Thursday, June 30, 2016

CHENIN BLANC: 'Put me in, Coach'

Royal vineyard landscapes of the Loire
 Multi-faceted, adaptable and generous.  It certainly helps if there is a high standard of recognized quality in your arsenal as well.  These are exactly the qualities of the taken for granted utility player, quietly dependable, just like in the pass time that is baseball.  These same qualities apply to a noble white grape variety that is truly under appreciated, Chenin Blanc.  From its earliest chronicles in the 9th century, reliable Chenin has been the workhorse of the Loire, where it is utilized to make a broad selection of often taken for granted, delicious wines.  And yet, sitting at the end of the varietal bench, it on occasion needs to stand up and declare, 'put me in, Coach', for I have something uniquely special to offer!
Carbon dioxide rising from traditional method Chenin Blanc
An aromatic varietal, Chenin offers lactic notes of clotted cream or buttermilk, or whiffs of straw flowers to roasted nut, dancing with fruit characters that readily appear apple to melon to citrus. Its high acid promotes its longevity, evolving to a continued production of yummy esters that produce a rich, increasingly aromatic bouquet as this varietal ages.  Additionally, its ancestral homeland of the riverlands that are the royal Loire, promotes conditions that invite botrytis, the fungal attack that ushers a concentrating of flavors and sugars to produce glorious, viscous late harvest wines.  As a true workhorse, Chenin also produces amazing dry to off-dry sparking wines from the time honored traditional process, known outside of Champagne as Cre'mant or Mousseux; acid driven wines that are offering more than visual, but also a refreshing sensory impact from the released CO2(carbon dioxide).

Perhaps to re-affirm its overlooked bench position, there today is much more Chenin planted in the old soils of South Africa, where the variety is known by the synonym Steen, and is also planted widely in California's Central Valley AVA, where it adds substance to many generic white blends and typically is not identified by its varietal name at all. In the Loire, various levels of grape ripeness create a spectrum of styles with versatile Chenin, so still wines can be identified as dry(sec) or off-dry(demi-sec), where increasing amounts of residual sugar create a more weighted body and richer styles. Allowable AOC minimum levels for designations(sec vs demi-sec), complex soil profiles(sandstone to clay, schist to chalk) and a moderating influence of the numerous rivers all combine here in the meandering Central Department to produce a broad variety of Chenin wines from the same general region, so it becomes important to know the producers. All we need to do is put a little Chenin in the game(on the table or picnic blanket) to be refreshed by its substance and personality.

Consistent Chenin Blanc can hit for a tasty average, offering high quality stylings that can be counted on.  Its versatility finds it covering many different field positions wherever it is cultivated( AOC's Anjou, Saumur Blanc, Savennie'res, Vouvray, and southern hemisphere locales), and reliably produces wines of distinction, of substance and charactrer that can reflect their unique environment(terroir). As a high acid chilled wine, the utility of Chenin continues to shine when paired with a spectrum foods like roasted chicken or chilled asparagus.  This season it may be time to put a little Chenin in your life, and savor the greatness that was on your bench all along.

Tasting Values:
  M-A-N Coastal Region Chenin Blanc(Steen) 2015 South Africa


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