As the summer days stretch on, so does my dogged quest to find the best cheap white wine. Rarely, do I ever think of chenin blanc as a value grape. The problem was, I was looking in the wrong country.
For cheap whites, you might stick to vinho verde, pinot grigio, colombard – grapes that can be grown in crazy abundance without too much difficulty. Perhaps you just go to Trader Joe’s and grab whatever white is around $5. Ain’t no shame in that game – I do it all the time.
But today, we find value wine with some backbone and personality thanks to the acidic, versatile chenin blanc grape. Its spiritual home is the Loire River valley, around Anjou, in Northern France. There it makes some of the world’s finest dessert wines (like Quarts de Chaume), honey-flavored stunners (like Vouvray), and haunting, ethereal, and absurdly expensive wines (like Savennieres).
In the 60’s and 70’s, chenin blanc was grown all over California and sold in gigantic jugs at basement prices. Today it’s less common (though Dry Creek remains a good domestic chenin value). But it’s also the most widely planted grape in South Africa, a country with some of the best wine values in the world.
Nearly all the best South African wines in the Twin Cities are imported by Plymouth-based Z Wines. They have some stunning chenin in their book – the Jean Daneel is a perennial favorite of mine. But you can find the Landskroon Chenin Blanc for around $10, or perhaps less on sale.
This chenin sports a nice yellow-gold with a nose of honey, lemon and white pear and a wisp of grass clippings. It’s a buoyant sip full of white peaches, honeydew melons and citric acids. A dry minerality takes over the finish, like the aftertaste of not-too-sweet orange taffy.
This is a boat wine, a backyard wine, a what-else-are-we-going-to-do-at-11am-on-a-Saturday wine. It has enough character to be interesting, but is smooth enough to drink without a second thought. Pair it with grilled rainbow trout.