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Aug 29, 2013 12:05 PM

Sauvignon blanc vs Chenin blanc

I don't think I've ever had Chenin blanc..(maybe i did but not by choice probabaly). What are some of the differences in characteristics and taste? When drinking white, I usually go for pinot gris or sauvignon blanc because they are crisp and easy to drink.

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  1. I'm sure many others while chime in but Chenin blanc comes in a range of styles, from crisp to overtly sweet. Most are in the middle, so to speak, but they always have an intriguing undercurrent of acid that balances the impression of off-dry on the palette. To be general, the ones I most associate with a crisp, dry side are Savenierres and sometimes those from South Africa can be that way. The Loire produces the most versions, and this NYTimes article focuses on Vouvray and other Loire wines:

    4 Replies
    1. re: penthouse pup

      Savennieres rocks.

      One of my favorite wines, and my favorite Savennieres winery may be Baumard (but be selective about vintages):

      "I had the Baumard Savennieres with crab cakes, and it was a revelation: the toasted brioche/hops/slight caramel matched perfectly with the browned crust of the crab cakes; the minerality and herbs -- tarragon, chives -- lined up as well, as did the citrus (tangerine and lime). A lovely white with seafood. Finally, the acid was a good foil against the fried (but not greasy) crab cakes. Savennieres is now one of my go-to wines to pair with seafood that is breaded or prepared with a nut crust. A good buy, as well."

      If you're at all interested, one of the most interesting, and odd, winemakers in France is Nicolas Joly, who makes an intentionally oxidized style of Savennieres. It's very distinctive and not for everyone. Nicolas Joly's Savennieres even has its own AOC: Coulee de Serrant.

      I also very much like Elizabeth Spencer's Chenin Blanc (Mendocino, California, fruit):

      In France, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc have some commonality in terms of flavor, but really are quite distinct, separate grapes/wines.

      Outside of France, the two wines are even more different. I never pass up trying Chenin Blanc when I come across it.

      1. re: maria lorraine

        By sheer coincidence, ML, I had a 2003 Domaine du Closel Savennières, "Le Clos du Papillion" with roast chicken last night . . . this 10-year old Chenin Blanc was superb, with good acidity, mineral notes coupled with citrus and peach/nectarine, and a touch of caramel that's developed with bottle age. It was wonderful . . . .

        1. re: zin1953

          By even greater and kind of bizarre coincidence I opened the '04 last night before seeing this thread. Gorgeous wine.

          1. re: la2tokyo

            Wow. And wow. Will have to re-try the Closel and Papillion. Thanks for the reminder. Kinda want some right now on this Saturday afternoon.

    2. Chenin blanc is very significantly different in flavor than S.B... you will enjoy sampling the differences.

      2 Replies
      1. re: TombstoneShadow

        That was going to be my comment.

        Those two grape varietals have different flavor profiles, but, and depending on the exact offering, might have a little bit of overlap. Much depends on the location, and then, the winemaker.

        In very, very general terms, I think of SB for seafood, when one wants a "twist of lemon," and then, CB, when one has maybe a lighter chicken dish.

        I really like a few "domestic" (USA) SB's, and especially some offerings from Napa, with sushi. Fruit-forward, not too much acid, and some can hold up to the seafood, plus the wasabi, and soy/shoyu, plus the Pickled Ginger.

        Though I do love the NZ SB's, I find them tough to pair with food, and think of them, more often, as a "prelude" to food.



        1. re: Bill Hunt

          I don't find much overlap between the two in wines that have any degree of typicity.

      2. Monica, you are quite right to link these two grape varieties together, and ask about their differences/similarities. The two grapes have often been linked in the past. So, in the spirit of telling you how to make a watch, when you've asked for the time . . . .

        There is a huge difference -- both historically *and* currently -- between Chenin Blanc produced in California and those wines from the Loire Valley of France (Savennières, Vouvray, Anjou, etc.) -- where Chenin Blanc reaches its unrivaled pinnacle -- versus other regions of the world where Chenin Blanc is planted . . . but since you reside in the States, let's start with California, and Robert Mondavi.

