Posted by: tomciocco | August 26, 2008

A MODEL FOR NEW WORLD WHITES

I have talked and briefly written about this wine here and there several times before, so I am clearly being redundant, but I’m self-reporting at the outset, so I don’t feel so bad…And since it is my favorite California white going away, and I harbor a sea-deep affection for the general cut of its jib, I’m feeling even better about repeating myself.

So without further apologies, I present you with the Pine Ridge White. You can read more about this wine here. Actually, I’m not sure if that is its official name, which may be “Chenin/Viognier” since that’s that stuff in the bottles, but whatever it’s called, I think it’s fab.

Why? So many things…Let’s see…First, it’s just plain well made. It’s good, honest wine: balanced and versatile but with real character. Second, it’s not basted with buttery oak. It may be premature to say so, but I think that California (and the whole world in the end) has learned that oak barrels should be used to complete a wine not fundamentally alter it, and that’s good news for drinkers, producers, and trees alike.  As a result, the consumer tastes grape variety or varieties as well as “place” more clearly, the producer saves money on all that cooperage, and so the drinker saves money in turn.

THird, it’s a truly complimentary blend of grapes that’s unique to Pine Ridge. Both Chenin Blanc and Viognier are French grape varieties, but the former is one of the Loire Valley’s signature vines, and Viognier is a fussy specialty from the northern Rhone (from which the best examples can cost as much as a good pair of shoes), so the chances of seeing them together in the same bottle in France is something rapidly approaching zero. But in California, and the New World in general, winemakers are free from Europe’s traditional regional norms, so these “fantasy blends” become possible. This type of freedom gives a winery the opportunity to develop a proprietary or signature blend from any grapes that they like, and that work in their vineyards with little else to limit their vision for the wine. Why more New World winemakers do not recognize and take advantage of this situation is still baffling…

Fourth, both of these grapes super-cool on their own – Together? Totally awesome! But really, Pine Rigde could have decided on a crushingly pedestrian, market-driven and frankly just plain stupid blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio for example. I’ll yawn as soon as I’m done laughing.  A Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend comes to the table with story to tell that everyone present hasn’t heard a thousand times. It opens noses and elicits discussion…

Last, but not least, this wine is an excptional VALUE – another thing for which California is not well known, but a concrete example that it is indeed possible! This wine comes in at about $10-$15 in most wine shops in the U.S., and only the nothing-but-grand-cru-white- Burgundy-snobs on one side, or your Aunt Tessie that puts Sweet and Low in her white Zin because its not sweet enough as it is, would not like this wine. It’s a wine that’s within any drinker’s budget that offers a unique range of flavors without being strange or a “connoisseur’s wine”.

And just as this wine represents a creative and unfettered expression of New World wine making, I felt similarly liberated regarding preparing a menu to suit it. Jen was away, and she hates Guacamole, and I love it, so I whipped up what turned out to be a “mock-guac” (I couldn’t find any ripe Haas avocados, so I had to settle for the Florida variety sooo…) and some shrimps that I sauteed and then combined with some leftover dilled-and-tomatoed, etc. green beans that I doctored with a few more herbs, et al., and a hunk of good Italian bread. I gotta say, the wine did real justice to both dishes – the aromatic, fat, aspects of the Viognier really worked well with the avocado’s richness, and the Chenin shone beautifully through the greeness of the beans, and hooked up big time with the crustaceans’ sweet chalkiness – a descriptor/sensation often noted in many Chenin Blanc-based wines too… And with the notes, I’M OUT!

TOM CIOCCO

"mock guac"

shrimps and green beans

shrimps and green beans

Pine Ridge White 2007  – (80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Viognier, un-oaked)  

VERY pale gold color with greenish reflections. Direct nose of pineapple, lime, pear, wet stones, and a hint of lillies. The wine is fairly full and dense in the mouth with clear flavors of  honeydew melon, white prune juice, and peach and pear nectars. Despite the fair richness of the wine, the acidity is correct and pretty. The finish is quite long, intense, and clean.

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