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Two offbeat whites
Just to show that I'm open-minded about grape varieties, let's bounce back from Monday's celebration of big, gutsy reds to talk today about a couple of interesting whites.
But just as Monday's report featured not the standard red varieties but the less-familiar Mourvèdre, today we're examining a couple of far-from-everyday white grapes that are worth getting to know better.
First up is a Chenin Blanc ("Shay-naN BlaN," with a hint of a French nasal "N"), a wine with its roots in the Loire Valley of France, where it makes Vouvray and a number of other excellent, ageworthy and food-friendly whites. Chenin Blanc is also popular in South Africa (where the grape used to be known as "Steen"), but it doesn't get much respect in most of the rest of the vine-growing world.
Although it actually ranks as California's third wine grape in terms of tons of fruit produced, much of that goes anonymously into "jug" wines; the real measure of its limited value to wine makers is the price per ton: Growers sold it to wineries for an average $174 per ton in 2001, compared with a demand-driven $925 for Pinot Grigio and a stunning $1,849 for Pinot Noir.
Today's California Chenin Blanc, however, offers a rare and impressive exception to the rule. And more startling still, Weinstock Cellars 1999 "Contour" is a kosher wine, produced by the "mevushal" method, pasteurizing the wine with heat, a process that satisfies ritual requirements but that often produces damaged wine. No harm done here: This is a Chenin Blanc of very high quality, perhaps California's best, competitive with quality dry Vouvray.
The second wine featured today, Martín Códax 2000 Albariño, comes from the Rías Baixas region of Galicia in Northwestern Spain, where the Albariño grape ("Ahl-ba-REE-n'yo," also grown in neighboring Portugal as Alvarinho) makes fresh, fruity white wines of real character, outstanding companions with seafood. Martín Códax is a top producer, a status reflected in its usual price, a dollar or two more than some competitive brands. The wine reflects the price, however. It's benchmark Albariño, a wine with complexity and balance that, in the words of my red-wine-loving wife, "tries very hard to be a red."
Coincidentally, Frank Prial's wine column in The New York Times today features Chenin Blanc. To read it, click to
Weinstock Cellars 1999 Clarksburg "Contour" Chenin Blanc ($11.99)
This unusual wine comes from the Clarksburg appellation, a relatively cool region in California's Central Valley and one of the few vineyard areas in the Golden State where serious Chenin Blanc is grown. And this Chenin Blanc is serious all right, dominating a blend that also contains a small portion of Chardonnay. Clear gold in color, it breathes attractive floral scents of honeysuckle. Fresh, crisp and dry or near it, the flavor offers ripe apples and a citric snap, with increasing complexity that develops over time in the glass with subtle nuances of rising bread dough, honey, spice and a whiff of wool. (Feb. 22, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Demonstrating Chenin Blanc's affinity for spicy fare, it stands up well to a non-traditional match: vegetarian Thai Panang coconut milk curry with tofu.
VALUE: A wine of unusual character and quality for this low-midrange price point.
WHEN TO DRINK: Chenin Blanc is one of the most ageworthy white varieties, and Weinstock's decision not to release the 1999 for three years signals that. Drinking beautifully now, but it will gain complexity with age, provided that it's kept under good cellar conditions.
WEB LINK: Royal Wine Corp., an international firm that owns a number of kosher wineries, has a Weinstock information page at
Martín Códax 2000 Rías Baixas Albariño ($13.99)
This clear, pale-gold Spanish wine offers delicate and appealing aromas of peaches and spice, with a hint of almonds in the background. Crisp and fresh, fruity but dry, with aromatic flavors that follow the nose. Not overly tart, but there's plenty of fresh-fruit acidity for balance, with the almond character adding just a hint of bitterness in the finish. U.S. importer: Cutting Edge Selections, Fairfax, Ohio., and other regional importers. (Feb. 24, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Outstanding with a simple dish of flaked alder-smoked salmon in a Mornay-style sauce over farfalle pasta.
VALUE: Appropriate price, although competitive brands can be found for a dollar or two less.
WHEN TO DRINK: The 2001 is already on the market; expect this older vintage to fade fast. Albariño's fresh, bright fruitiness makes it a wine to drink as young as possible.
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Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003