The Chenin Blanc wine grape, also known as Pineau de la Loire, originated in the Loire Valley of France. This white grape is high in acidity. The grape is used in sparkling wine such as Crémant de Loire. Besides the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc wine is a popular variety widely planted in South Africa’s Western Cape in the Paarl district, Cape Winelands District, and the Swartland region. The grape grows in the United States, both California and Washington state. In the latter, it is planted in the Yakima and Columbia Valley.
L’Ecole Chenin Blanc Wine
L’Ecole No. 41 is one winery of a few wineries producing Chenin Blanc wine in Washington state. Production of this variety dates back to around 1987. Initially, L’Ecole called the wine Walla Viola. They changed the name, called it Chenin Blanc Old Vine Yakima Valley, and created the wine in the Vouvray style. The grapes are considered very reliable each year. Chenin Blanc is the first white wine to be picked each year. Because the vines are older, the crop is smaller. The vines are gnarly and beautiful. This wine sees no oak.
Winemaker Marcus Rafanelli finds working with the Chenin Blanc one of the most challenging grapes. The 2020 vintage was the first time he created a Chenin Blanc, but in this case, since his specialty is aromatic whites, it was less of a challenge than he anticipated.
For this article, I am going to compare the 2019 Chenin Blanc wine to the 2020 vintage. The big difference between these vintages occurred because L’Ecole changed winemakers.
2019 Chenin Blanc Old Vines Yakima Valley
The vineyards for this vintage are Willard Farms, Yakima Valley, planted in 1979, Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mountain, Yakima Valley, planted in 1979, Rothrock Vineyard, Yakima Valley, planted in 1978; and the Phil Church Vineyard, Yakima Valley, also planted in 1979.
The 2019 vintage exhibited flavors of stone fruit accented by citrus, mostly lemon. The wine is vibrant, fresh, and bright with a vibrant finish. I found 2019 had more acidity, minerality, and more spice. Its color was paler. The wine paired nicely with scallops.
2020 Chenin Blanc Old Vines Yakima Valley
The vineyards for this vintage are Willard Farms, Yakima Valley, planted in 1979, Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mountain, Yakima Valley, planted in 1979, Phil Church Vineyard, Yakima Valley, planted in 1979.
Marcus found the acidity more bracing in 2020. The grapes went through a partial malolactic fermentation to round out the acidity and soften the mouthfeel, and added weight to the wine. The fermentation compensated for the bracing acidity and allowed the stone fruit and white florals to come through.
The wine displayed a darker color and came across as more balanced and integrated. I found a fruitier wine with aromatics of citrus, stone fruit, and white flowers. On the palate, juicier fresh fruit flavors prevailed.
Comparing the Vintages
The 2019 vintage compared to 2020 made one pucker up instead of the excellent integration of the 2020. Tasting with wine next to each other, the acidity of 2019 seemed racier and more in your face, while the 2020 provided a softer demeanor allowing the fruity character to speak for itself.
Although both the 2019 and the 2020 were from years of moderately cool climate, the mouthfeel and structure appear very different in each Chenin Blanc wine. I preferred the fruitier 2020 versus, the more acidic version for 2019.
Although different, both are excellent versions of Chenin Blanc wine, reasonably priced, and exhibit aging potential.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.