Magazine article Sunset

Look Again at Chenin Blanc

Magazine article Sunset

Look Again at Chenin Blanc

Article excerpt

Chenin Blanc has become the Cinderella of white wines. Until just 10 years ago, there was more of this grape growing in California than Chardonnay. Now it's neglected by most U.S. wineries and is unknown to many wine drinkers. What happened?

It's impossible to say why we become enchanted (or not) with certain kinds of wine. For me, Chenin's current obscurity is about as fathomable as Merlot's current fame.

But no matter. What counts is this: Chenin Blanc not only makes delicious wine but also is one of the world's most prestigious white grapes, considered as capable of greatness as Chardonnay, Riesling, or Sauvignon Blanc. Moreover, savvy wine drinkers know that what's good and what's popular are not necessarily the same thing. Best of all, when a wine falls out of fashion and into the camp of ugly ducklings, that's the time to snap it up. Chenin Blanc is a steal right now.

If Chenin Blanc wasn't Cinderella, it would be Meg Ryan. Charming, sincere, friendly, pretty, and easy to be around. It's exactly the wine you want (1) lying in a hammock, (2) watching an old movie on a Saturday afternoon, (3) after cleaning out the garage, (4) with chicken salad. In other words, Chenin is an effortless wine, welcome in just about any circumstance. I'm talking here about American Chenin Blancs, which come mainly from California, Washington, and Texas. The best of these are fresh wines with lots of appley flavor and, sometimes, a hint of ginger or cinnamon. Poor versions are simply chenin blands.

The world's ultimate Chenin Blancs, however, come from the Loire Valley of France, specifically from the district of Vouvray. These wines are known as Vouvrays, and compared with American Chenin Blancs, they are entirely different animals.

First of all, Vouvrays are highly complex, intriguing, and challenging - more Hillary Clinton than Meg Ryan. They are legendary among all the world's white wines for their flashing, stiletto-sharp acidity. This acidity, which acts like lightning striking right through the middle of the wine, makes Vouvray one of the longest-lived (if not the longest) white wines. It's not uncommon for a 20-year-old Vouvray to taste as lively as a wine a fraction of its age. At the same time, however, an aged Vouvray's flavors take on soaring elegance and a whole new dimension of gorgeous floral, peach, and flint flavors. A great aged Vouvray - 10 years old or more - is an experience every wine drinker should have at least once. …

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