Rediscover chenin blanc with these Washington favorites

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 15, 2014 

This week I will wrap up my two-part series on chenin blanc, a white wine varietal that's a personal favorite and one that's seen a bit of a resurgence among Washington winemakers.

Originating in the Loire Valley of France, chenin blanc was quite popular several decades ago, but later it suffered a perception problem as a cheaper, sweeter alternative to chardonnay.

My slant on this: First, a wine that costs less doesn't always mean it's inferior. In fact, "affordable" might be a better descriptor. Second, if a wine can be enjoyed in a sweeter style, then it can be made in a drier style as well, and that indicates versatility.

The bottom line is that chenin blanc got a bad rap. It deserved better, and it's nice to see that winemakers and wine consumers are rediscovering it today.

Chenin blanc is oftentimes aromatic, flavorful and brimming with acidity, which makes it a good match for pairing with green and pasta salads, poultry, and seafood such as crab, halibut or scallops. In addition, it's a terrific sipping wine; especially during warm summer months when served well-chilled.

A few chenin blancs from Washington for you to consider:

Pontin del Roza 2012 Chenin Blanc (about $14) - When you talk about Washington chenin blanc, you've got to include Scott Pontin in the conversation. His winery recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, and he's been producing the varietal since day one as a solid, reasonably priced choice. This vintage leans towards the tropical side and also displays juicy peach and pear flavors, and a slightly sweet finish.

Waitsburg Cellars 2012 Cheninières and 2012 Chevray (about $17 each) - If you've yet to hear about Waitsburg Cellars, trust me, you soon will. This partnership between wine critic Paul Gregutt and Precept Wines is stirring things up in the town of Waitsburg, located about 20 miles northeast of Walla Walla.

These wines impressed me with their understated fruit flavors, clean finish and overall European-style profile, which is exactly what Gregutt set out to do. A major difference between the two: the Chevray is made in an off-dry style, reminiscent of a Loire Valley Vouvray, and higher in alcohol.

Both wines were sourced from the Snipes Mountain Appellation, and although I'm not totally enamored with the wine's names, everything else about them is a grand slam.

Dakota Creek Winery 2013 Chenin Blanc (about $20) - On the opposite side of the spectrum, local winemakers Ken and Jill Peck pull out all the stops with this full-bodied chenin. Packed with Golden Delicious apple and stone fruit aromas and flavors, the residual sugar content is nicely balanced with brisk acidity. Big, round, and fruit-forward, it's a pleasure to taste.

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.

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