Among the white wines everyone should try but not many have sits chenin blanc.
Underestimated, chenin blanc can do almost anything. The versatile grape makes convincing dry and off-dry wines, sparkling wines and even dessert wines, showing a range matched only by riesling. Riesling fans are a natural constituency for chenin blanc, which often walks the tightrope between dry and sweet.
As a sturdy, productive grape, chenin blanc had been a cornerstone of the West Coast wine production after the repeal of Prohibition. That’s similar to the grape’s history in South Africa, where large amounts of chenin blanc are still produced. And that history has typecast the grape as a bulk-wine grape.
In its historic homeland — Loire Valley, France — chenin blanc finds its broadest expression, ranging from Savennières — the coveted, dry white with the cult following — to luscious half-bottles of the Coteaux du Layon. In between, you find dry to off-dry interpretations from regions such as Vouvray and Anjou. The sparkling Cremant de Loire nearly always contains at least some chenin blanc.
People often describe the flavor of chenin blanc as “greengage,” a small green plum I have never tried. Apple, peach and tropical notes such as guava can be found. Flavors including honey, marzipan and quince are common.
Les Coteaux Tufiers 2019 Vouvray Demi-Sec smells of acacia and honeysuckle with a soft, juicy, white peach flavor, and sweetness well balanced with acidity, making it a great aperitif. $13. ♦♦♦♦ 1/2
For a totally dry chenin blanc and a crazy value, try a South African wine, Tania and Vincent Creme Terre Brulee 2019 Chenin Blanc Swartland. The wine smells of fragrant pear and macadamia nut with a rich texture that rings of melon. The lengthy finish is dry and a touch tart. $10. ♦♦♦♦
Chenin blanc remains somewhat of a rarity on the West Coast these days. Washington state’s wine history is young enough that it has experimented with many wines. Chenin blanc remains.
A mass-produced chenin from four years ago is of borderline age, which is why Pacific Rim 2016 Yakima Valley Chenin Blanc is such a deal. But the recently sampled wine comes off fine, with white plum and cantaloupe flavors plus a touch of lemon and an off-dry finish. $8. ♦♦♦ 1/2
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