Wine review: Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin Blancs

Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin ViognierThis is a tale of three wine stories — an up-and-coming California wine appellation, a growing business model in the wine biz, and an under-appreciated-yet-slowly-gaining-a-rep grape, Chenin Blanc. This wine review highlights all three in one, 5-minute post. Who says service is dead?

The Clarksburg appellation in northeast California enfolds 59,000 acres of warm-climate land, encompassing Sacramento and bordering on the Sacramento River. About 10,000 acres of heat-loving grapevines are planted here but it’s not particularly recognized as an appellation. This is mostly because the majority of the fruit is sent outside the area for crushing not to mention the best grapes grown here remain a  mystery to the majority of wine drinkers — Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah. Clarksburg Wine Company hopes to change that. Naming their wine label after an unknown region borders on ballsy but they’re also exploring a relatively new business model —  “custom crush”. Imagine calling up a winemaker and asking them to make a wine specifically to your tastes? “I’d like it to taste slightly sweet but not syrupy; high acid yet full-bodied”… that’s what custom crush companies do for you (as well as commercial entities). So, in addition to making wine under the Clarksburg Wine Company label they also make wine for others. Something for everyone, you might say.

One of their better wines is made from Chenin Blanc, which has become my wine-of-the-moment. I’ve been a years-long fan of the Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend from Pine Ridge Vineyards and the straight-up version made by Dry Creek Vineyard, but also an emphatic supporter of Chenin-based Vouvray and Savennières from France’s Loire Valley. Buying a Vouvray is a tad confusing since it can range from luscious dessert-like sweetness to just a kiss of sugar.  And you wouldn’t really know it by looking at the label. But, suffice it to say, the Americans do some mighty different things with Chenin Blanc. California offers up minerally, dry, full-bodied versions.

Clarksburg Wine Company, of course, falls firmly in the American camp. I recently tasted both their 100% Chenin Blanc and the version blended with Viognier and was very impressed with the deftness of acidity and nod to the herby characteristics that make Chenin a good friend of mine.

Their 2010 Chenin Blanc Viognier tastes full-bodied with fragrant apricots, ripe pear and peaches tinged with dried chamomile tea leaves and straw. Offers a luscious mouth-feel and a zingy, refreshing lemon-lime finish. A very nice Chenin Blanc interpretation that goes down easily and happily. Pair it with rotisserie chicken, Pork Szechuan or Caribbean Jerk Chicken. $16/bottle; Sweetness = 2; available mostly online on the Clarksburg Wine Company website.

The 2010 Chenin Blanc fits a similar, yet more decadent profile. Creamier and more elegant, it has flavors of peaches, ripe pear, slate minerality, and toasted walnuts with a tart, lime rind finish that lasts for minutes. Excellent food wine but can also stand on its own pretty well. Try this with the above-mentioned recipes or even Spicy Shrimp with Fennel. $16/bottle; Sweetness = 2; available mostly online on the Clarksburg Wine Company website.

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