Old World vs. New World Round Four: Chenin Blanc!

I would like the world to consume more Chenin Blanc . If I had to pick a desert island white, I’d pick Chenin. If I had to pick a dessert island wine, I’d also pick Chenin in the form of the botrytis-rich Quarts-de-Chaume or Bonnezeaux . Chenin comes in so many guises: still-silken-dry-offdry-sparkling-sweet-botrytized or not. Chenin contains multitudes. Chenin is every woman. If I ever have a child—doubtful as it would interfere with my wine life—I will name them Chenin Eleven Grey. Eleven being my favorite number. And grey (yes I fancy the British name for the colour) because it’s pretty. And so is Chenin Blanc. Also known as Pineau de la Loire, the berry originated out of the Loire Valley in France. Chenin can be as silky as it sounds. Was it a name formed of onomatopoeia? No. The wine does not really make the sound of its name. But close your eyes. Take a sip of Chenin Blanc. Lets say it slowly. The shhhhhhhh of the C-h-e conjures rustling silk on par with the texture of the wine. Syllable two: “nin”. As precise and sharp as the whoosh of acid that hits you after those suave honeyed notes. Chenin is magic. Chenin has a kinetic personality beneath its comforting embrace. Basic tasting notes on the grape include: pear, honey, apples, lanolin, orange blossom, and in the case of some, botrytis (marmalade and ginger). Acid lifts all and keeps even the sweet and unctuous examples from being cloying. It is a grape to fill your heart and lighten your soul. In the Loire, Chenin Blanc takes a few different faces. When not being grown in the Loire, Chenin Blanc has a name for itself in South Africa. I’m also seeing and tasting a handful of California Chenins, so the task I’ve set out for myself is to pick a favorite Chenin, attempting to focus on the dry examples. I dream of reviewing the sweet wine examples of the Loire or the sparklings of Saumur, but that seems like another contest. Perhaps one I will someday assay. Oh, and a shower Chenin? I must go with California Chenin because drinking in the shower is a ridiculous thing. No one should do it, but here in Los Angeles, we like to get a little extra. So grab a bottle of Birichino, get clean, then read this and get educated. Game on! LOIRE Chenin Blanc probably was named for Montchenin monastery in the Touraine, a sub region of the Loire, but perhaps best known as Vouvray. A sub region of the Touraine sub region. Basically, getting a wine education is just getting familiar with smaller and smaller parcels of vines until you are on a first-name basis with a raisin. And a raisin you may in fact meet in the Loire, where the grape bunches ripen unevenly causing most wine growers to pick their grapes in “tries”, meaning they go out week after week picking individual berries at varying stages of ripeness, used for various wines. Less ripe ones are used for sparkling, whereas dried and/or noble rot affected berries will be used for anything from dry to full-on dessert style wine. Vincent Carême Le Peu Morier Vouvray Chenin Blanc 2012 Classic dry but…is it off-dry? Nah, this is dry but rich and aged. And look at that gold booze shine! It has moderate nuance and maximum suck-down-ability, while at the same time making you slow your roll to say hey, this is interesting…but it’s so good! And so you suck down more. Another sub region of the Loire is Anjou, where you’ll find some wine labeled as “Anjou Blanc”. It may be blended with 20% chard or Sauvignon Blanc. And there is a true rock star making Chenin Blanc I regard as being art: Thibaud Boudignon Anjou Blanc 2014 I had a friend go into this TRYING to find a reason to not like it but…Boudignon is sheer magic. Lithe and complex and choreographed to dance across your tongue with the skill of Baryshnikov: it is a masterpiece. Should the Louvre ever have a wine section, it deserves to be there. A sub region of Anjou making Chenin Blanc is Savennières, where the wine is typically (though not always) dry. I must be honest I went into this tasting expecting Savennières to be my most favorite wine. Results at the end of this column. Domaine de Baumard Savennières 2016 Garden party in autumn light. The golden rays shining through leaves changing color over a banquet of pears, apples and lemon tea with honey. All on an island of gravel mid-garden. CALIFORNIA Chenin is a high yielding variety, and apparently anonymously hiding in bulk white blends where overcropping mutes is what makes Chenin Chenin. But smart winemakers are finding the way to let it shine solo: Rorick Vineyard Calaveras County Chenin Blanc 2016 Cali Chenin victory. All hope not lost. Possibly more European than some Euro Chen. It’s a complex medley of spiced baked fruit covered with honey but…there was an animal hanging out nearby in a way that adds a tawdry fun funk. OMG. This wine. Ridic fun. Birichino Old Vines Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Santa Ynez Vineyard 2016 and 2017 Hell, I loved both years. 2016 felt more Old World and 2017 more New, but both are balanced. They are applesauce with a hearty shake of orange blossom water and a whiff of flint. Or whatever is the proper term for something mineral and gassy and oh so delightful against fullness of fruit. SOUTH AFRICA South Africa had their own name for name for Chenin: Steen. But these days most bottles will refer to it as Chenin Blanc. The south African Chenins were the least “Chenin-y” I tasted. Oh, they gave good pome. In other words, so much pear and apple flavor. Plus tropical fruit and a minerality to beat out all other wines. Out of the ones I tried. A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs Swartland Chenin Blanc From the land of old vines comes this wine gleaming gold even before it has age. I will say if you get it in a narrow glass give it a big ol’ swirl, but…it is a weird one in the best way. It had oh so much ripe tropical fun juxtaposed against a straight up gas nature you’d expect out of an aged Riesling. A steely “gout de pièrre a la fusil” you might meet in a Chablis. A glassful of controversy that pulls you into its compelling argument. Beaumont Wines Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2017 Perfect balance. As I can’t find an element out of balance almost to a fault. This is your friend in high school, so type A that you sadistically assume/hope they will self-implode under correctness. But this wine will not because you are gonna drink it before it can get a gambling addiction or unwanted pregnancy. It has stone fruit, apples, honey and myrrh. And a hint of vanilla. It goes on. It holds on. It would go as well with a zesty acidic salad as it would a richer dish. So. So many Chenins. Which was my favorite? Why do you make me choose? Oh oops that was me making me choose when I pitched the “Old World vs. New World column” as a concept. I went into this thinking Savennières would inevitably be my choice. But then I got into the South African wines and I pivoted. South Africa is doing a damned fine job making stellar stuff. Plus many have terrific QPR at the moment, so drink up whilst ye may! ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Live, Raw and Real Old World vs. New World Round Three: Malbec! Old World vs. New World Round Two: Grenache Noir! Old World vs. New World Round One: Cabernet! You can also listen to Ellen's podcast with Shaughn Buchholz, The Wine Situation here .