Forgotten Varietals

Chenin Blanc and Gewurtztraminer are
what I like to call €œforgotten varietals,€ because most people
don€™t think of them until reminded. (I used to place Riesling in this
category, but thankfully that grape has become more popular in recent
years. So I€™ll continue to plug away on behalf of the other two.)
Of Chenin and Gewurz, Chenin is by far the more food friendly. It is an
impressively versatile partner to food, from snacks and appetizers to
seafood and slightly spicy Asian cuisine. It is also impressively varied
in terms of its sweetness, power and minerality, a character that may
be a marketing disadvantage for average consumers. Much US-produced
Chenin used to be rather sweet and plodding, lacking acidity or
interest, a filler for American €œChablis.€
French Chenin Blanc doesn€™t really help in the market consciousness
department. It is the main grape of the central-western Loire Valley,
with appellations such as Vouvray and Saumur. It can come in a
full-bodied semi-dry (demi-sec) style, or a racy dry version
that smacks of stones and earth. Or it can be unctuously sweet as a
dessert wine. The problem is, the labels don€™t usually tell you which
is which. Here are two dry Chenin Blanc wines I€™ve enjoyed recently:
Domaine de Saint-Just, La Coulée de Saint-Cyr, Saumur, 2002. ($20). Stony minerality, with pears and apples underneath. Good complexity and depth. Still young, actually. Imported by J. Cambier Imports, McLean, Va.

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, 2006.
($12). A perennial favorite. This new release is fresh with flavors of
melon, pear and apple, and good acidity. Being Californian, it favors
fruit over mineral qualities. It is beautifully balanced and an
excellent partner to mildly spicy Asian cuisine or salty olives.
Gewurztraminer, of course, excels in Alsace. Anyone who€™s tasted a
Gewurz from Domaine Weinbach knows that it is possible
to float to heaven on a lychee blossom. The problem, of course, is these
are very expensive and hard to find. Some American producers are just
iconoclastic enough to make stellar Gewurztraminers, and the joy of
these wines is that they often come from unexpected places. They may not
be very easy to find, but when you do find them, they tend to be
affordable
One of my favorites is the White Hall Vineyards
Gewurztraminer from Virginia. The 2006 ($18?) is lean and dry with ample
floral notes and lychee flavors, without being over the top. It pairs
well with Asian cuisines, and would probably stand up to mildly stinky
cheeses.
Other Gewurz producers I like include Fox Run, Dr. Konstantin Frank and Lenz (New York), Carlson (Colorado), Columbia (Washington), and of course Navarro (California €“ Mendocino).
Cheers!
Dave Mc
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One Response to Forgotten Varietals

  1.  Theresa Bertrand says:

    Dave, I love Chenin Blanc and all its diversity. I was first introduced
    to the varietal as a steen from South Africa, and wasn’t impressed.
    After trying some from the Loire, I was hooked. Also had some
    interesting ones from Argentina (sometimes blended with Chardonnay).
    Are there any tricks for figuring out from the label whether a Loire
    Chenin Blanc is dry or sweet (other than trial and error, or asking for
    help)?

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