Sunday, June 10, 2007

Turning Back the Clock -- Chenin Blanc

The 70's. Sit back and smell the polyester.

Imagine looking in the avocado-colored fridge of any groovy, shag-carpeted urban apartment. You'll find a bottle or jug of white wine -- probably either Krug or Gallo. In script on the label -- "Chenin Blanc." (The red in the cabinet above the fridge is no doubt a "Burgundy," but we've covered that…) Merlot's "Sideways" downturn pales in comparison to the utter destruction of Chenin Blanc in the U.S. for years by this marketing ploy.

A shame. Chenin Blanc may have fallen from the ranks of the more popular wines -- but it's a pretty incredible grape. Chenin Blanc may be the most versatile grape on the planet. Winemakers put together everything from sparkling wine to crisp, flavorful whites to some of the best dessert wines in the world. Chenin Blanc grows almost anywhere, as well.

The best Chenin Blanc is grown in the Loire Valley in France. The dessert wines from the Loire rival even Sauternes for renown. The best Chenin table wines in the Loire come from Vouvray. Chenin Blanc is the third-most cultivated grape in California and is the most widely grown grape in South Africa.

Unfortunately, the ease of growing this grape has resulted in a great lack of care in some places, leading to some truly forgettable wines. Luckily, winemakers and consumers are starting to move past the wide lapel era into modern times, where there's some good white to be had. Done correctly, Chenin Blanc is an incredibly food friendly, drinkable wine. One of the few positives (for us) of the "Chenin Stigma" is that you'll be able to find a very good wine at a very reasonable price. Here's an example of what can be done:

Vinum Cellars 2005 "Chard-No-Way" Chenin Blanc -- Vinum Cellars was founded by a couple of buddies from UC Davis that went into the wine industry. The two of them decided to help the world rediscover this lost grape. They make their wine in Napa, in the heart of Chardonnay country -- hence the name of the wine. You start with a nose of tart apples and grapefruit. It has an extremely light body (in my mind, almost too light). However, after a quiet start, the acidity and tartness pick up along with flavors of pineapples or similar fruit. The finish is fairly long and quite tart. Vinum's creation is an ideal crisp, refreshing poolside wine. You could pair this easily with almost any light seafood or with wine killers like asparagus or artichokes. $11-14.

Indaba 2005 Chenin Blanc -- South Africa is growing great amounts of Chenin Blanc, with no end in sight as the wine gains popularity worldwide. "Indaba" is Zulu for "a community discussion." This would be an appropriate beverage for any kind of social gathering to get the words flowing. The Indaba is considerably stronger in scent than the Vinum. Citrusy. The body is considerably heavier than the first, which is a good thing if you ask me. The wine is slightly sweet at first, but then gets quickly tart. If I'd not been told, I would have mistaken it for a light, complex sauvignon blanc. The finish is quite easy -- a little bit of honey and tartness. Spicy food, like satay or Thai, would go wonderfully -- as would something like pizza. Shellfish, as with most Chenins, work well. The acidity allows it to stand up to just about anything. And at $5-7, how can you go wrong?

Chateau de Villeneuve 2005 Saumur -- The Saumur region of the Loire Valley is the home of the best sparkling wines made from Chenin, but their still wines are quite good as well. Among our wines this time, this one was an interesting contrast. The Saumur has an interesting "yeasty" nose, which isn't as unpleasant as it sounds. This aroma is caused by leaving the wine "sur lie" -- meaning "on the lees." "Lees" is WineSpeak for "remaining dead yeast after fermentation." Before the whole "buttery" malolactic fermentation craze began, leaving a wine on the lees was one way to make the flavor creamier. There's also a little apple on the nose. The flavor is light-bodied, with creamy flavors of pear and vanilla. The flavor is very smooth, but picks up a nice tart finish -- which would allow it to pair wonderfully with any kind of shellfish, salad, or light pasta. I baked some scallops in foil with veggies, and it was fabulous. $11-13.

Until next time, bite the bullet, put the leisure suit away, and relax in the summer sun with some Chenin. Cheers!

3 comments:

Miss_K said...

Dude, I'm gonna hook you up with some pimpin' 70's "chic-aw-wah-wah" tunage to accompany your Chenin Blanc selections.

Oh yeah.

Mike said...

It's all about the envelope filter and the wah-wah pedal, bay-bee!

Mordelet said...

I have just dicovered your blog which is very interesting. I am a young winegrower, located in Montlouis sur Loire (the neighbour of Vouvray)and I confirm : Chenin is versatile but so fascinating !
It will be a great pleasure for us if you should be interested by visiting our estate and tasting our wines. Valérye Mordelet, Domaine Les Loges de la Folie, contact@les-loges-de-la-folie.com