine feel more in balance.
  • Technical Bits: Chenin grapes for ‘Spring’ are outsourced from growers who have worked with Vincent for years and who allow him to provide input and assistance throughout the year.  Soils from these vineyards range from clay to flint to limestone.  Like his South African Chenin, grapes are hand harvested and whole bunch pressed – and native yeast fermentation is used here as well.

Domaine Vincent Carême 2015 ‘Le Clos’ Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (13.5% abv)

  • Color: Medium- lemon-gold
  • Aromas: Yellow apple (yet again!), honeysuckle, soft cheese, white mushroom and a slightly nutty quality
  • Palate: Medium body, medium+ acidity.  Long-ass finish.  Creamy texture here as well.  Flavors all over the board here with some tangerine, orange blossom, apricot and the beginnings of something marmalade-like.
  • My Thoughts: This wine is freakin’ delicious.  I love a wine that I can keep going back to and find something different on the nose or a different flavor.  The first night I had this wine without food, the second I paired with a chicken/mozzarella pasta – it was awesome both times.
  • Technical Bits: ‘Le Clos’ is a single vineyard wine from 50-70 year old bush trellised vines.  ‘Le Clos’ translates to “enclosed vineyard” and this six acre property is indeed enclosed by an ancient stone wall.  Soil here is the famous tuffeau – a chalky, fine grained type of limestone found only in the Loire Valley.  As with the other Chenins, the grapes here were also hand harvested and whole bunch pressed.  Native yeast fermentation was carried out partially in clay amphora followed by 12 months lees aging.

Careme wines

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with these samples and will seek out more Chenin Blanc at my favorite local wine store.  If any of these wines sound interesting to you – please visit Cape Classics for information on distribution in your area.  (And that’s not a paid advertisement – I just really liked their wines!) 🙂

My article on Tania and Vincent for The Vintner Project is forthcoming and I will have a link HERE when it’s up and running! In the meantime, if you’d like more information – here’s my outline on Chenin Blanc.

 

Chinon AOC

I love historical fiction, it’s one of my favorite reading genres. I recently finished “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah which is about two sisters’ lives during WWII.  The novel takes place in several different regions of France – from Paris to the Pyranees.

Nightingale

One of the story’s main settings is the fictional village of Carriveau. The village is supposed to be located somewhere in the Loire Valley – which in our nonfiction world is sometimes referred to as “The Garden of France.” (In ‘The Nightingale’ the eldest sister’s farm is, somewhat cheesily, named “Le Jardin.”)

Even though wine isn’t frequently mentioned in the novel, while reading it I couldn’t help but envision vineyards of Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, and villagers downing glasses of Vouvray and Chinon at local cafes. At least, until the Nazi occupation of the area. :-/

Chinon vineyard
Exactly how I envisioned “Le Jardin”

Carriveau does not exist, so I decided to pick a location as close to this fictional village as I could for my next outline.  I chose Chinon – located just southwest of the city of Tours (which plays a major part in one of the sister’s lives).

I often find Chinon to be an easygoing, medium bodied wine with crazy aromatics that remind me of my Grammy. Seriously, it’s like someone spilled a dash of her rosewater perfume into the wine. I get that aroma almost every time, and it makes my heart happy.

Here’s the outline on Chinon.