The tomato reigns as Sacramento's signature food item, but how about a wine that sums up the area? That's a tricky proposition, given that the greater Sacramento region hosts more than 200 wineries producing everything from such consumer favorites as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon to Rhone varietals including syrah and grenache.
Some local food and wine professionals are making a case for chenin blanc as the wine that best expresses Sacramento. It's now the custom bottled house wine for OneSpeed restaurant, and a recent tasting organized by Green Restaurants Alliance Sacramento served to further the case for chenin blanc.
"It should be Sacramento's white wine," said David Baker of GRAS and a wine steward at Selland's Market Cafe. "It's a charming wine that speaks of a sense of place those Delta breezes and river soils. We'd like every restaurant to support chenin blanc if it fits into their program."
Chenin blanc is a hallmark of France's Loire Valley, which produces a white wine that ranges from dry expression to sweet late-harvest versions. Chenin blanc also has a longtime home in Clarksburg, and was planted by the Bogle family in 1968 with petite sirah as its first wine grape vineyards.
Chenin blanc grapes are still planted throughout the Clarksburg appellation, which has the kind of sandy soils that work well for farming this grape. Dry Creek Vineyard of Sonoma bottles a chenin blanc sourced from Clarksburg grapes, while such local wineries as Dancing Coyote, Clarksburg Wine Co. and Rendez-Vous also specialize in chenin blanc.
But production of chenin blanc is dwindling, just a drop in an ocean of locally grown chardonnay. Much of Bogle's original chenin blanc vineyards were ripped out following a phylloxera outbreak in the mid-1980s. The bulk of those vines were replanted with other varietals, to the point that of the 1.2 million cases of wine that Bogle produces annually, only 1,200 of those are chenin blanc. Bogle's crisp and fruity chenin blanc costs just $9, but it can only be purchased directly at its winery.
GRAS' chenin blanc tasting brought Bogle and eight other wineries together at midtown's Revolution Wines to showcase their chenin blancs. Most of the wines showed plenty of accessibility both in taste and price. The bulk of them cost under $20, with the recently defunct Ehrhardt Estates Winery of Courtland unloading its 2006 chenin blanc for just $8.
Like that 6-year-old wine from Ehrhardt, chenin blanc tends to age better than many white wines given its signature acidity. Darrell Corti, the renowned food expert and grocer who attended the tasting, even keeps a Bogle chenin blanc from the early 1990s in his cellar. Some late-harvest versions of chenin blanc from France are best enjoyed after decades of maturity.
The young Clarksburg chenin blancs overall showed well, from fruity, pineapple-driven expressions to a Vouvray-style bottling from Clarksburg Wine Co. with honey overtones. One of the favored bottles from the tasting was OneSpeed restaurant's house white, a Clarksburg chenin blanc crafted by Revolution Wines' head winemaker Craig Haarmeyer. This wine, made in an especially dry and refreshing style, is also being sold at Corti Brothers.
"We liked the chenin blanc on a few different levels," said Rick Mahan, OneSpeed's owner. "It's delicious, and it's right in our backyard, as is the winemaker. It's kind of a bonus that it's from Clarksburg. It's delicious and crisp and something that we could pour for a fair price."
Scott hopes other local restaurateurs and wine lovers around Sacramento will support the chenin blanc cause.
"It's perfect if you want a summer white for sipping by the pool, or as an aperitif," said Scott. "We think this is just the tip of the iceberg."
Editor's note: This story was changed Sept. 19 to correct the spelling of David Baker's name.