Grape of the Month: Torrontes

Anytime a female shopper asks me to recommend a good summer white, I immediately think of Torrontes.  “If you took pinot grigio,” I always say, “dressed it up, and took it out on a Saturday night, it would taste like this.” The men never seem to understand, although they always buy one for the woman in their lives.  I hate to be sexist this way; but this wine screams femininity.  It is playful but delicate; zesty but elegant; fun, fruity and full of flair.

Torrontes has become Argentina’s signature white grape.  The best versions come from higher altitude vineyards in Salta. The vine’s ancestry is still under scrutiny; but most scholars are certain it is related to the aromatic Muscat of Alexandria, and possibly descended from Malvasia.  But Argentina can claim it as their own, as it appears only Chile has wide plantings of it, which they really only use for the spirit known as Pisco.

Torrontes Vines in Argentina

This wine is gaining momentum in a hurry.  Its increasing interest on the market is comparable to the rise in popularity of shiraz in Australia, or perhaps malbec in Mendoza. Retailers and sommeliers alike love this sort of wine, as it’s a wonderful sipper but also quite versatile with food.  I would pair these wines with salads, Indian or Thai, and any lighter fish. The best news is these wines are remarkably affordable, so it’s easy to stock up for the whole summer.

Gouguenheim Torrontes

Sight: Pale yellow-green, with bright intensity. Typically youthful, with little viscosity or legs, and a consistent rim.
Smell: Wow. Pronounced, tropical fruit, citrus, apples, and a flower bed in summertime.
Taste: Light-Medium bodied, zippy but not aggressive acidity. Peach, lime, green apple, slight burst of minerality. Falls right in the middle of the ever popular “not too dry, not too sweet” category.

Favorites: Colome, Domingo Molina Hermanos, Gouguenheim

 

An Afternoon at Brane Cantenac

“We are not lost,” she said. “I know exactly where we are.”

I was on a bicycle in the middle of Margaux. A few of us had stopped for a photo and lost the rest of our group. Marie Helen of Brane Cantenac was my guide, and she assured me we would reconnect. “They are probably headed to Chateau Margaux,” she said. I nodded and gleefully started peddling. A few minutes later, we coasted down the driveway to one of the most recognizable wineries in all the world. I didn’t mind being stranded.

Chateaux Margaux

We unfortunately didn’t taste the famous first growth that day; but soon after we reconvened with our colleagues and continued our rainy but scenic adventure.

In spite of the persistent clouds, we circled through vineyards and made brief stops at about a dozen other chateaux including Palmer, Rauzan Segla, and Lascombes. These are gorgeous, impeccable properties worth a visit, although I might recommend you drive instead.

 

The changes in weather here are amazing. From sun to clouds to pouring rain, then sun again—mixed with a wide range of temperatures, we saw it all during our three hour journey. One wonders how the vines keep up, but the canes were growing tiny buds, and already a new cycle is underway. It’s all great for grapes, but not for bicycle riding. I will never talk of microclimates or terroir the same way again. Luckily at the end we were treated to lunch and a memorable afternoon at Brane, considered among the best of the Second Growths.

Henri Lurton, third generation owner and star oenologist, met us in the tasting room with a glass of 2015 Margaux de Brane. This was refreshingly approachable. It is made from the youngest vines on the property, and treated with minimal oak to retain the youthful fruit character.

The Brane team then led us through a vertical of the three most recent recent vintages of Baron de Brane and Brane Cantenac. Henri explained the blending and selection process, which happens in January. They sometimes taste 120 different samples, eventually taking the best from each plot and creating the blends for each label. He told us “It isn’t easy to make less of our first wine but these [other labels] are also gems, they’re just different.”

