Chenin Blanc was the wine that helped hook me on drinking something better than jug wine. Now, it seems to have almost disappeared. Where can I find some good Northwest examples?
Chenin Blanc has always been out there, but I have to admit that you sometimes have to search hard to find it in the sea of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and all the other whites the Northwest now produces.
Much of the Northwest's Chenin appears to end up blended into other varieties, such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
That's a shame because Chenin by itself is often a great value for the quality it offers. It's also one of the most versatile whites; it can be outstanding either bone dry or as a lip-smacking, syrupy ice wine.
When I typed Chenin Blanc into Wine Press Northwest's wine review search, only 78 listings came up among the 11 years' worth of reviews we have posted. That compares with 673 listings for Riesling, 772 for Chardonnay and 1,009 for Cabernet Sauvignon, so you're right that Chenin can be hard to find. Even so, you can find excellent examples out there.
Kiona Vineyards Winery on Red Mountain near Benton City, Wash., has been remarkably consistent with Chenin and has offered everything from dry to dessert styles, including a Chenin Blanc ice wine that is a consistent gold medal winner. In fact, Kiona had 13 of the 78 Chenins in our listings, including a couple of Platinum awards in the past few years. Prices range from about $10 for the regular Chenin, $20-$24 or a bit more for the 375-milliliter bottle of ice wine.
And if you like Kiona's dessert-style Chenins, try Chateau Ste. Michelle's as well, though they start at about $25 and the ice wines are about $45.
L'Ecole No. 41 in Lowden, Wash., also has been making a consistently good Chenin called Walla Voila that usually sells for about $12-$14 but is harder to find, and Pacific Rim Winemakers in West Richland, Wash., makes an off-dry version that's been a consistent medal winner for about $12 and is widely available in the Northwest.
In this issue, check out the results of our Platinum Judging, where you will find an award for a Chenin Blanc from Kyra Wines in Moses Lake, Wash.
A friend recently described a wine to me as a nouveau-style red. What exactly did he mean?
Your friend, though no doubt well intentioned, was running the risk of having the European Union's Wine Word Police ticket him for illegal American use of any French word remotely related to the wine trade of la belle France - unless of course he was speaking about a French wine.
After all, the French have successfully ended the use of such revered words as Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux to describe U.S. wines and are currently fighting over chateau, clos and vintage, not to mention fine, tawny and classic. The penalty for U.S. wines that use French words on their labels? EU nations will ban them from import.
Seriously, nouveau is used in France to describe the annual Beaujolais Nouveau, a purple-colored light, fruity unaged red wine made in Beaujolais primarily from Gamay grapes, although it may have some Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris. Its primary aromas are pear drops, bananas and bubble gum. It comprises roughly half of all the Burgundy wines produced each year, and every fall it's released on the third Thursday of November.
Your friend likely meant the wine was a simple, unpretentious, fruity red. If he's a really serious wine buff and the winemaker was within earshot, he may have been politely hinting that it was, bluntly, crap. A few years back a French wine critic found himself hauled into court after he called some particularly bad Beaujolais "vin de merde." If you're totally lacking in French, see the more polite four-letter word above that follows "bluntly."
Now, all this French means it must be time for:
Wine words: Sur lie
It's been a year since we made a French phrase our wine word, so let's brush the rust off our Franglais. Sur lie refers to the French practice, most common in production of Muscadet wines, of leaving the lees in the bottom of the barrel or tank for the wine to age with, thus giving it additional complexity.
If a wine is not racked or filtered until it's bottled, the elements in the lees, especially the dead yeast and some elements of the crushed grapes, bolster the flavors in two ways. First, as the yeast cells break down through a process called autolysis, they add a bit of a yeasty flavor boost. The wine also gets a bit more enhancement because without being racked or filtered, some additional carbonic acid lingers in the wine, imparting a fresh, lively mouth feel - a bit of spritz, if you will.
For white wines made from the milder grapes - Muscadet, for example, is made from Melon de Bourgogne - the result is a bolder, more complex set of flavors and aromas.
In the Northwest, it's not unusual to discover a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc has been aged on the lees. And sparkling wine made in the method champenoise style ages on the lees in each bottle for a few years after secondary fermentation. Since sparklers commonly are made from grapes with lower brix - say 19 percent or so - it's no surprise they also benefit from the yeasty elements, and the carbonic acid, of course, releases those lovely bubbles of carbon dioxide and enhances the wine's aromas and flavors.
Ken Robertson, a newspaperman for 40 years and a Wine Press Northwest columnist since its founding, has enjoyed sipping and writing about Northwest wines for 32 years. He lives in Kennewick, Wash. Have a question for Ken? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.