"LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death"
attributed to Mame Dennis

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chenin Blanc

Wednesday night was the third time this tasting group has met, so I thought it was high time I start documenting it, if only for my own reference. The tastings are not only a useful way to hone my wine tasting and writing skills, but a fun way to find new favorite wines and discuss them with some of the most fascinating and knowledgable people in the Finger Lakes wine industry.

We've previously explored Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah/Shiraz. When Morgen, the mastermind behind all this fun and discovery, emailed saying she was arranging for us to taste nine Chenin Blancs from around the world, I was excited because this is a grape I haven't much opportunity to taste. I've heard it called a "winemaker's grape" because of its versatility, much like Chardonnay. It turns out that no one in the group was overly familiar with it. Wikipedia informed us that angelica and greengage were common descriptors of wines made from Chenin Blanc. Well-- at least now we knew what to expect. Above is a shot of the first of three flights we tasted blind.

The first wine was pale straw in color and had lush tropical fruit (lychee?) and pear on the nose, which continued through to a vibrant palate. The mouthfeel was supple with a touch of minerality and a lingering finish. It turned out to be a 81/19 blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier from California. At $12 a bottle, Robert Parker called this vintage one of the "Top 50 Super Domestic Wine Value." As it turned out, this was my favorite wine of the evening. This doesn't seem fair, considering my love for Viognier may have something to do with it.

Pine Ridge (California)
2008 Chenin Blanc-Viognier
12.8% ABV

The screwcap on this next wine gave it away as from the New World. It was very similar in color, but smelled like smoke. Actually, I think rubber tires is a more accurate descriptor, but not something I could identify it until the discussion. Canned pears on the palate. The smoothness and sweetness (despite little residual sugar) made us suspect some malolactic fermentation. There was something distinctly Chardonnay-like about it. The finish was short-- clean and mineral, coming back full circle to the rubber tires in the nose. 
Indaba (South Africa)
2009 Chenin Blanc
13.5% ABV

The flight finished with another wine of the same pale yellow color. There was beeswax and vanilla on the nose. The palate offered bright fruit (pear and fig) with some sweetness and a touch of funk (quinine?) that made us suspect an older vintage (which didn't end up being the case.) The rich honeyed finish suggested the Old World. Upon reflection and revisitation, this was my favorite Chenin of the tasting.

Francois Pinon (Vouvray)
13% ABV
The Toms examine a bottle from the second flight, perhaps noticing that all the wines from this flight had screwtop closures. 

A strong whiff of acetone was my first impression of this first wine. There were fruit flavors on the palate, but generic, and a short, steely finish. The consensus was that this had been a wine that required a lot of tinkering with in the cellar. 
Robertson Winery
2009 Chenin Blanc
13% ABV

I got toast and something green on the nose of this second wine, others got the rubber that I need to get better at identifying. My first sip was slightly effervescent on the palate. It reminded me of Chardonnay, which made me wonder if there had been some light oak treatment (apparently not.) There were also similarities to Sauvignon Blanc, boxwood and steamed broccoli. Removing the brown bag revealed the much-recommended, lauded and anticipated Estate Bottled Paumanok, from our fellow New York State winemakers on Long Island.

Paumanok (North Fork)
2008 Chenin Blanc
12% ABV

The next wine is the only one I didn't get a photo of: Very floral and overripe on the nose-- rose petals-- a creamy mouthfeel and flavors of honey yellow apple. Some might call this wine flabby, and the finish acrid. 
Man Vinters (South Africa)
2009 Chenin Blanc 
13.5 % ABV

Flight three, wine one: Light yellow in color with vinegar on the nose which blew off to reveal honey and baked apple or pear. This wine was much sweeter on the palate than I expected, but balanced with a nice acidity. Ripe starfruit and (once someone said it, it was all I could taste) canned mandarin oranges. 
Francois Chidaine  (Montlouis Sur Loire)
2005 Les Tuffeaux
The next wine was very pale with citrus and floral notes both on the nose and the palate. Lean and acidic, there was also iced tea on the palate and a mineral finish. The screwtop closure suggested a New World wine, but much to our surprise, we were wrong. 
Monmoussau (Vouvray)

Aaron can't believe it.
The next wine had a deep golden color. The nose was very honeyed, with late harvest characteristics and some oxidation. More honey, dried fig and papaya on the palate. It was a dessert Chenin Blanc, and a delightful end to the evening.
Le Haut-Lieu (Vouvray)
2003 Moelleux
Premiere Trie

Actually, Antoinette's Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart, along with the many other goodies, everyone brought along, were the delightful end to the evening.
See you all after harvest!