Description 1 of 2

Common synonyms: Pineau de la Loire, Chenere, Pinot Blanco (South America), Steen (South Africa), Fransdurif (Dutch)

Parentage of the grape: indigenous to the Loire Valley, France, perhaps related to Pineau d’Aunis (Chenin Noir)
History of the grape: Modern day French oenologist Pierre Galet states Chenin Blanc has been in France at least since the 9th century. Its origins are believed to be in Anjou, then it made its way to Tauraine (planted by Lord Chenonceaux, perhaps hence its name), and other parts of the Loire by the 15th century, and then into the Rhone. In the mid 1650s, Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company brought vines to the Cape colony of South Africa. It was given the local name “Steen” after a history of mislabeling that plays out like a game of Telephone gone wrong: “Listan” which morphed into “La Stan” and then “De Steen.” Listan is Dutch name for a grape, yes, but the Palomino of Spain. What they in fact had was Fransdurif, a.k.a. the Chenin Blanc of the Loire. It eventually got to “Steen” from “Stein” because of its early resemblance to German “Stein wein.” In 1963, C.J. Orffer, chief viticulturalist at the University of Stellenbosch, formally declared Steen’s leaves match those of Chenin Blanc, and the name has stuck since. In the 1960s, a sweet blend of Steen and Clairette Blanche known as Liberstein gained international recognition. In the latter half of the 20th century, dry versions of the wine came into prominence and proliferation. In other parts of the world, Chenin Blanc was already gaining a foothold. 
Characteristics of the grape: Dry: light to medium-bodied, apple, pear, cantaloupe, green melon, banana, lemon, sometimes faintly cinnamon. Sweet: candy apple, nuts, figs, caramel, brown sugar, toffee. 
Regions where the grape is currently important: Loire: Anjou, Saumur, Savennieres, Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaumes. South Africa, Caliofornia, Washington, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay. 
Type or types of wines the grape produces: dry, off dry, sparkling (especially Cremant de Bourgogne), late harvest, fortified, Botrytis sweet ~Amanda Schuster
– Description from Amanda Schuster

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Description 2 of 2

(aka. Steen, Pineau de la Loire, Pineau d’Anjou)

Chenin Blanc has flourished since the ninth century in its Central Loire homeland, on the highly calcareous, tuffa soils of Anjou and Touraine. Chenin Blanc’s tendencies towards green fruit characteristics with mineral notes and pronounced acidity traditionally lead to it being made into an off-dry wine, where residual sugar balances its high-acid nature. Well made Chenin Blanc from the Loire has a distinctive, musty, damp straw aroma. However, these same characteristics have sometimes been incorrectly confused with the off-aromas found in poorly made, over-sulphited, sweeter versions of Chenin.

Chenin Blanc’s high-acid tendencies have made it popular in warmer than usual viticultural regions, like California and South Africa (where it is known as Steen), both of which easily eclipse total French plantings. However, in these warmer conditions, the wines tend to be much more neutral, rarely hinting at the complexity of wines from Loire appellations like Vouvray and Montlouis.

The reasons for this disparity may stem from the lack of regard afforded the variety by American vineyard managers and the US marketplace. In the shadow of more in-vogue varieties, like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc is rarely privileged with the best growing sites. No doubt North American Chenin Blanc would benefit from more moderate climactic conditions, lower yields, and being planted in the chalky type of soils which it performs so well in elsewhere. In California’s hotter bulk winegrowing regions, yields are often as much as 2 1/2 times the maximum allowable from Loire vineyards. Chenin’s response to such treatment is to make wines of little varietal character and complexity, lacking much of its typically refreshing, life-giving acidity. It isn’t surprising that such bland wines have doomed the variety to the role of jug-wine workhorse. However, a very notable exception to this is the Clarksburg AVA at the northern end of California’s Central Valley. Here. many producers have recognized the grape’s potential for high quality wine, and Clarksburg is beginning to build a reputation for premium wines based on its great success with the generally overlooked Chenin Blanc.

With a relatively thin skin, Chenin Blanc is susceptible to botrytis under the right conditions. Indeed, this variety makes some of the most luxuriously unctuous dessert wines, capable of aging gracefully for many decades, due in part to its typically high acidity. Botrytis affected grapes may also be used in dry wine in Loire regions such as Savennières, adding additional complexity and minerality to the wines. The variety’s natural tartness also makes Chenin Blanc a favorite base wine for sparkling production, particularly in the Loire appellations of Vouvray, and Saumur.

Underneath that mat of dusty, straw hair, there is the face of a superstar. You are flexible and graceful … a gymnast of styles. We’ve enjoyed your gold medal performances in France’s Central Loire where you excel on all the apparatus -- dry, sweet and sparkling. Now you are performing in a new arena, under the bright lights of Clarksburg in the Central Valley. Keep practicing, Chenin. Eventually, you will vault your way into the hearts of North America. – Description from Appellation America (view original content)

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