Our final Chenin Blanc on the voyage brings us back to California. This time we’re visiting Mendicino County and California’s most northern appellations.
The Husch Vineyards were established in 1971. Located a few hours north of San Francisco (map), this is the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley AVA. In the beginning the Husch family produced only a few grape varietals, mainly: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. In 1979, Hugo Oswald purchased the vineyards and winery from the Husch’s and is now operated by the the third generation of the Oswald family. Today they produce 21 different wines, maintaining the same standards of excellence as they have for the last thirty years.
Ironically our chenin blanc doesn’t come from Anderson Valley. The Oswald family owns another vineyard east of Anderson Valley, near Ukiah. This property has been with the Oswald family since the 1960′s, long before the purchase of the Husch winery. Called “La Ribera” (the riverbank), this vineyard lies along the banks of Russian River and has long been the source for their Chenin Blanc, as well as, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable wine which I could easily see drinking on a hot summer’s day. This young wine (released April 2009) has a very pale yellow hue. It’s light color packs sumptuous aromas of apriocts, tropical fruits and honeydew melon. The delicious flavors hold true to the aromas finishing with a slightly sweet, honey-like texture that reminds me a little of fruit cocktail.
Husch 2008 Mendocino Chenin Blanc ($13)
Varietal Voyage – See how it started…
As you can probably tell by the name, this next chenin blanc is from France. Like the Sauvignon Blanc sampled for VV3, this wine is also from the Loire Valley, specifically the Saumur AOC. This too was recommended by Ben Christiansen at the Waterford Wine Company.
Situated on the south or “left” bank of the Loire River, Saumer lies between Angers and Tours. About 3 miles southwest is the village of Varrains. This is where you’ll find the vineyards of Domaine des Roche Neuves. This area of the Loire is laced with sandstone, flint and aluvial silts. The same tuffeau limestone used to build the historic castles and châteaux also plays a critical role in the quality and style of the wines in this region.
L’Insolite, which translates to “out of the ordinary,” is a dry Chenin Blanc. In a region that excels at making off-dry and sweet chenin blancs this is truly unusual. In 1996 the proprietor of Domain des Roche Neuves, Thierry Germain, purchased a small plot of very old vines (now over 80 years old) and began produding a dry chenin blanc. Here they follow strict biodynamic farming methods to preserve as much of the natural fruit character (and the environment) as possible and maximize the expression of terroir. When the grapes are harvested the juice is fermented in oak tanks and then allowed to rest on its lees in several different types of oak barrels. The winemakers use this combination of terroir, yeasts and oak to give us a complex and unique wine.
I will have to admit that this was one of the more difficult wines to get our heads wrapped around. There were a lot of things going on in this wine that we didn’t expect! L’Insolite had a much richer yellow color than the South African Chenin Blanc (See VV4). Rich herbal aromas combined with those of citrus, pears, and apricots. Nuts and minerals intertwined with the light flavors of herbs and citrus. The oak fermentation and aging was evidenced by the nutty, vanilla undercurrents that lingered through the finish.
This wine was fantastic! Thanks Ben!
2006 Domaine des Roche Neuves “L’Insolite” ($30)
Varietal Voyage – See how it started…
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.
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!