06/02/09 – Chenin Blanc (especially the French kind)

By Jesse on June 1, 2009

I just got back from a sporadic little jaunt around southern France with ma famille, and during those fleeting ten days managed to pass a few hours of travel time with an awesome book, Adventures on the Wine Route: a wine buyer’s tour of France, authored by famed importer Kermit Lynch. (Unfortunately I didn’t have time to finish the book, because I was pretty busy doing French shit, but once I do there will be a full write-up on this site.)

Lynch has an old-school palate that eschews big fruit and big impact in favor of delicacy and character — traits that he readily attributes to the wines of France. One grape in particular, Chenin Blanc, is described affectionately by Lynch as he recounts his travels through the Loire Valley. This week, we’ll be tasting a lineup of Chenin Blanc, with an emphasis on the Chenins of France, as well as examples from elsewhere in the world.

Chenin Blanc, also known regionally as Pineau de la Loire, is a light-bodied white that offers the perfect compliment to the cool, sunny weather we’ve been enjoying recently. If you can find a bottle from one of the French regions listed below, that would be perfect! (If not, other potential regions follow.)

Vouvray. “Today, to most wine drinkers, Vouvray has come to mean a sulfery, insipid, slightly sweet white wine,” writes Lynch. “However, a well-vinified Vouvray from one of the great vineyards is one of France’s noblest whites.” Vouvray comes in several styles: dry (sec), off-dry (demi-sec), sparkling (mousseux), or botrytized dessert wines (moelleux), all of which are made from Chenin Blanc. Ask your favorite wine vendor to help you find a good one.

Savennières. In 2006, everyone’s favorite wine critic Robert Parker famously remarked that “Savennières is the most underrated great white wine in the world,” and Lynch shares his enthusiasm. “The stony soil here contains schist,” he explains, which makes these wines flintier than those of Vouvray. “The aroma can be gradiosely expressive; there can be a vibrant steely freshmess to it, and suggestions of honey, flowers, and unexpected fruit aromas like quince, pear, and red currant.”

Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume. These regions produce delicious dessert wines, which can run a bit expensive. Feel free to split a bottle with a friend.

All of the regions above can be found on this map of the Loire.

When we tasted Chenin Blanc last July, we enjoyed a number of New World examples as well. California, Australia, New Zealand, and especially South Africa are all known for producing quality Chenin Blanc. Be sure to ask your friendly wine merchant to help you pick out a winner, however, because when made without proper attention to detail, “new world” Chenin has the potential to be pretty uninspiring.

We’ll be meeting at Noah and Sasha’s pad in Santa Monica. The RSVP system functions like this: if you’d like to attend, you click on this link and tell me so. Once you’ve gotten your confirmation e-mail, go out and find yourself a bottle of Chenin Blanc, French or otherwise — or simply bring a $10 donation, if you prefer. We’ll see you on Tuesday night!