Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Terrace View: Is Chenin Blanc The Greatest White Wine?

I'm going to make the case that chenin blanc produces the world's greatest white wines. We can talk about White Burgundies from Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, Grand Cru Chablis, Champagne, German Riesling, and wines from Austria's Wachau. We can even mention the "orange wines" from some Italian producers or some tiny production iconoclastic winemakers pushing the boundaries in places like California, Liguria, Provence, and the Alps. Chenin blanc does everything these wines do and more.

What qualities do they all have? Well, not only are they delicious, but the greatest white wines have balance and complexity and an individual personality that expresses the wine's place of origin. In addition to possessing an unmistakable identity as far as variety, they still are able to translate specific variations in climate, soil, and vineyard into unique sensations of taste.

Chenin blanc from the Loire Valley in France easily meets all of these qualifications. Well known to the connoisseurs and geeks, it is yet still under-appreciated by most of the public. Loire chenin blanc is a fascinating wine that can be hard to describe, fruit tones can go from apple, pear, and quince to nectarine, to deep lemony citrus and pineapple. There's a full body and richness, sometimes honysuckle, always riding an edge of bright acidity which can deliver great length on the palate, and in the best examples you'll find a minerality that is on a qualitative par with any of the great wines of the world. Not only this, but chenin retains this superb level of quality through a variety of styles from dry and off-dry to sweet and sticky. Riesling is the only other grape that can claim such a comparison.

We love chenin blanc here at Windsor and we carry a nice range of selections. For dry, minerally chenin Savennières is the apex of expression and we currently have two superb wines, Domaine du Closel "La Jalousie" and Chateau d'Epiré "Cuvée Spéciale". If you want to walk the line between a little sweetness upfront and a dry finish try the Vouvray "Les Caburoches" from Domaine De La Taille Aux Loups or the "Ammonite" Vouvray Sec from Alexandre Monmousseau. Also worth mentioning are two outstanding whites from the Anjou, Château Soucherie "Cuvée Les Rangs De Long" and "Le P'tit Blanc" from Les Sablonnettes as well as a nice, racy wine from Vendôme,  the "Cocagne" from the Cave Coopérative du Vendômois.

Because of the high level of acidity, chenin blanc ages fantastically well and if you see older bottles on the shelf or on a restaurant wine list they can be a real find. As a food partner the grape excels and goes with a wide range of dishes, the drier styles are excellent with sushi, fish or chicken in cream sauces, and with hard to pair foods like asparagus and artichoke. The off-dry style is nice with spicy Asian dishes while the truly rich and sweet wines are great with foie gras and desserts. So don't miss out, try chenin blanc, possible the world's greatest wine!

Cheers,
Michael

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