Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wine Club - Chenin Blanc

I host a monthly wine tasting group here in my cohousing community. We gather once a month and taste four wines on a given theme. Sometimes it's a varietal, other times a particular region or style. We taste all the wines "blind" so we're not biased by any preconceived notions we might have. First we taste them on their own, and next with food - it's amazing how many times a wine that has scored poorly in the first pass improves dramatically with some cheese or sausage or other nibble. And vice versa.

We have a lot of fun. We talk about the wines as we're tasting them, and point out different things that we're smelling or tasting. As such, the notes below represent a sort of "group mind" take on wine tasting notes. We each rank the wines on a five point and completely non-scientific scale - 1 is "blech," 2 is "okay, but not for me," 3 is "happy to drink it, wouldn't buy it," 4 is "really good, where can I get it?" and 5 is "great stuff - I'd take out a second mortgage to buy more." The numbers in the notes represent the average score, and then also the range among the group.

Last night we tasted four Chenin Blancs. Chenin Blanc is mostly grown in the Loire Valley region of France, in South Africa (where it is sometimes known as Steen), and also in California. Especially in California, it's often used as a fairly non-descript white blending wine, but there are a few producers doing interesting things with it. In France it reaches quite admirable heights in Vouvray and in some of the most ageworthy whites. Our tasting featured one from Vouvray in France, two very different wines from South Africa, and a Californian example.

2004 Chateau de Montfort Vouvray FR
Very pale. Refreshing nose of straw and lemon-lime. Noticeable sweetness on the palate with a lingering tart finish as the sweet fades away. Green apple, pear and peach on the palate. Viscous and oily body. 3.5 alone, 3.3 food. 2/4 alone, 2/5 food.
$15.99, Everyday Wines

2005 Riebeek Cellars Chenin Blanc Coastal Region South Africa
Very pale. Floral nose, with mineral metallic notes. Prominent mineral on the palate, but also some citrus and honeydew melon. A touch of bitterness on the finish. Light bodied with high acidity. 2.7 alone, 3.0 food. 2/4.5 alone, 2/4 food.
$8.99, Everyday Wines

2005 Ballentine Vineyards Old Vines Chenin Blanc Pocai Vineyard Napa Valley California
Very pale. Alcoholic nose, with cantaloupe and a little bit of grass. Big wine - floral, tangy and juicy, with some bitterness on the finish. Fully dry, but lots of fruit. Good balancing acidity, but not sour. Full, but without any viscosity or oil. Good complexity. 3.3 alone, 2.7 food. 2/5 alone, 1/5 food.
$14.99, Village Corner

2004 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Stellensbosch South Africa
Straw yellow. Nose has honey, oil, flowers, straw and perhaps a bit of apple. On its own, the palate is extremely recalcitrant - hard to get anything from this low acid and full bodied wine except a spicy white pepper finish that lingers. But with food, it's a different wine entirely, and opens up with all kinds of layers of flavors. 3.0 alone, 3.9 food. 2/4 alone, 2/5 food.
$13.99, Village Corner

One of our members works at Zingerman's, so we put him in charge of picking up the munchables. Last night we had three kinds of cheese - a Rolf Beeler 2 yr Gruyere from Switzerland, Tomme de la Chataignerie (an alpine sheep and cow milk cheese from France), and Leonora, a raw milk goat cheese from Spain. And a little bit of dried tomato pesto I whipped up from some tomatoes a neighbor had dried.

That Gruyere has always been a big favorite of mine. Sweet and mellow, with nice crunchy crystals. The Tomme was new to me. Salty and soft, with a distinctly grassy flavor. And goat cheese was excellent, very crumbly but not chalky and wonderfully goaty (but I'm an absolute sucker for goat cheese, so it's kind of a given that I'd like it). The pesto turned out quite well for something I just whipped up on the spur of the moment.

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