After three interesting, and very different sauvignon blancs, it is time for us to explore the next grape on our list. VV4 brings us to one of the world’s most versatile grapes, Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is used to produce everything from bone dry, high acid wines to deliciously sweet dessert wines. It can be found in sparkling “champagne style” wines, such as Crémant de Loire, and even fortified wines.
Widely thought to have originated in France, Chenin Blanc can can be found growing in vineyards around the globe. However, only a few wine regions in the world see chenin blanc as primary varietal, these are France, South Africa, and the United States. For this week’s journey we explore South Africa’s Stellenbosch region.
The town of Stellenbosch, 30 miles east of Cape Town, was founded in 1679. It is the center of viticulture in South Africa, and rightly so. The hot summers, and cold, damp winters, combined with the varied soils (light and sandy to decomposing granite) make this region well suited to growing a wide variety of wine grapes, including chenin blanc.
The 2008 “Petit” Chenin Blanc from the Ken Forrester Vineyards is a good example of what South Africa has to offer. The light straw color reveals delicate aromas of citrus and pear with a dash of minerals. Off-dry (slightly sweet) flavors of lime, green pears, and green grapes (Thompson?) are very refreshing and bright. The light acidity and lingers in your mouth for a juicy finish. Not as rich or complex as a 2007 or 2008 Forrester Meinert Chenin Blanc (FMC), but a great everyday wine nonetheless. Save this one for your next spring picnic!
2008 Ken Forrester “Petit” Chenin Blanc ($13)
As a side note, I purchased this wine at Kafevino, Milwaukee’s new wine bar, café, and retail wine shop that just celebrated their grand opening on 10/22/09. They have a good selection of affordable wines and a helpful staff. If you are in the Historic Third Ward, it is definitely worth a visit.
Our third wine on the Varietal Voyage brings us to France, specifically Sancerre at the western end of the Loire Valley. This wine was recommended by our favorite wine merchant, Ben Christiansen, the owner of the Waterford Wine Company in Milwaukee.
From the Atlantic coast to the mountains of central France, the Loire Valley runs east to west for some six hundred miles. The Loire is France’s third largest appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) and the top producer of white wine. This is the definitive home of Sauvignon Blanc.
Sancerre is one of the most well-known wine regions in the Loire. The village of Sancerre is surrounded by several wine producing communes such as Sury-en-Vaux, the source of this week’s wine. Domaine Claude Riffault grows their sauvignon blanc on the limestone hillsides of Sury-en-Vaux, northwest of Sancerre proper. The cool continental climate combined with the chalky, flinty soils make this area ideal for fresh, fruity Sauvignon Blancs. The grapes are hand picked and fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve the freshness and fruitful character.
Of the three Sauvignon Blancs we tasted, Sue and I agree that this was our favorite. The light straw color was a little darker than the previous two wines we sampled. The grassy, herbal aromas accompanied flavors of fresh citrus and nectarines. A pleasant mineral quality tied everything together. Well balanced acidity, and herbal notes carried on through to a clean finish. This wine should pair wonderfully with seafood. We tried it with steamed mussels and found the mineral qualities of the wine and the shellfish to be a good match.
This wine was a great finish to this leg of the journey. We now head off into the world of chenin blancs to explore what this varietal has to offer.
2007 Domaine Claude Riffault “Les Boucauds” ($26)
Varietal Voyage - See how it started…
From the California we make our way across the Pacific Ocean. Six thousand six hundred miles southwest of the Central Coast AVA lies New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Marlborough is on the south island and is home to some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blancs.
The vineyards of the Wairau River Winery, as the name suggests, lie on and around the Wairau River. The maritime climate makes for long, temperate growing seasons and the shallow, stony soils intensify the fruit flavors and mineral characteristics.
The style of this Sauvignon Blanc is quite different from the 2005 Tres Hermanas sampled last week (see Varietal Voyage No.1). This wine is pale yellow, almost colorless. What it lacks in color is made up for in the wonderful floral aromas and tropical fruit flavors. Slightly sweeter than the Tres Hermanas, its crisp acidity felt more balanced on the palette. The finish is short and clean leaving you with notes of pineapple. If this is any indicator, I can see why New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are so revered.
