Tag Archives: Vouvray

Getting Geeky with Lang & Reed Chenin blanc

This post was inspired by Outwines’ Noelle Harman’s great post on the Loire and South African Chenins made by the husband-wife team of Vincent & Tania Carême. That post and her reviews are well worth a look along with her super geeky and super useful study outline on the Chenin blanc grape (part of a continuing series she does).

With this still being California Wine Month, I’m going to add my advocacy for the overlooked and underappreciated Chenin by highlighting Lang & Reed’s 2015 example from Napa Valley.

The Background

Lang & Reed was founded in 1995 by Tracey & John Skupny. After previous stints at Caymus, Clos Du Val and Niebaum-Coppola, John and his wife Tracey (previously of Spottswoode) wanted to work with their favorite grape varieties from the Loire Valley–Cabernet Franc and Chenin blanc.

Named after their children, Reed & Jerzy Lang, Lang & Reed Wine Company work with fruit primarily from the Anderson Valley of Mendocino and Napa Valley.

The 2015 Chenin blanc is sourced 100% from the cooler Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley from a vineyard near the Napa River. The grapes were whole cluster pressed with the wine fermented in a combination of stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels. The Chenin was then transferred completely to barrel where it was aged 4 months with weekly batonnage stirring of the lees. Around 185 cases were produced.

The Grape

Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that the first mention of Chenin blanc, under the synonym Plant d’Anjou, dates back to 1496 in the Loire Valley. Here the wine was grown at Chateau Chenonceau owned by Thomas Bohier. It is believed that Bohier then propogated the variety which eventually took on the name Chenin from Chenonceau.

Photo by Simon Bonaventure. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Chenin blanc grapes with botrytis growing in Saint Cyr en Bourg in the Anjou-Saumur region of the Loire Valley.

The name “Chenin” itself first appears in François Rabelais’ 1534 work Gargantua. A native of Touraine, Rabelais describes both a Chenin wine and a Vin Pineau with Gros Pineau being a common synonym of Chenin blanc in Touraine for many centuries.

It is possible that the name Chenin came from the monastery of Montchenin in Touraine. Another theory is that the name is derived from the French word chien, meaning dog, and could refer to the affinity of dogs to eat the the grapes off the vine.

Recent DNA analysis has shown a parent-offspring relationship between Savagnin and Chenin blanc with Savagnin being the likely parent. This would make Chenin blanc a half or full sibling of Sauvignon blanc, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Grüner Veltliner, Verdelho, Siegerrebe and the Trousseau varieties.

Through its relationship with Sauvignon blanc, Chenin is then an aunt/uncle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

At some point, Chenin blanc naturally crossed with Gouais blanc (mother vine of Chardonnay) to produce several varieties like Colombard, Meslier-Saint-François and Balzac.

In South Africa, the grape was crossed with Trebbiano Toscano/Ugni blanc to produce Chenel.

Chenin Blanc Today

Photo by 	JPS68. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Chenin blanc is also grown in the French colony of Réunion off the coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Here is a harvest of Chenin blanc grapes in the town of Cilaos.

From a high point of 16,594 ha (41,005 acres) of vines in 1958, plantings of Chenin blanc in France have sharply declined over the years to just 9,828 ha (24,286 acres) in 2008–representing around 1.2% of France’s vineyards.

It is mostly found in the Anjou-Touraine region of the Loire Valley where it is used in the sparkling wines of Cremant de Loire and Vouvray. Also in Vouvray it can be used to produce dry to demi-sec still wines while in the AOC of Bonnezeaux, Montlouis and Quarts de Chaume it is used exclusively for late harvest sweet examples that may have some botrytis influence. In Savennières it is used exclusively for minerally dry wines with notable ageability.

Outside of the Loire it can also be found in the Languedoc where it can make up to 40% of the blend for Cremant de Limoux with Mauzac blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot noir.

Chenin blanc has been historically known as “Steen” in South Africa where it has accounted for as much as a third of all white wine produced in the country. By 2008 there were 18,852 ha (46,584 acres) of the vine representing 18.6% of all South African plantings. It is grown throughout South Africa but is more widely found in Paarl, Malmesbury and Olifants River. In recent years the variety has seen a renaissance of high quality production by producers in the Swartland and Stellenbosch.

From an area so blessed to produce Cabernet Sauvignon, the Chappellet Molly’s Cuvee Chenin blanc from Pritchard Hill is jaw-droppingly good.


In California there is 4,790 acres of Chenin blanc planted throughout the state as of 2017–nearly 2/3 of the acreage that was in production in 2010 (7,223 acres). Notable plantings can be found in the Clarksburg AVA in Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties, Chappellet Vineyard on Pritchard Hill in Napa, Santa Maria Valley, Lodi, Paso Robles, Alexander Valley and Mendocino County.

Like California, Washington State has also seen a notable drop in plantings of Chenin blanc in recent years going from 600 acres in 1993 to just 67 acres by 2017.

The Wine

High intensity nose–yellow peach and white flowers. There is also some honeycomb and fresh straw notes that come out more as the wine warms in the glass.

On the palate the peach notes come through and adds a spiced pear element. There is noticeable texture and weight on the mouthfeel but I would still place the body as just medium. Medium-plus acidity adds a mouthwatering element and a little saline minerality as well. Long finish still carries the fruit but brings back some of the straw notes from the nose.

The Verdict

The 2015 Lang & Reed Chenin blanc from Napa Valley is, hands down, one of the most delicious domestic Chenin blancs that I’ve had the opportunity to try–second only to Chappellet’s example. While not quite Savennières level, at $25-30 it still delivers plenty of complexity that outshines many California Chardonnays and other white wines in that price range.

At nearly 3 years, it is still quite youthful and I can see this wine continuing to give pleasure for at least another 3-4 years.

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Birth Year Wine Myopics

Wine Enthusiast recently published a great article highlighting what wines from the recent 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages are worth laying down in the cellar for 20+ years. They titled this article “A Guide to Finding Ageworthy Birth Year Wines”.

But for the moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles who want to set aside a thoughtful birth year bottle to share with someone on their 21st birthday, you’re better off ignoring 97% of the advice Roger Morris gives you in this Wine Enthusiast article.

A well structured Bordeaux from Pauillac or Margaux?

A nutty, toasty vintage Champagne?

A savory, spicy Hermitage or Côtes-Rotie?

A big, robust Napa Cabernet Sauvignon?

A brooding and mouthwatering Barolo?

A complex and nuanced Burgundy?

Those are all great wines, no doubt, and examples from the 2015 & 2016 vintages in particular will be giving wine lovers pleasure for the next 2 plus decades. But before you plunk down some serious cash and invest in the proper storage conditions to take care of these wines, ask yourself one very important question.

Do you think the person that you are saving this wine for is really going to appreciate and enjoy this wine when they turn 21?

Let me re-phrase that question for you from another perspective.

What were you drinking when you turned 21?

Unless your last name is Moueix, Bezos or Gates, I’d probably call BS on you sipping Petrus at 21.

Petrus?
Giscours?
Opus One?
Silver Oak?
Jordan?
Quilceda Creek?
Beaucastel?
Domaine du Pégau?
Cristal?
Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru?
Joly Coulée de Serrant?

If you were then my hat’s off to you but I’ll be honest and admit that 21 year old me was drinking Boone’s Farm, Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot and St. James Winery’s Velvet Red and Pink Catawba. And that was after 16 to 20 year old me had graduated from drinking Bud Light and whatever alcohol made its way to the various jello shots at the parties I attended as a kid. Oh and I guess growing up in the church I had my fair share of Mogen David and Manischewitz Concord wine as well.

Being a gambling woman (only somewhat reformed), I would wager that the vast majority of you had similar early drinking experiences and palates that I did.

What reason is there for us to think that the next generation of 21 year olds are going to be any different?

Is it Better for the Giver or the Receiver?

Even when I turned 30, I don’t know if I had the palate to fully appreciated this birth year wine.

The problem with articles like the Wine Enthusiast guide is that they are almost completely driven by the perspective and palate of the person giving the wine. Yeah,folks like us are going to absolutely adore what a 2016 Lynch Bages, Gaja Sperss, Guigal La Mouline or Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon will taste like in 2037. At that point these wines are going to have evocative bouquets of savory tobacco spice, dried herbs and other tertiary flavors with long, lingering and mouthwatering finishes.

But you know who is probably not going to like those wines at all?

My niece Elise.

At best, she would smile politely and acknowledge the gift. I’m sure at dinner she would take a sip or two, trying not to gag at the bitterness and acidity. I could see her swirling the wine a little in the glass, trying to imitate what the other adults at the table are doing, hoping that maybe somehow the air would magically transform the wine into a strawberry margarita.

I’m not going to put her through that dog and pony show. But I’m definitely still squirreling away special wines to share with her and my other nieces and nephews when they turn 21.

However, its not Barolos, Napa Cabs or other age-worthy red wines.

