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Bright, whites: today's Chenin Blancs are complex, refreshing--and, so much better than before.

THE MILLENNIALS HAVE their Mostato; my generation had our Chenin Blanc--gallons of it. Simple and sweet, made by the likes of the late Christian Brothers winery, Chenin Blanc was the perfect starter wine. Then we discovered Chardonnay, and most of the Chenin that was planted where Chard could possibly grow was ripped out for the new (and more lucrative) fashion.

A recent trip to the grape's Old World home, France's Loire valley, revived memories of the wine--only better. There, Chenin Blanc is sometimes bone-dry (as in the Savennieres region), sometimes a little off-dry (Vouvray leans that way), but never too sweet. Its green apple, citrus, and honeyed stone fruit flavors dance with acidity.

Back home, the refreshing quality of the French wine compelled me to launch a full-on investigation into the current status of West Coast Chenin Blanc. It turns out that upwards of 30 wineries are making a Chenin now--some that are new to the grape, some that have been quietly producing better and better versions through the years. These are grown-up Chenins, drier than before, whatever sugar lurking (if any) balanced by bright acidity Far from the one-trick ponies of the past--the products of vineyards growing in places too warm for Chenin Blanc, pumping out way too many grapes per vine--the best are complex, interesting wines. Some are from the precious few old acres, in great, cool regions, that were spared the Chardonnay bulldozer. And many are easily going toe to toe with their Old World models.

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OLD WORLD Domaine Huet 2011 "Le Haut-Lieu" See (Vouvray; $27).

Uncharacteristically dry, with a jumble of orchard blossoms, apple, nectarine, and tangerine peel over wet stones.

Pithon-Paille 2010 "Schistes" (Savennieres; $35).

Racy and bone-dry, with mouth-filling apricot and lime scented with green apple, herbs, and blossoms.


Chappellet 2011 "Signature" (Napa Valley; $32).

Pithy peach and white blossoms lead to honeyed apple spritzed with lemon for a nice tart finish.

Foxen 2012 Old Vines (Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley; $25).

Distinct stoniness sets off intense, textural peach skin and bright lemon blossom flavors.

Dry Creek Vineyard 2012 (Clarksburg; $72).

Refreshingly dry, with pretty quince, melon, stone Fruit, and minerals around a lemon-drop core.

L'Ecole No 41 2012 (Columbia Valley; $15).

Slightly off-dry, with a pinpoint balance of bitter orange and pithy peach under fall apples, honeysuckle, and river stones.

Leo Steen 2012 Saini Farms (Dry Creek Valley; $ 18).

Dry, but the juicy apple and stony lemon are touched by honey and spritzed with grapefruit.

Waitsburg 2012 "The Aromatics" Chevray (Columbia Valley; $17).

An intense, fascinating mouthful of fresh green apple, tart peach, gentle lemon, and exotic spices.
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Author:Schneider, Sara
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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