Chenin Blanc

Summer. When we all pack up – at least once during these hot months – and go somewhere new, our suitcases cruelly overfed with laundry and comically bad book choices. After trials endured only during vacation trips – colicky babies, parking tickets, being lost for hours – we settle back into our normal lives with, if not relief, at least a renewed sense of calm. At the end of each trip, I, at least, just want something wet and delicious to wash away the dust of travel. Something with a nice chill to it, something from the Loire. Yes, I do become that ridiculously specific – wouldn’t you want the perfect glass of wine to round out the perfect nightmare: airports?

Well, I do. And the wine I plan to sip on after returning from Carmel, CA (a great AVA, or American Viticultural Area, in its own right), is… ok, no. Time to derail this post and talk about how fantastic Carmel is as a wine region and travel destination. In typical man fashion, I offer this list:

1) The town’s full name is Carmel-by-the-Sea. What? Elf-wine!?

2) After going into down and hitting one of any number of choice spas and salons and art galleries, you can hit local wine shops to taste delicious finds from Galante Vineyards and Scheid Vineyards, to name but two.

3) The ocean. The ocean, the ocean, the ocean.

Alright, spontaneous list done. The real draw of wines from Carmel is their sheer value. The Carmel AVA is located in Monterey County, known for its rich, full-bodied wines. Mountainous, but with a nice marine climatic influence, you can find astonishingly good Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot here (these comprise 70% of total grape production). The terroir is ideal for all of the traditional French Noble grapes – exceptional drainage in the soil, long growing season, and nice temperature swings in the summer leading to slow maturation of the grapes. Beyond Cabernet and Merlot, both Bordeaux varietals, vineyards are now exploring with Burgundian vines as well: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

But I digress too far. Tonight’s post, after all, isn’t about a Californian wine, or even a Bordeaux/Burgundy wine: tonight, we go in the opposite direction: a long-aging white, a sheer, delicate-yet-layered beauty made entirely from Chenin Blanc. Not only that, it’s produced by one of the progenitors of the biodynamic wine movement, Nicolas Joly. He is, perhaps, the most famous “wild man” of French winemaking.

Savennières is an appellation in the Loire Valley which is predominantly famous for Chenin Blanc, a classic grape in its own right. Savennières is one of those rare white wines that can be kept in the cellar for years and show great improvement in complexity and depth. The 2003 Nicolas Joly “Coulée de Serrant” Savennières, which I got OFF THE WINE LIST at a restaurant for a piddling $35 (it retails for around $100 in newer vintages), will be the perfect way to round out this coming vacation. The color was a lovely gold in the glass from all those years aging in the bottle, and the nose showed aromas of marzipan and pear, as well as a lovely floral element. The mouthfeel was just… huge, rich like cream but still acidic enough to be springy. Fruity notes like pear, tangerine, and apricot frolic in the supple curves of this wine, which shows a nice long finish. It paired perfectly with Korean BBQ. If you can find a bottle for $35, DO. IT. You will not be disappointed… as opposed to that time you actually tried to redeem those rewards with United.

Delacroix Brut NVLet’s say you get invited to a party, but it’s no big occasion – a friend’s housewarming party, or maybe someone you don’t know well got signed to a record label. Maybe your favorite Japanese game show wasn’t canceled after all. You need a bottle of bubbly, but Champagne would be a clear case of waste at best – at worst, a clear waste of a case. What do you do?

Grab one of the many more affordable equivalents, of course! And this is a solid one. The NV (Non-Vintage) Delacroix Brut is a fine Blanc de Blancs (white wine from white grapes) for your everyday celebration. Well, it isn’t precisely a Blanc de Blancs in the Champagne sense: the grape varieties include Ugni Blanc, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc. It’s also Brut, meaning it is considered a dry wine, though in Champagne there may be up to 15 g/l of sugar added with the dosage before final bottling. I do not know how much sugar is left in this wine, nor do I really care. This is for parties, after all. The wine is made in the Méthode Traditionnelle; that is, it adheres to many of the same principals of production as Champagne, including completion of a second fermentation in the bottle, with the wine aged for an extended period on lees (yeasts) to acquire its carbonation and fuller texture.

The end result? This NV Brut by Delacroix has a decent mousse, with toasty bread and citrus aromas, showing a bright straw color in the glass. Good mineral profile and full texture from the Chenin Blanc, with some snappy acidity contributed by the Ugni Blanc (known as Trebbiano in Italy) – a little less Chardonnay fruit than I’d like, but nice balance and a quenching finish. $8. Pair with lobster rolls, fried fish or fried chicken, or serve as an apéritif. A case would never go to waste at any party. Cheers.

Here’s another one from South Africa: Stellenbosch, home to some new stars in the wine world. Ken Forrester’s Petit Chenin Blanc is completely delicious. Fresh, fruity aromas precede a crisp and captivating experience, with melon and hints of honey flavors on the palate. South Africa’s major white grape is Sauvignon Blanc, and that is probably the future of white wine in this region, but this wine puts on quite a show for $9! A long and nicely refreshing finish. Drink it on a hot summer day, or a cool spring evening. Cook with it if you must, but stop to quaff. This is a great buy.