Sunday, 26 August 2012

Brunches, Gardens, and Chenin Blanc...

This past Sunday, a friend and I were invited to enjoy a summer's brunch at the home of mutual friends. The invitation was just part of a plot to get ust help with weeding their garden plot, but the upside was we were to each supply a bottle of wine to enjoy during brunch and break-time. By complete coincidence, each of us supplied a bottle of Chenin Blanc! What more, the day's selection of Chenin Blanc were each from different regions and represented completely different styles!

Chenin Blanc is a white grape that finds its traditional home in the Loire Valley of France. Signature traits of Chenin Blanc are relatively neutral aromatics that develop into honeycomb and baked apples with age, sharp acidity, relatively low alcohol, and a slightly oily texture. Like Riesling, the sweetness of a Chenin Blanc can vary from year to year and from region to region, and as such can offer quality wines suited as a bubbly aperitif, a compliment to a main course, or as a sweet finish to a meal. Our three-course Chenin Blanc tasting went as follows:

Sparkling Chenin Blanc
In its classic home of the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc is sometimes blended with Sauvignon Blanc for a fresh, traditional method sparkling wine called Cremant de la Loire. (A "Cremant de" anything indicates a Champagne-style sparkling wine from other regions of France such as the Loire, Burgundy, or Alsace). Inspired by the Loire, New World producers can also use Chenin Blanc to bring acidity to their bubbles and blend with more traditional grapes like Chardonnay. In our case, the sparkling Chenin from Road 13 was the perfect choice to not only toast my upcoming adventure, but also paired perfectly with the brunch buffet of eggs benedict, turkey bacon, rosemary-roasted potatoes, fresh-baked zucchini bread with homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam, and garden-fresh strawberries, raspberries, and  blackberries.
Chenin Blanc - France
The Loire is France's longest river, and is neatly divided into different wine regions according to the grapes grown. In the heart of the Loire we find the appellations of Vouvray and Saumur, home to France's finest Chenin Blanc. As with many other classic French regions, weather patterns deeply impact the vintage of Chenin Blanc resulting in some years with bone dry wines, others with off-dry. High quality sweet wines are also common from the small appellations further east of Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume. For thirsty gardeners, this was a much better way to call us back for a break than a pitcher of lemonade.
Chenin Blanc - New World
Regarded as one of the finest French white grapes, Chenin Blanc does not have the international reputation of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling. The exception to this rule is South Africa where Chenin Blanc, localy called Steen, is by far the most widely planted white grape. Here, Chenin Blanc forms the base for bulk wines and for brandy distillation, but older vines produce among South Africa's finest aged whites. Elsewhere, cooler climates in California or our own BC produce some excellent Chenin Blanc as well. After 2 rounds of Chenin, the more fruit-forward and lightly oaked South African Chenin Blanc was a welcome way to finish a day's weeding on a late summer's afternoon.

I therefore hereby declare Chenin Blanc the official wine of the 2012 Garden Season!


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