        In the 19th century and early 20th century, Chenin Blanc in California was most often produced as a bone-dry wine, while Sauvignon Blanc was produced sweet (in an "incorrectly made" homage to Sauternes). In the 1950s, however, things changed.

        Robert Mondavi's father, Cesare, owned Charles Krug Winery in the Napa Valley. Their version of Chenin Blanc was, like everyone's, produced in a bone-dry style, and was labeled under the name "White Pinot." But Robert knew of an off-dry (slightly sweet) version from an area of France's Loire Valley called Vouvray, and he persuaded his father and brother, Peter, to make this off-dry style. Bottled in a green "hock" bottle, and labeled as "Chenin Blanc," Charles Krug Chenin Blanc was THE California white wine of the 1950s and 1960s, and -- indeed -- became the #1 best-selling white wine in American restaurants . . .

        BTW, The Christian Brothers Winery, also located in Napa Valley, called their dry version "Chenin Blanc," and their off-dry version "Pineau de la Loire."

        Meanwhile, Robert Mondavi left his family's winery and founded his own winery in 1966. In both 1966 and 1967, Robert produced a sweeter style Sauvignon Blanc, but he recalled that the French not only used Sauvignon Blanc to produce the world-famous dessert wine, Sauternes, but it was also planted in the Loire Valley where it was responsible for the bone-dry wines of Blanc Fumé de Pouilly (aka Pouilly-Fumé) and Sancerre. So Robert made a dry version of Sauvignon Blanc, called it Fumé Blanc and *this* was the wine that supplanted Charles Krug Chenin as the #1 restaurant white wine in the U.S.!

        If we focus on, say, the last 25-30 years in California, Chenin Blanc -- until rather recently -- has all but been ignored. Off-dry wines fell out of favor, and the total number of California wineries producing Chenin Blanc plummeted to record lows.

        In 1982, there was more Chenin Blanc (28,494 acres) planted in California than Chardonnay (22,050)!

        By 1992, Chenin Blanc had creeped up to 29,257 acres (with much of the harvest used in making jug wines), while acreage in Chardonnay EXPLODED to 59,971.

        As of 2002, plantings of Chenin plummeted to 15,799 acres, while Chardonnay continued to skyrocket to 98,743 acres.

        And for 2012, Chenin Blanc was a shadow of its former importance, with only 6,090 acres planted in California, while Chardonnay (having bounced above and below the 100,000 acre mark for much of the last 10-15 years) saw a slight dip to 95,074 acres.

        Meanwhile, Sauvignon Blanc has increased slowly but steadily from 9,818 acres in1982 to 15,259 in 2012.

        The good news is that there are some California wineries who have "rediscovered" Chenin Blanc and are dedicated to producing a truly fine wine, rather than a casual "entry-level" sweet sipping wine. Elizabeth Spenser is one; so, too, is Chappellet and Vinum.

        You may want to look at the Los Angeles Times article, "The Death of Chenin Blanc" --

        From the Loire Valley, Vouvray is a great place to start, especially a "Sec Tendre." Producers to look for include, but Huet, Pinon, Brédif, Foreau, Champlou, and Mommessin.

        Keep in mind that -- to generalize -- California Chenins are best in their youth, while Vouvrays and Savennières and Anjous improve with age . . .

        16 Replies
        1. re: zin1953

          Wow, is this from your head or from some source? Either way, you are amazing. Thanks for the info.
          Restaurant I am going today has Chenin Blanc from Vouvray so I will order a bottle and see if I like it.
          According to my research, Chenin blanc tends to be more acidic which is a characteristic I am not a big fan of and which is why I usually don't like some of the Italian wines but we will see.

          1. re: Monica

            (It's all from memory, except the specific acreage numbers which -- I'll confess -- I double-checked by looking them up. Thank you.)

            Keep in mind there is nothing to "fear" from acidity -- without it, the wine is dull, flabby, and often cloying. Both Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are, in fact, known for their acidity BUT (to generalize and, yes, there certainly *are* exceptions) when it comes to California, Chenin is often planted in a warmer region and thus is lower in acidity than Sauvignon Blanc . . .

            1. re: Monica

              Within Vouvray, there are "levels," or "differences." However, and with that said, most Vouvrays are excellent - with a few being MORE "excellent."

