Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc may be the most produced white wine varieties in the United States, but as temperatures rise and consumers begin to reach for chilled, light-bodied whites, Chenin Blanc — a native Loire Valley grape with the intricacies of Chardonnay and the zippy acidity of Sauvignon Blanc — should be added to that list.
When planted in California, Chenin Blanc — due to the heat in certain areas of the region — obtains a richness that isn’t always able to be achieved in the cooler vineyards of the Loire Valley. California’s climate varies between coastal and inland regions; these temperature variations are what makes Chenin Blanc from California so special. The wines are unique and in their own right varied, with cooler climate bottlings boasting notes of crisp lemon and lime on the palate and warmer climate Chenins offering flavors of stone fruit such as peaches and nectarines, and tropical fruit like mango and pineapple.
Unlike some of the region’s more popular grapes, Chenin Blanc is never mass-produced in California — in fact, the grape has slowly been decreasing in production in the state. The result? Many older vines are used to make Chenin Blanc, creating more concentrated flavor and complexity in the resultant wines.
“Old vines are what is making Chenin Blanc unique,” says Jesse Katz, winemaker at Sonoma’s Aperture Cellars, who also credits creative winemaking techniques such as planting vines in clay loam soils, aging on the lees to bring out Chenin’s rich aromatics, and fermentation in various vessels for adding nuance to California Chenins.
Currently, California grows more Chenin Blanc than France, and winemakers stateside are getting creative — making dry, sweet, and sparkling wines with the underdog grape. Its versatility may be what keeps Chenin’s momentum going. Over a decade ago, Riesling began its rise in the U.S. Could Chenin Blanc be the next grape to capture the hearts of wine lovers in the U.S.? Get ahead of the trend with these five delicious Chenin Blancs from the Golden State.
California Chenin Blancs You Should Be Sipping
This Chenin is bursting with texture on the palate and aromas of tropical fruit such as pineapple and papaya. Layered and distinct, this wine screams for food and works great with rich dishes and casual fare, such as club sandwiches and Caprese salads.
Average price: $37
With great acid on the palate and citrus fruit notes such as grapefruit and lemon, this Santa Maria Valley Chenin Blanc is the perfect accompaniment to barbecue fare or grilled shellfish.
Average price: $25
An overall crowd-pleaser based on price point alone, this dynamic and effervescent blend — made with both Chenin Blanc and Viognier — is engaging and layered thanks to two different expressions of acid.
Average price: $18
This wine has an inviting salinity on the palate that would pair well with oysters and clams, but it really shines alongside spicy Asian-inspired fare, from curries to pho.
Average price: $27
If you could bottle California sunshine, it might taste something like this wine. It’s light enough to have as an aperitif but pairs well with a variety of foods, including summer salads, shellfish risottos, and crudos.
Average price: $21