This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, May. 11, 2012 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20120511.php.
Is Chenin the new Riesling?
Okay, let's review: What is it about Germany's Riesling grape that makes its fanciers love it so?
Well, Riesling can make a white wine of great character, a wine that to an unusual degree can reflect its terroir, with a natural transparency that lets shine through the influence of the soil in which the grapes are grown.
Riesling makes outstanding wines at a variety of ripeness levels; but from dry to toothache sweet, its sugars are always nicely balanced by crisp to searing acidity that provides memorable structure.
Riesling can be uncommonly ageworthy, especially for a white wine, not merely keeping well but evolving and becoming even more remarkably complex and delicious after years in a temperature-controlled cellar.
And Riesling's roots lie deep in the history of the region where it was first cultivated, its tradition extending back to Charlemagne and beyond in the steep valleys of the Rhine and Mosel rivers in Western Germany.
Guess what! Chenin Blanc is a lot like that, too. Its history goes back just about as far in the more gently sloping, chateau-studded rolling hills of France's Loire Valley, and just about every bullet point listed above for Riesling applies just as well to Chenin.
Curiously, neither wine ranks among the world's most planted or most popular, although both have their fans, and those fans tend to be passionate and even single-minded in their love for the grape.
Both grapes have sent out missionaries around the world, and while they may not be the leading variety anywhere, Riesling has established strong outposts in New York's Finger Lakes, Ontario and Michigan, not to mention the U.S. West Coast, Australia and New Zealand. Chenin's international plantings are a bit more spotty, although it does very well in California's Clarksburg region and has been very widely planted in South Africa; less respectably, it's grown in industrial-agriculture style as an anonymous source of "jug" wines from California's Central Valley.
I may get some pushback for saying this, but I think I may like Chenin even more than I do Riesling. Riesling's characteristic style can be so aromatic that it's almost over-the-top for me; Chenin brings the delicate, subtle nature that's my particular cup of tea. Er, wine.
So make mine Loire, please! The subtle, mineral-driven character of good Loire Chenin Blanc, entwined with fresh fruit flavors that often evoke melon and sweet Meyer lemon, make a combination that's good for summer patio sipping and for more serious enjoyment at the dinner table.
I report today on Laurent Kraft 2009 Vouvray, a good, typical example of the genre and a good value in the lower teens. You'll find my tasting report below.
Vouvray, its neighbor Montlouis, and similarly styled Chenin Blancs from around the world are getting our attention this month in Vouvray Plus, Wine Focus topic for May in our online WineLovers Discussion Group. You're invited to become a part ofour friendly international crowd of online wine lovers as we taste and talk about the joys of Chenin. To participate in the conversation, simply click to the forum topic "Wine Focus for April: Vouvray Plus!"
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Today's Tasting Report
Laurent Kraft 2009 Vouvray ($13.99)
Clear straw color, with a few little bubbles around the rim. An appetizing scent of Meyer lemons leads into a crisp, fresh flavor, Meyer lemon and subtle mineral notes of chalk and "rainwater over rocks." It's not a sweet wine, but neither is it as dry as "Sec" on the label might suggest to those unfamiliar with Vouvray, Rather, a hint of refreshing fresh-fruit sweetness is well balanced by crisp acidity and gentle 12% alcohol. U.S. importer: Robert Kacher Selections, Washington, D.C. (May 5, 2012)
VALUE: This lower teens price seems more than fair for this quality Vouvray, which shows up in the $16 range from most U.S. vendors on Wine-Searcher.com.
Laurent Kraft's fact sheet about his Vouvrays is in French only; clicking the British flag for an English page, oddly, takes me back to the home page in French.
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