Wine with Food: Dry Chenin Blanc | Pairing Tips

Wine with Food: Dry Chenin Blanc
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. |


The chances of your receiving a gift bottle of California wine labeled “Dry Chenin Blanc” is higher than it used to be. There are several reasons for this, but the most impor­tant one is that more and more of our wineries are opting to add the word ‘dry’ to their label, when the style of Chenin Blanc wine they have produced is such. Otherwise, it is still true that when you have a bottle of wine labeled “Chenin Blanc”, it can be dry or it can be sweet. You have to know the style that the winemaker is dedicated to.

Chenin Blanc has earned the reputation of being considered a wine that tends to be on the sweet side. Justifiably so. It used to be made that way fairly exclusively. It is a delight­ful wine at the right time, and even better with the right accompaniments. On a hot summer afternoon, a glass of chilled medium sweet Chenin with some fruit to go along with it is most refreshing.

But what about the “Dry” style. It has to have evolved because the serious wine en­thusiasts were turning up their noses at this variety. It was generally too sweet for them.

Well, some very interesting wines have been appearing at the trade tastings I have been attending. Examples that are quite dry, quite different in taste, yet with the wonderful basic varietal character of this grape coming through. No question, the wine is fruity, or at least it should be, and assertive in its young character. But curiously dry. That wonder­ful Chenin flavor is there, and it says, “I’m dif­ferent I will be okay with your meal. I will continue to be fine with your apperitif as well, but I will shine with your poultry course.”

There’s the food to serve with Dry Chenin Blanc Chicken and turkey dishes. The casse­roles would be just great. Roasted fowl will be very good. Even fried chicken will be very appropriate. However for chicken or turkey salad sandwiches, I prefer a slightly sweet ver­sion of the wine. It tends to go along with the lightness of the sandwich.

Now here is a curve ball. Having a wine fit Chinese food has been a tricky game. The most recent proposition by a wine writer extolled the use of champagne with Chinese food. Be that as it may, I would like to pro­pose the use of a Dry Chenin Blanc. I am referring to Cantonese style Chinese food, and I am suggesting the wine with the poultry, fish, or pork combinations. It should be quite good with the vegetable and noodle dishes. The floweryness of the varietal character of this grape just seems to blend well. Even the slightly sweet versions would be very satis­factory.

Some examples of Dry Chenin Blanc that have impressed me recently include: Hacienda, Guenoc Cassayre-Fomi, Kenwood, and Piconi. All these were the most recent vintage releases.

A most interesting one appeared last year from Alexander Valley Vineyards. Winemaker Hank Wetzel decided to make a dry Chenin Blanc in the manner of a classical Chardonnay. Most Chenins are made with no wood ageing. They are traditionally fresh, young, crisp, fruity and flowery. Their young charm fades fast as they get older. Using the Chenin grape, but ageing it in oak, and adding some age to the bottle really developed a new dimension to this dry style Chenin that was very harmonious. I thought it was one of the best I had tasted.

So if that gift bottle of wine says Dry Chenin Blanc on the label, set it aside and use it some night when you break out the wok or call for some take-out. With five, you get sweet and sour pork, and that goes good too!

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