Among what we tasted, the 2015 Baron was a favorite. It’s led by merlot, with flavors of cherry, plum, anisette, and cedar, marked by medium body and supple tannins.  The 2015 Brane was also fantastic, with notes of cassis, black cherry, spice and violets. This blend is driven by a much higher percentage of Cabernet, lending itself to more structure and a lingering grippy finish. It is a rich, almost opulent wine, but retains a surprising balance of tannin and acidity, characteristic for Brane. This was only eclipsed by the new barrel sample of 2016. It is flashy and youthful but impressive, with loads of spice, lush black cherry, minerals, and vanilla, finishing with a burst of racy black currant, graphite and cedar on the long finish. A benchmark for 2016 for sure.

Henri Lurton

Throughout our tasting and lunch, Henri shared his expertise and thoughts about Bordeaux, his rich family history, and his passion for wines from all over the world. His enthusiasm and high standards are impressive. He insists on creating wines that express their terroir and strives to make the best wine possible from its region. We also discussed the exciting 2016 vintage, which many have attributed to extremely lucky circumstances. James Suckling recently lauded the newest offering “The best Brane ever.” When asked about this, Henri smiled humbly and said “The new baby is always considered the best,” but recalled several other successful vintages with pride. In the end we were all taken with the classic 2000, which is long gone from stores, but collectors should be pleased.

My sincere gratitude and best wishes go out to Kimberly at LD Vins and the terrific team at Brane Cantenac for the hospitality.

Unforgettable Day at Brane Cantenac

Thoughts on 2009 Bordeaux

Alongside swarms of other rabid oenophiles, I recently attended the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting in Chicago.  In general, I was blown away by the quality of wines in this vintage.  With few exceptions, these wines were bold, expressive and really remarkable.  Certainly worth the hype they’ve received.  The biggest surprise is how approachable many already are.
For those who don’t typically explore wines from Bordeaux, this is the vintage to do so, especially from St Emilion and Pomerol.  Many of these could pass for their new world counterparts.  For those with more “classic” Bordeaux tastes, there are limitless choices for you as well, although arguably better (albeit pricier) are coming in 2010.
I’ve ranked my top ten from the tasting.  Please keep in mind, this is a subjective list.  These aren’t necessarily the “best” of the day, nor the most expensive.  These are simply the ones with which I was most smitten.
Please feel free to share any thoughts, observations or questions.
Honorable Mentions:

Larrivet Haut Brion Blanc, Pessac Leognan
Canon la Gaffeliere, St Emilion
La Tour Carnet, Haut Medoc
Cantenac Brown, Margaux
Doisy Daene, Sauternes
10. Troplong Mondot, St Emilion
A beautiful, elegant St Emilion. From a strictly enjoyment perspective I would rank this higher; but my major complaint is the price tag. I just didn’t consider this wine twice as good as others in its category.
9. Cantemerle, Haut Medoc
Driven by merlot, the blend works well with the ripeness of the vintage. I loved the body and mouthfeel of this wine. Impressive but not intimidating. A little heat on the finish should dissipate over time.
8. Leoville Barton, St Julien
This was beautifully crafted, with amazing depth and a very muscular structure. Definitely built for the long haul, with potential for decades of evolution. My only complaint is the very big, hefty tannins which will give way with time, leading to a wine with incredible substance and nuance. For those with extreme patience.
 7. Lascombes, Margaux
Always an intense, impressive wine, this vintage is no exception and its name was on everyone’s lips that afternoon. Massive, inky, almost aggressively tannic, with concentrated currant, blueberry, toasty vanilla and hints of earthy truffle. Superb potential but I wouldn’t touch it for at least 8 years.
6. Suduiraut, Sauternes
Wonderfully frangrant. Superconcentrated with fresh peach, apricot and lemon curd with hints of caramel and honey. Enough acidity to keep it honest. Intrigued by cellar potential but gorgeous now.
5. Lafon Rochet, St Estephe
Critics throw around the phrase “sleeper of the vintage” a lot these days, but this is definitely mine for 2009. I loved this classy, expansive St Estephe. Black currants, spice, hints of tea leaf? Impeccably balanced, fascinating and an amazing value.
4. Armilhac, Pauillac

This emobdied everything great Bordeaux should be. My notes merely read “……..” A hefty, distinctive body with impressive length and everything in place. Should evolve quite nicely but already surprisingly approachable.

