Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc was cultivated from the ninth century in the Anjou region of France’s Loire Valley, and since the mid 1600’s in South Africa. Rabelais wrote about this varietal. While at its pinnacle in the Loire, much of what is produced in South Africa, where it goes by the name of Steen, and in North and South America, is simple, dependable, fruity white. New Zealand versions have the same kick of high natural acidity found only in the Loire versions so far. Quite often Botrytis Cinerea, the technical term for what is known in the wine industry as Noble Rot, is encouraged. This is a beneficial mold that reduces perfectly healthy grapes into shriveled up, slimy little masses of pulp. The benevolent twin of a much more common fungus known as grey rot, this noble mold gives the wine toffee, nutty, pheromone-like, and floral qualities.

Chenin Blanc even within the confines of the Loire Valley, where it is known as Pineau de la Loire, is mind-boggling in it’s ability to shine as a fresh and fruity Vouvray or Mountlouis, an off-dry Vouvray Moelleux, a sweet, late harvest Coteaux du Layon, a dry, rich, botrytis-imbued Savennieres, and dry, off-dry, or even sweet Sparkling Saumur. In general, the French versions share a bit of that grassy, herbal edge found in Loire Sauvignon Blancs, that same brilliant acidity, but sometime have a slightly musty or even off-putting lanolin/petrol aroma. The better versions have a capacity for very long aging.  Chenin blanc is blended with mauzac and chardonnay in Limoux, a delicious and very unique sparkling wine from the south of France.

Jan Van Riebeeck introduced the first vines to the Cape in 1655. Early documents refer to three varieties: Groendruif (Semillon), Fransdruif and Steen. Steen first came to prominence in the first half of the twentieth century as a base for South African brandy. In the 1960s, Lieberstein, a semi-sweet blend of Steen and Clairette Blanche, enjoyed phenomenal success. It was, for a while, the world's best-selling single brand of wine. At a different level, but just as spectacular, Nederburg Edelkeur, a Chenin blanc Noble Late Harvest, is consistently ranked amongst the finest dessert wines of the world.

Top producers in South Africa and in Clarksburg, California are releasing clean, fresh, peachy wines. Washington State Chenin Blancs generally are off-dry to slightly sweet. It goes by the name Pinot Blanco in Mexico, Brazil, and Uruguay, and is used for sparkling wine in Argentina.

Chenin Banc: Green apple, bosc pear, quince, musk melon, honey, wet cement, slate, lanolin, petrol, occasionally an herbaceous note, vibrant acidity, dry to sweet, still and sparkling.

Chenin Blanc: Loire Valley, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Central Valley, Columbia Valley.

Nicolas Joly Clos de la Coulée de Serrant Savennières, Loire Valley (France)
Nicolas Joly Les Clos Sacres Savennieres, Loire Valley (France)
Domaine des Bau­mard Clos de Ste-Catherine Coteaux du Layon, Loire Valley (France)
Château de Fesles Bonnezeaux, Loire Valley (France)
Château Pierre Bise Quarts de Chaume, Loire Valley (France)
Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Moelleux Réserve, Loire Valley (France)
Domaine Huët-L’Échansonne Vouvray Clos du Bourg Demi-sec, Loire Valley (France)
Nederburg Edelkeur Chenin Blanc Late Harvest, Paarl (South Africa)

Best Value
Domaine Pichot Vouvray, Loire Valley (France)
Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (South Africa)
Dry Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, California (USA)
Snoqualmie Vineyards, Columbia Valley, Washington (USA)

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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