Chenin Blanc and Food Pairings

Ingredients and Styles

A good rule of thumb is to treat Chenin Blanc much as you would Riesling. Given the array of styles available, It can pair with an incredible selection of ingredients, from the obvious, including fish (angler, halibut, snapper, rock cod), seafood (scallops, shrimp, lobster, prawns), and mild poultry (turkey, chicken, game hen, quail), to the less obvious, including white meat (pork, ham, veal), rich poultry (duck, goose), and charcuterie (sausages, cured meats). A sweeter Chenin Blanc with a terrine of foie gras is positively orgasmic! Vegetables that are sweet or imply sweetness are lovely with Chenin Blanc, including corn and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, yams, slow-roasted turnips or rutabagas. And its hard acid gives it an ability to match with things that seem improbable. Chenin can also work with creamy, buttery sauces, its implicit sweetness pairing nicely with the dairy elements.

Bone-dry Chenin Blanc, electric and refreshing, can pair well wherever a squeeze of lemon or lime would enhance the dish -- with a plate of oysters, for example, scaloppine of pork or veal, or a simply poached salmon. It's important to pay attention to the body and weight of the wine, as Chen­ins from different regions vary considerably. Remember the basic principle of matching the level of alcohol with the richness of the food.

Off-dry interpretations are magnificent at foiling spicy heat, as in an Indian vindaloo or Korean kimchi, or mimicking sweetness (chicken with Calvados, cream, and sautéed apples, or deep-fried coconut shrimp). Additionally, off-dry Chenin is sublime with smoked items, especially salmon, trout, and pork, or recipes made with them, like pasta dishes. Moderate levels of salt can also be balanced with these off-dry styles.

The very sweet dessert-style Chenin Blancs are wonderful for pairing with desserts based on white stone fruits (peach, nectarine) and tree fruits (pear and apple, especially in tarts), or with custards such as crème brûlée. Finally, botrytized versions are super with recipes that include honey. As always, ensure that the dessert is less sweet than the wine.

Wine Style
Sugar Level
Ingredients Cuisines + Cooking Methods
Bone Dry Shellfish, fish, white meat, mild poultry Simply prepared foods enhanced by a squeeze of lemon, e.g. halibut, cod, scallops, prawns,
Veal scaloppine, simple poached salmon
NB: Remember to match body and weight of the wine with the food
Off-Dry Charcuterie
Ham, smoked items (salmon, trout, pork)
Rich poultry (duck, goose)
Vegetables that are sweet or imply sweetness (corn, carrots, yams)
Slow roasting root vegetables
Sautéed apples for a savory dish
Meat or fish served in a creamy, buttery sauce
Dishes with a little spicy heat
Smoking (salmon, trout, pork)
Sweet Dessert Style White stone fruit (peach, nectarine)
Tree fruits (pear, apple)
Desserts that include honey

Methods of Cooking

Wine Profile

Lean, bright, refreshing (cooler climate) to slightly ampler, warmer climate styles. 

Cooking Methods and Ingredients

Prepare white meats or chicken very simply and just add a spritz of lemon (e.g. veal scaloppine). These bright, refreshing wines also pair well with recipes using lime, such as a fish taco with salsa. Opposites attract: a young, dry, fruity Chenin Blanc works well with a broccoli and cheese soufflé.

Wine Profile

Slightly rounder on the palate than bone-dry examples. 

Cooking Methods and Ingredients

These off-dry versions foil the spicy heat (but not too hot!) of dishes from Indian to Thai (coconut-based curries). A little sweetness in the dish, such as snap peas in a slightly sweet Asian sauce or grouper with a mango salsa, bridges to the wine. For Western dishes, match the off-dry quality of the wine with items that mimic sweetness, such as chicken with Calvados and cream or grilled chicken with Texas BBQ sauce. Smoked items or dishes incorporating them are another “go-to,”for example, pasta with smoked salmon, smoked ham, etc.  Moderate levels of salt can also be balanced with these off-dry styles as the acidity in the wine moderates saltiness, but make sure the wine is not too high in alcohol.

Wine Profile

Low to medium-low alcohol, round, smooth and creamy texture. 

Cooking Methods and Ingredients

Fruit-based desserts, especially tarts, and custards are winners. For botrytized versions, desserts made with some honey are ideal. Make sure the wine is sweeter than the food.

Pairing Pointers

Chenin Blanc Works Well: 

  • With many different dishes. If you are willing to adjust the style, from dry to sweet, sparkling to dessert, you'll almost always find a wine to work with the food you are preparing. Thank you, Chenin Blanc!
  • Where you'd serve Champagne. At a fraction of the price, but with many of the same flavor characteristics, a quality sparkling wine based on Chenin Blanc can allow you to splurge on the dish and spend less on the bottle. Corn blinis with a spot of caviar and a little crème fraîche or sour cream, served with sparkling Chenin are very nice. You might even try it with a bag of popcorn sprinkled with your favorite topping, from Parmesan to Cajun spice.
  • Where opposites attract. If a dry Chenin Blanc is young, fresh, and fruity, try something like a broccoli and goat cheese soufflé or fish tacos topped with salsa.
  • With fruit-based desserts. Perhaps more than any other dessert wine, late-harvest Chenin works superbly with recipes ranging from a classic apple tart served with a dollop of whipped cream to a honey-infused mousse accompanied by a compote of ginger-scented pears and quince.
  • With slightly sweet entrées and appetizers. There's so much sweetness in food today, from the complex coconut curries of Thailand and the Indian state of Kerala to a plate of grilled chicken slathered with mild Texas BBQ sauce, that off-dry Chenin Blanc comes into its own where many other wines would be diminished.
  • With cheese. Given Chenin's versatility, it makes sense that there's a Chenin to pair with almost any wedge, wheel, or shaving of cheese, from cow, goat, or sheep.

Chenin Blanc Doesn't Work: 

  • When you pick the wrong style. Basic common sense should prevail. Do not pair a dry Chenin Blanc with a dessert, nor a moelleux style with your pan-roasted halibut with lemon-caper butter.
  • With dishes that are too fiery. A heavy hand with the cracked black pepper, Scotch bonnet or jalapeño chilis will overpower most dry Chenin Blancs, though off-dry examples and lower alcohol sparkling versions will fare better.
  • With most green vegetables, unless they are slightly sweet (like snap peas with a slightly sweet Asian sauce). Bone-dry examples may work on occasion, but it is tough to pair Chenin with basic sautéed zucchini, Swiss chard, or spinach.
  • With traditional red-meat dishes. Easter ham? Yes! Prime rib with Yorkshire pudding? No! And do not even think about strong foods like calves' liver.
  • With desserts based on chocolate, coffee, or mocha. These ingredients bury the subtlety of the wine.