Chenin Blanc is a white grape that is commonly grown in the middle Loire Valley of France. It is also cultivated in South Africa and California. It makes white wines that are fragrant and high in acid. Chenin Blanc can make wines that range in style from dry to very sweet depending on decisions made by the individual winemaker, subject to the specific conditions of the season.
The town of Vouvray, in Touraine on the Loire for example, is famous for sweet, dry and sparkling versions of Chenin Blanc. Because of the high acidity in wines made from Chenin Blanc, they tend to age very well. In Saumur, also on the Loire, Chenin Blanc is used to make sparkling wines of notable quality.
Between Saumur and Vouvray lies the historic town of Chinon whose wines were immortalized by Rabelais, the 15th century writer, humanist, physician and philosopher. His writings, most notably Gargantua and Pantagruel, are wild, bawdy and drunken fantasies filled with fornicating friars and naughty nuns but all of whom swear by the healing powers of the Chenin Blanc wines from the vineyards of Chinon. Just as the Chenin Blanc wine can be extremely dry or extremely sweet, so too the writings of Rabelais range from the most lewd and vulgar to the most profound, and he is regrded as one of the fathers of modern European literature.
Chenin Blanc is known elsewhere as Pineau de la Loire. It is the most planted grape in South Africa where its local name is Steen. Chenin Blanc is a high volume producer so the wines it produces tend to be fairly inexpensive. Western Australia’s Margaret River produces some of the world’s finest Chenin Blanc but, because of its remoteness, they are hard to find in America.