Chenin Blanc is an underrated and underused white wine varietal with French roots that can be traced all the way back to the ninth century. Versatility has always been the name of the game for this grape. Noted for its ability to produce many different styles of wine, the Chenin Blanc grape can be used to produce sweet dessert wines, sparkling wines, blended, and fortified wines. It is also noted for its ability to age well.
As recently as the 1980’s the Chenin Blanc grape actually had more acreage devoted to it in California than it did in France. In America, however, it was basically being used as an anonymous variety that would be added in bulk as a blending agent to many jug wines, adding acidity and fruitiness to wines like Chardonnay or Chablis.
Widely grown in France and South Africa, Chenin Blanc as a varietal has been trending downward in popularity the past few years. Still being used as a multi purpose grape, many vineyards have stopped growing and producing Chenin Blanc, both in France and the U.S. The recent fine wine boom has made it more profitable for wine makers to produce Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc in its place as they can charge higher prices for these bottles. Some smaller vineyards across the U.S., however, are still putting the time and effort into turning out quality bottles of Chenin Blanc as a varietal, despite its shrinking place on store shelves and menus.
Washington State is the second largest producer of wine in the United States behind California. Climate and soil play a vital role in determining the characteristics of the Chenin Blanc that will be produced. From sweet to dry, Wahsington’s Columbia Valley has proven to be an ideal place for L’Ecole vineyard to produce a high quality Chenin Blanc. A second generation, family owned winery, operating since 1983, L’Ecole is the third oldest vineyard in Washington State, and has been turning out award winning wines for over a decade. I’ve been seeing a lot of positive press in industry publications lately, so I decided to give their Chenin Blanc a try, before the varietal shrinks into obscurity.
You’ll find L’Ecole No. 41 (online at $13.98-$18.99) in the mid priced area of the Chenin Blanc market. It is a very fresh bottle, that when opened has a prominent floral nose. Fruity and smooth, it is very drinkable, with a balanced taste that has notes of apple, peach, and citrus, followed by a mineral finish. Ideally served with shellfish, grilled vegetables, and soft cheeses, this would be a perfect companion at any end of the summer barbecue or a picnic.