3. Smith Haut Lafite, Pessac Leognan

I was remarkably surprised here. Usually Graves and Pessac are too earthy and too taut for me; but this wine was round, approachable, subtle and texturally flawless. Intensely concentrated flavors of black fruits, licorice and charcoal.  It shared a table with Pape Clement and beat it, easily.  This could be the perfect wine for those with more classic Bordeaux palates.
2. Pavie Macquin, St Emilion
Here I believe I found Nirvana. Initially I was overwhelmed by vanilla, but with patient swirling and a revisit later, I encountered amazing fruit, with luxurious, thick cassis intermingled with hints of foliage, charcoal and the signature St Emilion pencil lead. Others made a case that this wine was “overripe” or “too modern” but I found it absolutely delicious, with the perfect balance of fruit, structure and elegance. This is what I am looking for in a great Right Bank. I wanted this to be my favorite but it was very slightly edged out……
1. Clinet, Pomerol
For me this was the most expressive, most beautiful wine of the day. I found it surprisingly soft and silky for its youth. Gobs of plum, with layers upon layers of lush black fruits, fig and espresso. Very voluptuous and forward- almost flamboyant- but still incredibly elegant, with a finish that is still lingering a month later. Truly remarkable. It’s hard to imagine wine ever getting much beter than this.

Grape of the Month: Pinot Noir

I’m often asked what my favorite kind of wine is.  My answer, like most wine enthusiasts I know, is “I don’t have a favorite.”  I think of wines like parents think of children– you love them all equally, just in different ways.  One might be pretty, one might be the funniest, one is usually the smartest, one is artistic and so on.  Obviously my family is not a good example since I am all of the above.  But typically, good parents give equal affection to all.  And so, I love all my grapes.  One is soft and elegant, one is loud and flashy; one is best with certain foods, one is perfect for sipping by the fireplace.  They’re all wonderful; I don’t play favorites.

But if I were stranded on a deserted island with one bottle of wine, it would have to be an elegant, refined, exceptional Pinot Noir.

Pinot is the great king of Burgundy, where it has thrived for hundreds of years.  From the heralded vineyards in the southern part of the Côte de Nuits come the most elegant, complex and wonderful wines of this type, and arguably the best wines in all of France and perhaps the whole winemaking world.  But alas, these wines are not cheap; in superior vintages the top Burgundies sell at auction for thousands of dollars a bottle.

So, as usual, we turn to the good old US of A to provide us with some reasonably priced but quality wines.  California cornered the market on pinot for quite some time in this country.  From Mendocino all the way to Santa Barbara, this grape has earned a stellar reputation for fruit forward, wonderfully approachable wines.  Some of these may not be wines of amazing structure, especially around Monterey and along the coast; but they are affordable and universally appealing.  Many California pinots, however have earned extremely high praise from enthusiasts all over the world, including the folks at Wine Spectator who named Kosta Brown Pinot 2009 the best wine of 2011.  So Cali gets most of the attention, as usual.  But recently the success of pinot noir from Oregon has oenophiles’ heads spinning.  In Willammette Valley especially we’re finding intriguing wines of amazing depth and complexity that, some argue, rival even the great Bourgogne.  Critics have heralded 2008 Oregon’s best vintage thus far and it appears it’s only getting better.

In Germany, pinot is called spatburgunder.  In my experience, these aren’t typically wines of great distinction, but are interesting and quite approachable.  Pinot is one of the parents of South Africa’s hybrid pinotage, which is gaining some momentum here due to a rise in quality imports.  We’ve also recently discovered some pinot from New Zealand that is worthy of praise.  At quick glance, then, it seems pinot noir can grow almost anywhere.  But the best environment for pinot involves warm days, cool evenings, lots of fog and a great deal of talent and patience in the vineyards.