              Within much of the US "wine-drinking public," the CB wines do not get much respect. Such is life, and that means more for "us."

              If you have several to choose from, do ask the sommelier, or wine steward, for his/her recs., and cite your ordered dish, so that they can direct you to the ideal version.



              1. re: Bill Hunt

                We spent a week in the Vouvray area and it seemed like even the cheapest wines were very good.

                One thing that's a bit odd is that you can't always tell from the label whether the wine is dry or slightly off-dry.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    When they put "tendre" or "sec-sec" on the label, you know. Unfortunately some producers just leave it to you to guess.

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Went wine tasting in Vouvray about 12 years ago or so. One of the guys offered me what must have been "sec-sec". He said to me before I tasted it "you're American you won't like it". He was right!

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        Well, as you know, Chenins from the Loire range from the extremely dry to the very sweet . . .

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          I think many people need food to appreciate bone-dry, high-acid whites. They can be a bit of a shock otherwise.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Agree. Hard to imagine sipping a gros plant by itself for very long.

                            1. re: bob96

                              Now THAT brings up some painful memories . . .


                1. re: zin1953

                  Krug Chenin Blanc was my favorite pairing with curry in the 1970's...Chappellet was always first-rate in my past experience but haven't seen it in NYC for some time...

                  1. re: penthouse pup

                    Chappellet actually stopped making it for a few years, but it's back . . .

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Does Chalon still make their chenin blanc ?

                2. I live in California but most of the good Chenin Blanc I find is Vouvray, Montlouis, or Savennières.

                  I had a good one from a new winery called Leo Steen recently.


                  1. I agree with Maria.

                    Forget the pretenders. Skip right to Savennières. I hope to buy some this year, but they never send it down here.

                    And I wouldn't compare Chenin to any other white grape. It plays in its own league.

                    Jason, Is Calf Chenin really the same grape as in France?

                    13 Replies
                      1. re: collioure

                        Same grape; but IMO CB does not make great wine when grown ANYWHERE but the Loire. From anywhere else it is mediocre at best.

                        1. re: jock

                          South Africa also makes great wines from Chenin Blanc.

                          Most Chenin Blanc grown elsewhere is undistinguished, but I've occasionally come across exceptions. Monte Xanic's from Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico, could pass for Vouvray in a blind tasting.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            In Mexican seafood houses, I usually order chenin blancs. They just seem better balanced than many other Mexican whites. Monte Xanic is outstanding!

                          2. re: jock

                            That's my experience too, reason I asked the question.

                            1. re: collioure

                              Although I agree with Jock, I have to add a qualifier . . . there *are* truly delicious Chenins produced elsewhere. (I'm thinking of some of the Chenins from Chappellet from old vines, for example.) But there is no doubt -- at least in my mind -- that it is ONLY in the Loire that Chenin reaches such great heights.

                              1. re: zin1953

                                Chappellet replanted after the 2004 vintage. As we discussed a few years ago, to my taste they used to over-oak it:


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I think they changed that:

                                  The tech sheet shays they use "neutral French oak barrels, stainless steel barrels and tanks, and a Nomblot concrete

                                  I do know you're sensitive to oak, so the wine may be to your liking now.

                                  The Chappellet Chenin Blanc is mostly reserved for the Chappellet wine club members, but they do sell it in person at the winery and over the phone. Found at three restos only, all in the Napa Valley: Terra, Morimoto and the French Laundry.

                                  Would love to re-try it.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    $30 puts it in the same range as entry-level Huët.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Just trying to be helpful, and to update your understanding of how the wine is made.

                                      Certainly I prefer Chenin Blanc from France, but that isn't to say that select producers outside France aren't doing a good job.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        For $30 a bottle, they'd better do a good job.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          Pine Ridge makes a chenin-viognier blend that for about $10 a bottle is a lovely aperitif. Nothing like a good Vouvray moelleux, but still a distinctive, enjoyable wine.

                                          1. re: bob96

                                            Exactly what I was going to say just now...

                                            The Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier is an excellent buy, and though a blend, the flavor of Chenin Blanc comes through. Anywhere from $9 to about $13.

                                            Find the store closest to you at:

                                            Here's the writeup from Pine Ridge on its Chenin Blanc-Viognier: