As we leap into the spring season and start thinking about lighter warmer-weather meals and the traditional dairy foods of Shavuous, kosher-wine lovers will once again be contemplating their white-wine options. Two grape varieties that have much to offer, both in terms of range and food pairing adaptability, are Chenin Blanc and Riesling.
The Chenin Blanc grape is believed to have been first cultivated in the Loire Valley of France in the ninth century, though it has long since migrated across the globe from California to South Africa, and most recently to very good effect in Israel where it seems to grow nicely with the climate. Indeed, when made with a little tender loving care and attention, like with Pierre Miodownick’s brilliant Domaine Netofa white wines, Chenin also pairs particularly well with Mediterranean foods.
Chenin Blanc is one of the most versatile white-wine grapes that can produce amazing-tasting, generally light-bodied or delicate, wines across the spectrum: dry, off-dry, very sweet or even sparkling. Chenin Blanc offers a flavor profile that is typically quite appealing, with melon, apple and pear characteristics, along with good acidity, minerality and sometimes chalky-ness, and also what some folks think of as “leafy” elements. Chenin aromas can range from spicy to citrus to floral and even tropical, depending on the place where it is grown as well as the viticultural and vinification techniques employed in turning the fruit into wine. When given the over-cropped, jug-wine treatment, Chenin tends to produce drinkable and enjoyable if typically uninspiring plonk, but when accorded the respect it deserves Chenin can produce wines of tremendous depth and complexity. Indeed, when done right, Chenin Blanc tends to display its particular growing location and conditions, or terroir, particularly well.
This is all part of what makes Chenin Blanc such a fabulous grape varietal to explore.
Similarly, the Riesling grape—which originated in the Rhine region of Germany, but has also migrated across the globe—is thought of as a generally flexible varietal because it too is especially good at transmitting into the final wine the character of whatever its local soil and climate happen to be. Indeed, even more than Chenin Blanc, Riesling is considered by many wine connoisseurs to be the white-wine-grape equivalent of Pinot Noir in Burgundy. For Riesling, like the mighty Burgundy red-grape varietal, typically offers a bright, at times brilliant, acidity and bewitching aromas of minerals, florals and fruit. Unlike the cherry and red-fruit notes of Pinot, however, the fruit elements in Riesling tend to be something more like peach, pear, nectarine, apricot, honey-crisp apple and even lychee.
Because of these singular qualities, the wide variety of styles and their easy food-pairing characteristics, Chenin Blanc and Riesling wines routinely enchant oenophiles the world over. These are two grape varietals that are well worth your time and attention. L’Chaim!
By Joshua E. London