Now, with this finicky grape, you really get what you pay for.  If you spend ten bucks on pinot, expect a light, fruity wine reminiscent of Kool-Aid at best, cough medicine at worst.  If you spend a bit more, you earn a little depth and complexity.  One you cross the twenty-five dollar threshold, there is a dramatic improvement.  It’s an unfortunate but very real part of life with this spectacular but variable grape.

Pinot Noir

It’s also important to note: this grape is probably the truest expression of terroir.  That is, these wines are completely different depending on from where they came.  In northern California, look for mostly fruit forward, elegant wines with soft, silky tannins.  In central and southern Cali pinot is heftier, more robust, spicy and even sometimes a bit sweet.  In Oregon, pinot is more delicate and subtle, driven by earth tones and hints of tea leaf and truffle.  New Zealand’s versions are known for their minerality and high acidity.  In France, all the best components come together to create wines of amazing depth and distinction.

Pinot is probably a sommelier’s favorite grape as it is the most versatile wine for pairing with food.  Its low tannins, high acidity, and elegant balance make it the perfect match for many cuisines.  Its best counterparts include meatier seafoods like swordfish or salmon, pasta, duck, and of course, anything with mushrooms.

Recommendations:

  • $10-15: Angeline, Cartledge & Brown, Gunther Schlink, Oyster Bay
  • $15-30: Saint Gregory, Byron, Melville, Maysara, Coopers Creek, Sineann, Luca, Capiaux Cellars, Cashburn
  • $30-60: Merry Edwards, Louis Jadot Beaune Clos du Ursules, Ata Rangi, Domaine Serene Evenstad, Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard, Loring Clos Pepe
  • $60-100: Domaine Louis Latour Corton Grancey, Domaine Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin, Kosta Browne, Martinelli
  • Before you die: Domaine Romanée-Conti

Miscellaneous Tasting Notes

Luce della Vite Lucente 2007 ($24.99)
Owned by the Frescobaldi and Mondavi families.  If what you’ve read about the 96 point Ruffino Modus impressed you, this is a another must have from Tuscany.  I believe it’s about half sangiovese, with the remainder cab and merlot, which I think drives the wine at this stage of its life.  This wine consistently scores in the high 80’s or 90’s, got 91 from Spectator this vintage, and I loved it.  It’s definitely more modern and a little showy, like I said the merlot is showing nicely– very lush and supple fruit, but I thought it was impeccably balanced and will settle down and develop with even a little time in a cellar.
Penner Ash Pinot Noir 2008 ($35.99)
Lovely, elegant pinot from an terrific winemaker and pioneer in an exceptional vintage in Willamette Valley.  91 Spectator and Tanzer.
Torre del Falasco Valpolicella Ripsassa ($14.99)
Made with mostly the local corvina.  Ripe and juicy, mostly notes of spicy black cherry and licorice with a hint of raisiny sweetness just on the finish. Head and shoulders above the average entry level red from the Veneto, but not as extravagant as Amarone.  Really delicious and unpretentious.  My new favorite pasta wine.
Domaine d’Andezon La Granacha 2009 ($12.99)
One of the must-have values for ’09 Rhones.  100% grenache from 60+ year old vines.  Amazing value and very versatile with food.  90 points Spectator.
Chateau Senechaux Chateauneuf du Pape 2007 ($39.99)
A very nicely balanced CdP, especially considering its modest price.  Drinking really nicely now but certainly made well enough to hold up for at least 8-10 more years.  92 points from Spectator.
Clerico Barolo Ginestra 2005 ($69.99)
Not a wine for every day but an incredible powerhouse of a Barolo. Especially impressive for what’s considered an average year in Piedmont.  And still not ridiculously priced regardless of its noble vineyards.   Although I think I tasted it at least six years before it’s prime.  95+ points across the board.
Warwick Estates Three Cape Ladies ($23.99)
This is a Bordeaux style blend from Stellenbosch, South Africa, whose red wines I typically loathe.  Not this one.  Great structure, rich and chewy, with dark fruit and supple tannins.  Cab, syrah, merlot and the signature pinotage.  Really yummy and impressive for a lesser regarded wine region.  Spectator 90 pts.
Domaine de Janasse Cotes du Rhone ($14.99)
Another spectacular bargain from the Rhone Valley.  87 Wine Advocate, 89 Spectator.
Quartilho Tinto ($11.99)
Terrific table wine from Ribatejo, Portugal.  Indeginous grapes from 25-50 year old vines.  Medium bodied, a little jammy but surprisingly complex for an inexpensive wine.  Nothing truly intellectual but a great Monday Night Football sort of bottle.  Wine Advocate 88 pts.
Carodorum Issos ($16.99)
Terrific value from Toro in Spain.  100% tinta del toro (tempranillo.) Always a 89-90+ point value.
Faust Cabernet 2007 ($39.99)
One of the most popular choices at our recent California tasting, from the supurb 07 vintage in Napa.  Second label of Quintessa.  Very big, opulent, impressive wine although some of the flashy decadence is lost on me.  I prefer cab with more refinement, but I still liked it for fans of that style.
Osso Anna Merlot ($19.99)
Very solid return to form for the poor grape that has fallen out of favor in Cali.  A really nice, plush, velvety wine with a touch of Pomerol elegance.  Wonderful.
Bennet Lane Maximus ($29.99)
Driven by cab and syrah with some merlot and malbec.  This is a really supple, tasty wine from the newer Calistoga AVA in Napa.  A little smoky, with really lush fruit but also some earthy tobacco leaf and dusty tannins.  Hints of Bordeaux.  Really accessible and yummy and a great bottle for big steaks or chops.  Competes with most if not all the big name Napa meritage with bigger price tags.

