5 Chenin Blanc Wines You Should be Sipping This Summer

Before Chardonnay reigned as the supreme white grape for California wines, that title belonged to Chenin Blanc. I most often associate Chenin Blanc wine with South Africa, where it’s still renowned and is known as Steen, but it originated in France’s Loire Valley. In fact, it’s a relative of another Loire native, Sauvignon Blanc.

Chenin Blanc can be made into very different white wines: sparkling, dessert, semi-sweet, and up to very dry. The wines are almost always refreshing because of relatively high acidity, and I really like Chenin Blanc wines, even as aperitifs. California Chenin Blanc counts among my favorites, though I love South African styles as well. These wines are hard to beat for summer drinking, and this white wine often offer value when bought from your favorite California wine store! In France, a semi-sweet style is often made in Vouvray, also home to Chenin sparklers, a region I first visited in 1984 It also goes into South Africa’s carefully-crafted Cap Classique effervescent wines, which follow stringer quality regulations and can appear in Brut or other styles. Aside from California in the New World, Argentina also boasts substantial Chenin Blanc vineyards.

I’ve chosen five Chenin Blanc wines from Bottle Barn’s extensive inventory that will provide summer wine drinking pleasure. The list includes a couple of California Chenin Blanc wines, and three from around the globe.

  • The 2018 Dane Cellars Buddha’s Dharma Vineyard Chenin Blanc comes from dry-farmed and organic grapes from vines planted in Mendocino County in 1944, a unique period before uprooting occurred to make place for Chardonnay. The winemaker Bart Hansen fermented the white wine in neutral oak barrels and allowed extended lees contact, which both add to its enticing complexity and balance. Concentration is the name of the game. This white wine’s name stems from the gravelly vineyard site, not far from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a unique Chan (Zen) community.
  • The Santa Maria AVA in Santa Barbara County benefits from the unique transverse geography of these wine regions. It’s one of the earliest AVAs, established in 1981, and a long history of vine cultivation exists here. Santa Maria is its own valley with direct influence form the Pacific Ocean, which cools the vineyards’ overall Mediterranean climate. The 2020 Foxen Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Old Vines Chenin Blanc comes from a three-care vineyards planted decades ago. Wine Enthusiast awarded it 93 points, noting its flavors of “chalk, crisp Asian pear and lime peel, riding a zesty acidity deep into the finish.”
  • This next wine marks a great value for Chenin Blanc wine from Stellenbosch in South Africa. Ken Forrester is a reliable quality producer, and the 2020 Ken Forrester Vineyards Old Vine Reserve is just $15.49 at your favorite California wine store. What does it taste like? Ken highlights aromas of melon and spicy baked apple complimenting flavors of layered minerality “enhanced by honeycomb and caramel.” The combination of old vines, oak contact (think vanilla), and lees contact in winemaking help make for a super-balanced wine.
  • The French winemakers in the Loire Valley have perfected sweet versions of Chenin Blanc, particularly in the Vouvray appellation. The 2016 Domaine Huet Vouvray Cuvee Constance, which comes in a 500 ml bottle, grabbed a stunning 96 points from Wine Spectator. Domaine Huet, founded in 1928 by Victor Huet and his son Gaston, specializes in Chenin with thirty hectares. The estate was one a precursor of biodynamic cultivation in France. “This cultivation method,” says the proprietors, “respects the soil, the plant and the environment, makes it possible to develop the character of our wines and to preserve the authenticity of the terroirs.”
  • From an interior region of California, but made in a French style is the 2019 Dashe Les Enfants Terribles "Concrete Cuvee" Chenin Blanc. Clarksburg is a Sacramento Valley AVA stretching across three counties, including Yolo, this white wine’s origin. Clay and loam soils hold sufficient water for viticulture, and although the Valley is famous for its heat, here the San Francisco Bay is close enough to send in fog and cool breezes that maintain the Clarksburg AVA cooler than nearby Sacramento. “Concrete Cuvee” refers to the fact that fermentation occurred in a stylish concrete egg. You’ll encounter flavors of ripe fruit, including apple and melon, with typical Chenin acidity.  It’s “nice to see someone in California taking this variety seriously,” says the Tasting Panel in giving it 91 points.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about Chenin Blanc wine, including five superb examples in different styles, including sweet. If you want to learn more about wine, navigate over to Bottle Barn’s wine knowledge pages and be sure to leave us a comment below! Try these wines now, while summer’s still here.

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