Chenin blanc, native to the Loire Valley in France, is one of the most versatile grape varieties in the world. At one end of the spectrum, the grape is responsible for some of the longest lived dessert wines. Toned down a bit, it produces lovely, lightly sweet wines that are undeniably appealing. At the other end of the spectrum, it's completely dry but with a richness of flavor that makes it a great choice for the colder weather. For our tasting, we went the dry, food-friendly route. Here are the top picks:
2011 Blue Plate Chenin Blanc, $10.99
For some reason, most people hate the label on this California entry. It does look more like a Rosie the Riveter poster than a bottle of wine, but what's inside proves you can't judge a book by its cover. The aromas are a fresh and lively mix of lemon, lime, peach and pineapple. The reprise of crisp peach and pineapple on the palate make a wine with good balance and length. This pick is a definite bargain.
2011 Hestia Chenin Blanc, $17.99
The first of a pair of wines from Washington, this pick proves that the Northwest has a way with this French variety. The wine opens with enticing aromas of sweet peach backed by classic touches of honey and black walnut, all colored by a nice minerality. A core of sweet lime flavors are surrounded by layers of mineral, melon, black walnut and a kiss of basil.
2011 L'Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc, $13.99
This Walla Walla, Wash. pioneer's first vintage of chenin blanc was back in 1987. The nose on this wine is a rich mix of peach, honeydew and lime with intriguing touches of basil and brine. Succulent best describes the wine's palate, with its blood orange, creamy, ripe stone fruit flavors and a classic bit of honeyed black walnut. A splash of citrus brings balance to the long finish.