Chenin Blanc is a classic variety to appear in a blind tasting exam, because it is available in virtually every form: dry and still, sweet and still, sparkling, sweet sparkling…
With such stylistic diversity available, how do you pin it down in a tasting? Simply put, by focusing on its acid structure. Chenin Blanc always has high levels of acidity, and often the quality of the acidity is quite bracing - you sometimes fear for the enamel on your teeth.
But more than just that, Chenin always shows a crescendo shaped acid structure. That is:
When the wine hits the palate, it can be surprisingly soft. When the wine comes from the Loire, the cool climate nose leads you to think you will get a big hit of acidity on entry, but no
After a couple of seconds on the palate, the acidity begins to be felt
After swallowing/spitting, the acidity reaches a climax. Only here do you feel the really high levels of bracing acidity that Chenin is famous for
For anyone familiar with music notations, the shape of this structure is a crescendo: the perception of the acidity just grows in keeping with the time spent on the palate
Possible confusions with Chenin are: Chardonnay (more consistent, linear acid structure), Grüner Veltliner (a bigger hit of acid on entry, even if it also climaxes on the finish) or Riesling (consistently felt throughout the length of the palate, like Chardonnay, but with a more ‘vertical’ rather than horizontal shape).