Times change. Tastes change. And, sometimes, wines change.
The time: the early 1980s.
The taste: yours truly’s.
The wine: Chenin Blanc.
As is true for a lot of people, my early experience with wine involved a lot of cheap plonk. And when the cheap plonk was white, it most likely had been made from Chenin Blanc grapes.
There were a lot of Chenin Blanc vineyards in California in those days.1 The grapes grown in those vineyards typically were made into syrupy wines.
As I recall, I liked them just fine.
But right around that time, American taste buds began to evolve. Some would say we grew more sophisticated.
It was the beginning of “The Chardonnay Age,” and a good number of Chenin Blanc vineyards were replaced by row after row of Chardonnay vines.
Chenin Blanc survived in California, but it was off most folks’ vinous radar screens.
More recently, the variety has enjoyed a renaissance. A number of grape growers and winemakers have discovered (or re-discovered) that Chenin Blanc, when grown in the right climate and with its yield limited in order to concentrate flavors, can make stunning dry and off-dry wines.
One of the best places in California for growing high-quality Chenin Blanc is Clarksburg, in the delta region near Sacramento. Most of the grapes grown there are sold to wineries outside the area, some of which include the Clarksburg designation on their labels.
It’s not yet a trend, but some wineries—Napa Valley’s Pine Ridge being chief among them—are adding a splash of Viognier to their Chenin Blanc, which helps heighten the aroma.
Yes, there still are syrupy renditions of Chenin Blanc out there. But that sweetness can cloak the wonderful citrus and green apple flavors inherent in the variety.
So if you’d like to taste what Chenin Blanc grapes really taste like, opt for a dry or off-dry rendition.
P.S.: Those styles also lend themselves to pairing with lots of different types of food. If you have a favorite dish to serve alongside a nice glass of Chenin Blanc, please share it in the comment box below.