No, I’m squirreling away Sauternes, Tokaji, German Rieslings, Vouvray Demi-Secs, vintage Ports and Madeira.

The Overlooked Majesty of Age-worthy Sweet Wines

To Roger Morris and Wine Enthusiast‘s credit, they do name drop a couple of these Birth Year worthy sweet wines in the article noting the quality of the 2016 vintage for German Rieslings and quoting Joe Campanale, owner/beverage director at Fausto in New York City on the potential of 2017 for vintage Port and Madeira. But the fact that these tremendous wines got lip service at best (with others like Sauternes not even mentioned) is sadly reflective of the “Rodney Dangerfield-status” of sweet wines in general.

It’s a shame that cheap mass-market Moscato give the category such a bad rap because well made Moscato d’Asti from high-quality producers like Mauro Sebaste are delicious wines.


In an age of Moscato Mania, Stella Rosa’s rapid ascent and the Capriccio Craze, the idea of enjoying sweet wines often gets a negative reaction from “wine people”.

This snobbish aversion to anything sweet still persists even with many of the best selling “dry” red wines being laden with residual sugar via the additions of Mega Purple or, in the case of wines like Meiomi Pinot noir, sneaking in sweet white grapes like Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Yet there is a reason why some of the most legendary wines throughout history have been sweet dessert wines.

They’re freaking delicious!

Plus, the presence of all that sugar coupled with acidity (Rieslings and Vouvray), fortification (Ports and Madeira) and Noble Rot (Sauternes, Tokaji and some German & Alsatian wines) gives these wines amazing aging potential. The evolution of Sauternes, in particular, is a remarkable journey to follow as the fresh, youthful exuberance of tropical fruit give way to richer notes of honey, spice, caramel and crème brûlée.

The Beauty Of It All

When you look at the pros and cons of saving sweet dessert wines for future 21 year olds versus the typical roll call of great red wines and dry Champagnes, there is no contest.

These dessert wines are wines that in 20 + years will not only have the complexity and nuance to appeal to seasoned wine drinkers but for newly christened 21 year olds these wines will be sweet and approachable with identifiable flavors of fruit, candy and honey.

I have one nephew and one niece born in 2008 but I bought a couple extra bottles of this Rieussec so I could crack into it a bit earlier. Purely for educational and research purposes, of course.


Sure, they may not “get” all the concepts of terroir, Botrytis, aging and vintage variation behind these wines. For them, each sip will probably taste the same while you’re likely going to see each sip unfurling another layer of flavor that has spent decades developing.

But you’re both going to still really enjoy those sips and are far more likely to share a celebratory moment that’s worth treasuring for many years to come.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2004 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant

A few quick thoughts on the 2004 Nicolas Joly Clos de la Coulée de Serrant.

The Geekery

Hugh Johnson describes Nicolas Joly in his Wine Companion as one of the “high priest” of Biodynamics and says he was the first French vigneron to apply Rudolf Steiner’s principles to grape growing.

Located in the Anjou region of the Loire Valley, Savennières is noted for dry 100% Chenin blanc wines that are often distinctly different from the better known Vouvray wines of Touraine.

Along with Château-Grillet and Romanée Conti, the 17 acre vineyard of Coulée de Serrant is one of three estates to have their own AOCs. First planted by Cistercian monks in 1130, the vineyard has nearly 900 years of winemaking history. Owned by the Joly family since 1959, the average age of the vines are 35-80 years.

The wine is harvested late in multiple passes through the vineyard over 3-4 weeks. It is then fermented in neutral wood with native yeasts–allowing the fermentation itself to regulate the temperature. This can often take 2 to 4 months for the wine to get to complete dryness. Around 2,000 cases a year are made.

The Wine

The color looks like an aged Sauternes or an orange wine but the high intensity nose isn’t sweet or oxidized. Instead it is very floral with honeysuckle and apple blossoms as well as some spicy ginger. Underneath there is a little straw hay and subtle orange citrus notes.

Photo by Walter Siegmund. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.5

Very fresh floral honeysuckle notes characterize this 13+ yr Chenin.

On the palate the wine has incredible weight with an oiliness and some tannin texture to the mouthfeel. Lots of rocky minerality that is amplified by the still fresh and vibrant high acidity. The orange notes come through and bring an apricot note that aren’t quite dried but aren’t fresh as well. Long finish brings back the spicy ginger.

The Verdict

Stunningly beautiful for a 13+ year white wine that probably has the legs to go on for several more years.

At $90-110, there is certainly a premium for this wine but the character and complexity is off the charts.

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