Chenin Blanc vs Riesling: Which Is Better?

what's the difference between chenin blanc and riesling chart - chenin blanc vs riesling

Both Chenin Blanc and Riesling make delicious white wines, but they’re definitely distinctive

Riesling is more aromatic than Chenin Blanc, with peach, citrus, and maybe even petrol. Chenin Blanc has pear, tropical fruit, flowers, honey, and a waxy note. Both Riesling and Chenin Blanc make dry, off-dry, sweet, and sparkling wines. Riesling has the ability to age longer than Chenin Blanc. Riesling’s wider availability at all price points makes it a budget-friendly choice.

Chenin Blanc and Riesling have some key differences in terms of their history and wine characteristics.

Here’s what you need to know about Chenin Blanc vs Riesling

Where Is Chenin Blanc from?

Originally from the Pineau region in the Loire Valley, France, Chenin Blanc remains closely connected to its origins where it makes a range of white wines – from dry, to sweet, and even sparkling.

But it has done some traveling. Today, Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape in South Africa.

Fun Wine Fact: In the 1980s, California had more Chenin Blanc planted than France, but it fell out of favor. Today, Chenin grapes are used to make non-descript, non-vintage white table wine in California. If you have a bottle of generic White California Wine, it probably has some Chenin Blanc in it.

Like many other wines, Chenin Blanc can go by different names. If you see any of the following on a bottle of white wine, it’s Chenin Blanc:

  • Steen (South Africa)
  • Bonnezeaux (France)
  • Pineau de la Loire (home of Chenin Blanc)
  • Savennières (France – arguably some of the highest quality Chenin Blanc in the world)
  • Vouvray (France – super popular Chenin Blanc producing region)
  • Quarts de Chaume (France – one of the world’s most exclusive dessert wines)

Where Is Riesling from?

Riesling’s birthplace is along Germany’s Rhine River. This hugely popular white wine grape now grows around the world in all major winegrowing regions, including Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Austria (where it’s the second leading white grape), and the US – most notably Washington.

Fun Wine Fact: The first references of Riesling emerge in the 1400s on a storage inventory list.

Helpful Tip: If you’re curious about Riesling, go check out this post that just covers the history and winemaking of Riesling wines.

What’s the Difference Between Chenin Blanc and Riesling Wines?

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Chenin Blanc and Riesling are both known as versatile white wines that can be made into any wine style – dry, off-dry, sparkling, or even sweet. Chenin has a light body, that’s often soft with a pear and citrus core. Riesling has steely high acid, and distinctive, powerful aromatics that leap out of the glass. Both are light to medium-bodied and will be pale lemon in color.

Helpful Tip: Here’s a 30-second tasting tip to help you identify the fruits and floral notes you’re smelling in white wine.

Chenin Blanc and Riesling Flavors

chenin blanc wine profile infographic - chenin blanc vs riesling wine

Chenin Blanc Wine Flavors

  • Apple
  • Melon
  • Pear
  • Quince
  • Tropical Fruit
  • Honey

Helpful Tip: Here’s a deep dive into what Chenin Blanc tastes like with tasting notes that will give you a full overview of the range of styles and flavors this little white grape can off you.

Riesling Wine Flavors

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  • White Blossom
  • Green Apple
  • Lime
  • Lemon
  • Peach
  • Nectarine
  • Honey
  • Petrol

Chenin Blanc and Riesling acidity is a defining feature of both wines, with Chenin Blanc and Riesling showcasing unique and vibrant levels of acidity that contribute to their refreshing and crisp nature. Riesling tends to be higher in acid than Chenin Blanc, but this can vary. (Here’s a full post on everything you need to know about Riesling.)

What Is Sweeter Chenin Blanc or Riesling?

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Chenin Blanc and Riesling sweetness levels vary. Both wines can make off-dry and sweet white wines.

The level of sweetness depends on the specific winemaking techniques used or even the region where the grapes are grown. 

Helpful Tip: Here’s a full rundown of sweetness in wine that’s useful if you’re trying to figure out if your wine’s sweet (or not).

If you enjoy sweeter wines, you will want to read your wine labels carefully before you buy Riesling or Chenin Blanc.

If you see any of the following words on a Chenin Blanc wine label, then it is off-dry or sweet:

  • Sec-Tendre
  • Demi-Sec
  • Moelleux

Moreso than Chenin Blanc, Riesling wine labels almost always use a sweetness indicator to tell you if the wine is dry, off-dry, or sweet. This is becoming a standard practice to help wine lovers find the Riesling style they enjoy.

Here’s an example:

Sweetness scale - which is sweeter chenin blanc or riesling

This scale shows that the wine is off-dry.

Which Is Drier: Chenin Blanc or Riesling?

Both Chenin Blanc and Riesling make dry white table wines, but Riesling tends to have more acid and more intense flavors and aromas (meaning it feels more flavorful in your mouth and when you sniff your wine).

Really high acid can make Riesling seem fruitier and trick your tastebuds into thinking the wine is sweet, even if it’s dry.

Chenin Blanc vs. Riesling Alcohol Content

Almost all Chenin Blanc and Riesling dry white table wines will have medium alcohol (11%-14% ABV), though certain styles of Riesling may be under 11% ABV. 