FRV 100

In the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to taste many sparkling wines.  They came in all shapes and sizes, in different colors, from all over the world.  Some truly stood out, including Perrier Jouet Grand Brut, Egly Ouriet Vrigny and Taittinger Rose.

But honestly, only one was exceptionally unique.  FRV 100 is a sparkling rosé from Beaujolais made in the style of Cerdon de Bugey: Fruity, slightly sweet, effervescent and just fabulous.  Quite simply, this wine is delightful.  Fresh, bright cherries burst from the glass, with flavors of sweet strawberries and slight hints of candy and bubble gum.  I know it sounds silly but I absolutely LOVE this wine with crispy, salty fried chicken.

Think outside the box and enjoy!

What Inspiration Tastes Like

Many of my regular followers (and when I say many, I mean two) have been chiding me for not posting lately.  Hey, Vintage Barb is a busy gal these days.  Working 40+, taking care of the new house, fighting off the flu, experimenting with a new ice cream maker… It’s all I can do to even keep up with the news.  Not to mention follow the NFL.  And frankly, sometimes thinking and writing about wine just feels like more work.

But the truth is, I haven’t been inspired much lately.  When I get into a rut it usually takes a real special bottle of wine to awaken my enthusiasm and get my blogging blood pumping.  This time, there was not necessarily one such bottle; but several great bottles, some darn good homemade grub, and some terrific company.

I hosted my first dinner party in the new house a couple weeks ago.  I spent most of the previous evening and that morning prepping and cooking.  I had plans for wine but invited guests to bring something to share if they so chose.  My wonderful oenophile friends did not disappoint.  Everything was really fantastic.  The real standouts were a white Rioja I’d been dying to try, compliments of a conscientious and generous rep, and a 2000 Bordeaux a friend brought from his cellar.  But here’s the whole selection:

October 24th, 2010

Desiderio Bisol “Jeio” Prosecco: A light, delicate and luckily, inexpensive sparkler from Valdobbiadene that’s always a perfect aperitif.  Flavors of lemon, apples and sugar cane with just the right amount of fizz.  We sipped on a couple bottles of this as everyone arrived and got to know each other.  Also accompanied some nuts and prosciutto e melone.  Delish!

