Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chenin Blanc Tasting

Still more appologies to my faithful six subscribers for my dearth of posting. Life, work, and a very sick dog got in the way. I haven't even been tasting much in the last little bit. Except, that is, for a huge Chenin Blanc event I had at my house last weekend. I'll post my tasting notes in a few days. Meanwhile, here was the setup.

Chenin Blanc is the boneless, skinless chicken breast of the wine world.  Its fairly neutral palate of flavors readily shows differences in terroir and winemaking technique.  For the WSET Diploma student, this lack of native profile means that each region and style must be learned and memorized by itself, which is a time consuming proposition and somewhat frustrating.  Also, the damn vine is very vigorous and if it grows too large too fast, the grapes lose acidity and start to taste like Chardonnay, which is a whole other thing...I could go on...sigh.  So this is our attempt to get one of everything together in one room and nail this sucker down!

Flight 1 -- USA
Chenin is considered a blending grape in most US appellations, with varietal bottlings only in very good years.  The big exception is Clarksburg, located in the Sacramento Valley of California.  Clarksburg is home to Bogle Winery, and while most of it’s wine is sold in bulk to other producers, it has been trying to make a name for itself lately as a cool climate region.  

2008 Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc Limestone Ridge Vista Verde Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, CA
2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, CA
2009 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc Wilson Ranch, Clarksburg, CA
2007 Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc CNW, Clarksburg, CA
2009 L'Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc Walla Voila, Walla Walla, WA
2010 Field Recordings Jurassic Park Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Flight 2 -- Anjou, Loire, France
You get a little of everything in Anjou, from Malbec to Gamay, Chenin to Chardonnay.  But instead of thinking of the region as a hopeless jumble of mediocrity, look a little deeper to find some of the best examples of dry and sweet chenin.  Savennières, for example is home to Nicolas Joly, warrior monk and voodoo viticulturalist, producing some of the most complex and mineral wine of any grape.  In Bonnezeaux, the minimum sugar requirements are higher than Sauternes!  The wines of Quarts-du-Chaume are usually made using the technique of letting the grapes raisin on the vines.  The region is so good they have petitioned the INAO to become the first Grand Cru vineyard outside Burgundy!  

2009 Domaine des Roches Neuves (Thierry Germain) Saumur L'Insolite
2009 Château d'Epiré Savennières Cuvée Spéciale
2003 Nicolas Joly Savennières Roche aux Moines Clos de la Bergerie
2003 Nicolas Joly Clos de la Coulée de Serrant

Flight 3 -- Touraine, Loire, France
To those who remember our Cabernet Franc tasting, the region of Touraine conjures up nightmare visions of stemmy, thin, acidic  Bourgueil and Chinon.  Well not this time, buddy.  Touraine is home to Vouvray and Montlouis, which make the most widely known and popular style of Chenin on the market.  The conditions of the area make it one of the last to be harvested in all of France, making the wine very ripe indeed.

2008 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos du Breuil
2008 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux
2008 François Pinon Vouvray Silex Noir
2008 François Chidaine Vouvray Le Bouchet
2008 Foreau Vouvray Demi-Sec
2009 Domaine Coteau de la Biche Vouvray Sec

Flight 4 -- South Africa
First planted in the mid 17th Century, there is more Chenin Blanc in South Africa than in all of France.  In the global south, Chenin takes on a much richer and fruitier profile.  One often finds tropical flavors and aromas too.  Whether that is because of terroir or lower fermentation temperatures is a matter of debate.  Unfortunately for the WSET student, lots of SA wine goes to England where they write the tests, and not so much here. For example, I was unable to find even one example of wine from the Breede River Valley, which lies behind the costal range and is very important.  Road Trip?

2010 Essay Chenin Blanc
2009 Badenhorst Family Wines Chenin Blanc Secateurs - Swartland
2009 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Steen op Hout - Stellenbosch
2010 Beaumont Wines Chenin Blanc - Walker Bay
2009 Faraway Farm Chenin Blanc Bosmans Crossing - Western Cape

Flight 5 -- Other Regions
When you see the wines here, you’ll understand why we needed a misc. category.

2006 Mianville Jasnières Chant de Vigne - Upper Loire
2009 Sula Chenin Blanc - Nashik, India
N.V. L. A. Cetto Chenin Blanc Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

Flight 6 -- Sparkling Touraine
With weather patterns in the Loire so variable, machine harvesting is often impossible.  Instead, pickers make as many as six passes through the vineyard, selecting ripe bunches.  This is one explanation for the variety to sweetness levels found in the finished wine.  Often the first couple of passes are really nasty for table wine, but make an excellent sparkler.

N.V. Jean-Claude Bougrier Vouvray Brut
N.V. François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Brut

Flight 7 -- Old, Rare, Sticky
‘Nuff said?

1997 René Renou Bonnezeaux Cuvée Zenith
2004 Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon Clos de Sainte Catherine
1985 Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon
1997 Domaine Jo Pithon Coteaux du Layon Chaume
2009 Huët Vouvray Moelleux 1ère Trie Le Mont
2008 Terra Blanca Arch Terrace Cherry Hill Vineyard Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, Yakima Valley, WA