The level of alcohol in Chenin Blanc or Riesling is directly related to the growing climate.

Warmer regions mean riper grapes and more sugar accumulation that can be fermented into alcohol (higher alcohol wines). If you’re concerned about alcohol content, then choose wines that are from cooler growing regions. 

But where to start?

Luckily, the Loire Valley, France, is known for its cooler climate, so explore Chenin Blanc from places like Vouvray (Chenin), and Anjou-Saumur (Chenin). You can find lovely Rieslings from Germany’s Mosel and Rhine River regions.

Helpful Wine Shopping Tip: Hotter growing climates help grapes accumulate more sugar. More sugar means more alcohol. Higher alcohol wines have more body. So, a high-alcohol Riesling (14.6% ABV), will be heavier than a lower-alcohol Riesling (11% ABV). Reading wine labels can help you pick out the wine style you want: heavier or lighter?

Chenin Blanc and Riesling Sparkling Wines

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Chenin Blanc and Riesling both make sparkling wines. In the Loire Valley, France, Chenin Blanc sparkling wines go by the name “Cremant”. In Germany, sparkling wines made from Riesling go by the name “Sekt”.

You’ll see “Cremant” and “Sekt” on wine labels.

Helpful Tip: Both sparkling Chenin and sparkling Riesling are delightful wine styles that are typically less expensive than classic Champagne and worth looking out for on restaurant menus.

Which Is More Expensive: Chenin Blanc versus Riesling

Chenin Blanc isn’t as popular or as widely grown as Riesling, so it tends to be more expensive when made into a single varietal wine (not a bulk white wine).

Riesling enjoys popularity with wine drinkers and, as a result, you’ll find single-varietal Riesling at all price points – from extreme-value wines up to super-premium bottles.

Don’t be fooled!

Both Chenin Blanc and Riesling can sell for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars if made by prestige producers – a sign that both wines are worthy of your attention.

Chenin Blanc and Riesling: Food Pairing

chenin blanc vs riesling pairing ideas

Chenin Blanc and Riesling provide a light, fruity backdrop for many different types of cuisine. Check out these classic pairings and unexpected combinations that can enhance the flavors of both wines.

For Chenin Blanc:

  • Grilled shrimp skewers
  • Roasted butternut squash risotto
  • Spicy Thai green curry
  • Goat cheese and honey crostini
  • Pork tenderloin with apple chutney
  • Caramelized onion and gruyere tart

For Riesling:

  • Spicy Indian vindaloo
  • Smoked salmon sushi rolls
  • Pork schnitzel with lemon caper sauce
  • Spicy Korean kimchi
  • Thai mango sticky rice
  • Blue cheese and walnut salad

Helpful Tip: Unlike many dry white wines, off-dry and sweeter styles of Riesling and Chenin Blanc can pair well with chili spice. So if you’re looking at some of the hotter dishes above, go with off-dry or sweet styles of Riesling and Chenin Blanc. Then go check out this quick guide on tips for pairing food flavors with wine.

Which Is Better: Riesling or Chenin Blanc?

If you prefer high-acid white wine with intense perfume, then Riesling is better for you. If you enjoy white wines with a softer, rounder mouthfeel and more subtle fruit, then Chenin Blanc is better.

What’s the Serving Temperature for Chenin Blanc and Riesling?

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Both Chenin Blanc and Riesling are served chilled, between 45–49°F. What does this mean in practice? Put both wines in your refrigerator the day before you drink them (at least 3 hours before you open the bottle). 

  • Take the bottle out 10-15 minutes before pouring.
  • If either wine seems closed (not very aromatic), give it a good swirl and let it warm up for 5-10 more minutes.

Helpful Tip: To chill or not to chill? This is always a wine question – so I put together this post that goes over what wines to chill and for how long that anyone can use!

Final Thoughts: What’s the Difference Between Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc?

What's the difference between chenin blanc and riesling

If you enjoy light fruited white wines, then stick with Chenin Blanc. If you’re into filigreed, acidic white wines that jump out of the glass, then Riesling is the wine for you.

Each wine brings its own unique character to your drinking experience. 

A great way to get started with these two wines is by doing a side-by-side comparison. Pick up two bottles of similarly-priced wines: 1 bottle of Chenin Blanc and 1 bottle of Riesling. Pour yourself a glass of each, side-by-side, and taste them slowly.

  • Can you smell the difference in the power of the aromas? (Riesling should be more powerful)
  • Can you feel the difference in the wine’s acidity? (Sauvignon Blanc should have more acid and make your mouth pucker more than the Chenin Blanc)
  • Can you tease out the different fruit flavors?

This is the best way to understand the differences between these two beloved wine grapes.

Thirsty for More?

Check out these posts comparing popular white wines:
Chenin Blanc vs Chardonnay
Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio
Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc: What’s the Difference?
Chenin Blanc vs. Sauvignon Blanc: Which Will You Like?

If you’re buying Sauvignon Blanc, chances are very, very good it’s from New Zealand. Here’s a post that explains what’s up with New Zealand Sauv Blanc.

Doing side-by-side tastings, or wine flights, are the best way to learn about wine. So, I wrote a post on wine flights, and what they are, and include 16 ideas for your next wine flight. Go check out wine flights here.

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