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What’s Old Is New Again

By Charles Olken

At our tasting tonight of sparkling Brut Rosé, we got to patting ourselves on the back at how “au courant” we were that we were tasting pink wine. It was a facetious act, of course, because wines of the pink persuasion are anything but new. I know—because back about four decades ago, at the dawn of Connoisseurs’ Guide, I wrote an article about Rosé in the fifth ever Issue of the Guide. I think I even wrote a poem about it—which I shan’t repeat in order to save us all from the boredom of that feeble effort.

But, Rosé it was, and we covered it then, and have covered it since. There is no question that Rosé was not ever very popular in California. Lots of reasons why including the fact that most of the wines at the time were rather mawkishly sweet. It took a long time for that to change, but change did come to the locals and it is at least a decade now in which there have been more than a few serious, relatively dry-finished, locally produced Rosés on the market.

I can agree that their popularity continues to grow, and that there is a nice story to be told. It is just not a story that has never been seen, or has just emerged in the past few months. My writing buddy here at CGCW did a blog about it in mid-summer.

Well, there we were patting ourselves on our collective backs and someone mentioned Chenin Blanc. Mrs. Olken and I drink a lot of Chenin Blanc, mostly in restaurants where we seek out wines that do not appear on our tasting table. And Chenin Blanc, whether Savanierres or Vouvray, are wines we like for our first course if we are not drinking bubbles. Chenin Blanc was once an important variety here in California. We reviewed several dozen of them in the very first issue every of CGCW.

A few California makers have turned their attention to this variety, but few is the operative word. There are a couple of dozen out there, and, in our September issue, we have reviewed those we could round up. Admittedly there are a few more than existed in the preceding couple of decades. But, they represent a tentative toe-in-the-water at this point.

Now, some of you are expecting a couple of snarky comments about writers who are ballyhooing Rosé and Chenin Blanc as audacious new directions for the locals. You are going to be disappointed because we agree that Chenin Blanc and Rosé are in the ascendancy and have come back from the ash heap of California vinous history. In that, we can all celebrate. No, my only point, now made in too many words, is to remind you that these are not new discoveries but rather old friends. They are not emerging from non-existence here as Merlot did in the seventies and Syrah did a couple of decades later. So, let us all enjoy those wines, but let us all keep a grain or two of salt handy for use when reading about them in breathless tones.


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by TomHill
Posted on:9/11/2015 6:33:37 AM


   I'm sure you remember those Chalone CheninBlancs of the '70's. They were legendary wines and aged amazingly well. Is there anybody making CB in Calif these days in that style that you know of??

   Did you ever have that Chalone CB '07 that Darrell was selling...supposedly the last crop off those old CB vines up there on the Estate?? Different in style than those old ones...but still mighty deelish.

   Such a shame that the wines these days that appear under the Chalone label are only a shadow of thos ones of yore.



by CHARLIE Olken
Posted on:9/11/2015 8:57:30 PM

Hello Tom--

I still have several of those old CBs in the cellar. Drank 75 and 87 recently at one of the final dinners at The Bay Wolf in Oakland. 75 was almost dead but the 87 had some life left. I wish there were more and better CB in these parts. I find it an ideal first white in restaurants. 

Chenin Blanc (California)
by Bob Henry
Posted on:10/14/2015 10:35:10 PM

As a starving college student in Silicon Valley, I was a frequent visitor to Mirassou's tasting room in east San Jose.

Their Chenin Blanc was my "every day" dormitory drinking wine.

Later upon graduation, I migrated to drinking Chalone's Chenin Blanc and Pinot Blanc -- introduced to me by a friend in the Robert Balzer wine appreciation course.

To Tom's question, I seek out California Chenin Blancs all the time at wine industry trade tastings.  Most come from Clarksburg.  Most are indifferently made, slightly sweet quaffers.

Foxen makes a nice "old vines" Chenin Blanc from the Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley.

And Chappelet makes an "old vines" Chenin Blanc from their property in Napa Valley.

But neither rises to the pedigree of those much-missed Chalones.

Sic transit gloria mundi (?)

Sparkling wine is such a capital- and time-intensive proposition.

Even Jess Jackson saw the writing on the wall and suspended his sparkling wine program at Cambria (circa 1990?).

The American public still associates fine sparkling wine with celebratory "special occasions."  Not something to drink any week of the year.

And I see nothing ove the horizon that will change that consumer buying mindset, 

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