The traditional home of Chenin Blanc is the Loire Valley of France, where it’s been cultivated among picturesque châteaus since the Middle Ages. Chenin Blanc is a sturdy grape with high natural acidity and the versatility to produce crisp, dry table wines, sparkling wines, and sweet dessert wines. In France you’ll find dry Chenin Blancs from Saumur and Savennières, off-dry wines from Vouvray and Anjou, dessert wines from Coteaux du Layon, and sparkling wines labeled Crémant de Loire. Outside of France Chenin Blanc is often used as a blending grape, with only a small percentage of it going into varietal bottlings. However, South Africa produces a full range of Chenin Blanc wines, referring to the grape as Steen. It’s even used in their fortified wines and spirits.
Chenin Blanc is a cooperative sort of grape. It ripens in the middle of the season so that no extraordinary harvesting measures have to be taken. With its compact clusters it’s easy to pick. The grapes have tough skins that minimize damage as they make their way to the crusher, and their natural acidity helps the aging process. A number of California producers make the classic dry style of Chenin Blanc that typifies the Loire.