Field Stone Gewurztraminer 2008: My dad sent me the newest vintage of one of my favorite FS projects.  It was fresh, dry, and classically floral and spicy.  It was quite nice with a light salad and almost perfect with my tuna tartare.  We all wished for just a touch of residual sugar; in a do-over I would choose instead an off-dry riesling.  But we enjoyed the wine nonetheless and agreed it would be better matched with a crab or scallop dish with slightly richer sauce.

Bodegas Palacios Remondo Placet 2007: This was the pairing I was most excited about.  I chose this white Rioja for my potato and leek soup, which really brought out the smokey component.  It was a very good combination, but the complexity of this wine really shone.  It was creamy but balanced, with very distinctive melon, spice, peach and vanilla bean flavors.  An enormous hit with everyone at the table, even the cola drinkers, with its only flaw being its $30 price tag.

Goldeneye Pinot Noir 2006: This wine inspired what may go down in history as the greatest thing I’ve ever accidentally cooked.  I hadn’t planned a pinot course.  I had debated for hours, knowing I needed something, but had been convinced by my spouse I was making too much food.  Then, when more than one guest brought a pinot I knew I had to improvise.  I had to give the people what they demanded! Luckily I’d bought some shitake mushrooms for my crazy vegetarian pal.  So I ended up throwing together some farfalle with the sauteed mushrooms and a wave of truffle oil I’d picked up on the fly for no particular reason the night before.  Sometimes things just work out.  And there it was- after all my planning and prepping, this dish was ironically the best of the night.  The pinot was, of course, a tremendous companion.

JC Cellars Rockpile Syrah 2004: Brought by a friend, this syrah was almost simply an afterthought.  I opened it for the others to enjoy while I was cooking up some risotto.  I poured myself some to sip as well, and was completely bowled over.  Truly a remarkable syrah, with a lot of obvious new world flair.  Several years in the bottle had softened up the tannins but the big, chewy wine was still driven by gobs and gobs of concentrated blue and black fruits.  It could have slept in the cellar for at least another five years, but was quite exciting and impressive.  I spared some for the main course and begged my guests to do the same. Ultimately, it was a fantastic accompaniment.

Clos du Marquis St Julien 2000: My friend arrived with this bottle around 5:30.  We opened and decanted it almost immediately and didn’t touch it again until after 8.  It was fairly tight and compacted, so a good amount of swirling ensued.  What eventually came to life was an exceptionally elegant Bordeaux with all the trimmings: cassis, plum, spice, cocoa, a hint of licorice, and a slightly gamey quality that paired up quite nicely with my braised short ribs.  A truly beautiful, albeit young, Bordeaux certainly worthy of its reputable sibling, Chateau Leoville Las Cases.  Although, we did feel some of the subtlety was lost underneath all the sauce and spices of the dish, so I held some of mine and savored it once my plate was licked clean.  A masterpiece!

Glunz Family Winery Angelica: This is a local company’s Sherry-style dessert wine I purchased a couple years ago on a deep discount and thought would be a nice finish to the evening.  Very, almost excessively, rich and sticky, this wine was gushing with caramel and sweet nutty flavors.  Not the best accompaniment to the rich chocolate chip bread pudding masterpiece I had created, but still very tasty.  By the end of the long evening, we were all quite satiated, so the remainder of the bottle has made for fantastic leftovers.

All in all, I think it’s safe to say the first annual Vintage Barb Dinner was a success.  I only have two regrets: One: Next time I will pre-cook the risotto.  And two: I wish my new dining room table sat more than eight.