The next stop on our trip takes us to France. Stay tuned.
Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($14)
Varietal Voyage – See how it started…
The Montsant region is located in in the northeast corner of Spain, not far from the coast of the Balearic Sea. The Mediterranean climate combined with its soil, a mixture of granite, slate, sand and calcium rich fossils make the region well suited for top quality vineyards.
Acústic is a rustic blend of 45% Garnacha (aka Grenache) and 55% Samsó (aka Carignan) similar to it’s Rhone style cousins. The region’s warm, dry weather helps to ripen the grapes and intensify their flavors.
I have to admit that I really enjoy this style of wine. It’s dark ruby/purple color, reveals rich bouquet of black cherries and spice. The ripe fruit come through in sweet flavors of black fruit and currants with soft tannins. Acústic makes a great everyday drinking wine that goes well with almost any meal. Need to get more!
Acústic Cellars 2006 ($21)
Not far from the Tres Hermanas vineyards (see Varietal Voyage No.1) lies the Ovene Winery. Ovene is a small family owned winery that makes several top notch wines made from: Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and an interesting Pinot Noir called “The Puzzle.”
This elegant Pinot Noir is a blend of grapes from the Laetitia and Latchford vineyards. The Laetitia vineyard is close to the ocean and its relatively cool climate and rocky soils yields grapes with intense fruit aromas and flavors. Latchford, on the other hand, provides grapes with ripe fruit and complex earthy flavors.
The bottle that I sampled was purchased at a wine tasting almost a year ago. The light garnet color was different that I remembered, but the complex cherry aromas were spot on. Rich cherry flavors evolved in to spicy cranberry notes on the finish. More pieces of the puzzle began to fall in to place over the next few hours. Complex earthy aromas and flavors slowly unveiled themselves throughout the night. Hopefully I can find more bottle to add to my cellar!
Ovene “The Puzzle” Pinot Noir 2005 ($30)
The first wine on our journey takes us to the Central Coast of California and the Tres Hermanas Vineyard and Winery. This winery, located between Los Olivos and Santa Maria focuses mainly on French and Italian style wines, but makes a very nice California syrah.
The 2005 Sauvignon Blanc proved to be a great pairing to the shrimp and wild rice we had for dinner. The pale yellow color, almost clear, was deceiving. Based on the color, I expected a light bodied wine, but the floral and citrus aromas with hints of fresh herbs were striking. The flavors were equally as bold. Crisp, grapefruity acidity with lots of alcohol (14+%) reminded me of a dry German Riesling. The flavors and aromas carried through with an extremely long finish revealing lemons and pears.
A great start to the voyage. Next stop: New Zealand…
2005 Tres Hermana Sauvignon Blanc ($16)
- 100% Sauvignon Blanc
- Central Coast, California
Varietal Voyage – See how it started…
For sometime now, I have wanted to expand my knowledge of the vast viticultural world of wine. I have tasted a fair share of wines, but always seem to gravitate to the same familiar varieties. Not that there is anything wrong with liking a few good wines, but there is so much more to experience!
I recently read in Karen MacNeil’s “Wine Bible” about a plan for expanding your knowledge of wine. She spoke of a systematic plan, sampling different wines over a six month time frame. This was exactly what I was looking for. With a little research and some consultation with Sue, the plan was hatched!
Over the next six months, Sue and I will partake in a voyage of varietal discovery. The first three months focuses purely on white wines. The following three months are devoted to reds. Throughout each trimester we will explore four varieties and three different regions for each.
Month 1-3: The Whites
- Sauvignon Blanc (US, New Zealand, France) – VV1, VV2, VV3
- Chenin Blanc (US, France, South Africa) – VV4, VV5, VV6
- Chardonnay (US, France, Australia) – VV7, VV8, VV9
- Viognier (US, France, Australia) – VV10, VV11, VV12
Month 4-6: The Reds
- Cabernet Sauvignon (US, France, South America) – VV13, VV14, VV15
- Merlot (US, France, South America) – VV16, VV17, VV18
- Syrah/Shiraz (US, Australia, France) – VV19, VV20, VV21
- Petite Sirah (US, France, Australia)
So that’s the grand plan – twenty-four wines over the next six months. Stay tuned. This blog will be the travelogue of our adventure!