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Underrated Chenin

Northside Staff Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Jason Wentworth, Alice Peters, Kelley O'Neill

The varieties of white wine consumed by wine drinkers can be rather limited: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling, and there the list frequently ends. This is a shame, as there are dozens of varieties capable of producing interesting white wines.

A versatile grape that is under the radar for many folks is Chenin Blanc, which was well established in France’s Loire river valley as early as the 9th century. Since then it has been used to produce almost every style of white wine, from bone dry to sweet, rich, and honeyed. Many vintners use it to produce excellent sparkling wines.

It's a wine that typically reveals hints of pear, citrus, and honey. Occasionally high in acidity, a bit of residual sugar is at times retained for balance. Drier styles can be a touch austere; good examples exhibit vivacious fruit, an underlying minerality, and make refreshing accompaniments to diverse foods.

Chenin Blanc is grown worldwide. There are 13,000 acres planted in California, and a surprising 24,700 in South Africa, where it constitutes 17% of that country’s vineyard area. While excellent examples are made in these and other New World countries, much of it disappears into blends.

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind tasted 14 dry Chenins from France, California, and South Africa. While several of the wines were disappointing, the majority of the best wines were French, hailing from the village of Vouvray. Many Americans drink Vouvray, but are unaware of the Chenin Blanc grape that gives these wines their character. The top wine of the tasting was the Champalou 2007 Vouvray ($19). This lovely wine exhibited the classic pear and honey character of good Chenin Blanc, with hints of citrus (lime) creeping into its vibrant finish [Sku 7155].* Also excellent was the Domaine des Aubuisières 2007 Vouvray “Cuvée de Silex” ($17), with its complex, delicate character.

They are both excellent to serve when there are many different flavors on the table, such as in a holiday meal. They also go especially well with dishes with a cream sauce, fresh water fish like trout, and cheese, goat cheese in particular.

"Top Wine Picks" as seen in The Ithaca Journal 12/16/2008.

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