Grape of the Month: Chenin Blanc

In my junior year of high school I was cast in my first musical. I fell in love with theatre, and over the next six years I spent every moment I can recall in theatre classes, researching roles and working on plays. I was versatile to say the least. One term I was dancing about as a jolly Irish woman, and the next I was trying to adjust as a concentration camp survivor. The next term I directed an Absurdist one-act play, and the next I played a witch with a vengeance and a wicked sense of humor (typecasted.) In my final and possibly most comical performance, I played a monkey. Although I focused on acting, over my college years I was also a stage manager, sound engineer, lighting designer, make-up artist and spotlight operator. I received many compliments over that time, but none of them sticks with me today as well as “I’ve never known anyone that could perform any role in any play the way you can.”

I don’t mean to brag; I am trying to make a point. Very few varietals are versatile in this way. But this month’s is quite an exception, extremely versatile, and is possibly the most intriguing of them all. One day it’s viscous, nutty, complex and elegant. The next it’s light, racy, tart and quaffable. Sometimes you’ll find a lovely sparkling version, distinctive but refined enough to compete with classic champagne. Then, just when you think you have it figured out, it’s dense, sweet, lush and sublime. It is perfect, depending on its mood, for any season and almost any occasion.

Ripening Chenin Blanc

This beautiful white varietal is the great Chenin Blanc. Once again, we look to France for my featured grape’s roots. It thrives in the slightly warmer parts of the Loire Valley, which incidentally, tourists claim is one of the most charming parts of the country. Here, chenin has earned a reputation for wines of amazing complexity and character. They range anywhere from bone dry to sticky sweet, depending on the region and the warmth of the vintage. In Vouvray and Montlouis, chenin is made into light to medium-bodied dry or demi-sec wines with vibrant acidity, and notable flavors of peach, melon, honeysuckle and sometimes a hint of wet hay. These wines are worthy of a decade or more of cellaring. In Savennieres, chenin is as dry as it gets and fairly full-bodied, with an almost doughy texture and flavors of almond and hazelnut. In Anjou, the extremely ripe, usually botrytised grapes are turned into amazingly complex dessert wines that rival the great Sauternes.

Outside of France, chenin is making a push in California where it’s now the third most planted white varietal. In South Africa, where it’s known as steen, chenin blanc makes up about a third of planted grapes . New world chenin is typically light and dry, with high acid and incredible drinkability. Because the grapes tend toward overgrowth, some of these producers create wines of little personality and zero distinction. This is an unfortunate but very real side effect of capitalism, greed and a failing economy. But generally, thanks to their great value, and enormous curb appeal, these sassy little whites have, over the last two years, launched chenin blanc into popularity.

But for today let’s consider one of my favorite styles of chenin: a three year-old demi-sec Vouvray.

Sight: On first sight can chenin appear quite similar to chardonnay– a vibrant golden with a pale hint of straw. But you’ll probably see slower moving, sticky legs and a fairly consistant rim.

Smell: Take a hayride on a damp summer morning through a field of freshly sheared sheep, honeysuckles, pear trees and peach groves. Reach into your picnic basket and pull out a very fresh loaf of bread and a jar of honey. This captivating combination is chenin blanc.

Taste: The first sip of this wine boggles the mind. It’s a bit of sensory overload mixed with the childlike fascination of Christmas morning. The flavors of quince, pear, melon and honey explode in the mouth, and the acidity makes everything dance a beautiful waltz on the tongue. Somewhere on the back of the palate there’s subtle viscosity and a hint of something earthy and doughy, mixed with sweet and exciting spice. Then, the lovely acidity once again kicks in and lasts on the elegant and scrumptious finish.

Pairings: Manchego with quince paste. Butternut squash ravioli. Lobster.  Sushi. Spicy thai or cajun dishes. Fried chicken.

Recommendations:

$10-15: Man, Indaba, Dry Creek, Moncontour

$15-30: Pinon, Mulderbosch, Chidaine, Domaine du Viking, Langlois Cremant de Loire, Domaine Huet

Before you die: Domaine des Baumard Quarts du Chaumes