Thursday, June 3, 2021

L’Ecole 2020 Old Vines Chenin Blanc, Yakima Valley

A head-turning food wine from Washington State.

Old, Old Story

L’Ecole winemaker Marcus Rafanelli calls them old soldiers. These are Chenin Blanc vines more than 40 years old, struggling in the poor soil of Washington’s Yakima Valley. The grapes are among the last picked and what they may lack in yield, they more than make up for in a rich and opulent taste.

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We’re fans of old vine grapes. As the vines age, the number of grapes produced shrinks -- but that means that each grape gets highly concentrated flavors. Some theorize that the vine roots continue to extend deeper into the soil and add an additional boost of mineral content to the plant.

We can believe it after sampling the 2020 L’Ecole Old Vines Chenin Blanc from Yakima Valley. It’s a complex bottle that is intriguing and satisfying.

Vouvray-Style Chenin Blanc

The grapes come from the Willard Farms, Upland, and Phil Church vineyards, each planted in 1979. It was a long growing season, but harvest was not without challenges. Harvest just began when smoke from the California and Oregon wildfires first blew west into the Pacific and then swept eastward into the Columbia River Basin. Thankfully the maturity of the fruit, the timing of the exposure, and the nature of the weak, older smoke resulted in a negligible impact.

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When Jean and Baker Ferguson founded L’Ecole in 1983 (the third winery in Walla Walla Valley), their goal was to produce handcrafted, ultra-premium wines. In particular, Jean wanted to produce a Vouvray-style Chenin Blanc.

Vouvray was our first introduction to Chenin Blanc. In fact, when we lived in Ohio, we would visit one particular restaurant because we knew they served our favorite Vouvray, which was a perfect pairing with many of the dishes. The style is refreshing and it's a standout food wine.

Complexity To Spare

To say the L’Ecole 2020 Old Vines Chenin Blanc is complex is an understatement. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and kept sur lie. It underwent partial malolactic fermentation to round out the acidity and soften the mouthfeel.

On the nose, there is a blast of lemon zest and white flowers. The pale gold wine has crisp acidity tempered by the malolactic fermentation. It opens slowly and then engulfs the mouth with an unexpected depth and fullness of body. As you enjoy the texture of the wine, flavors of apricot and kiwi advance accompanied by a nice minerality.

This definitely is a flavor profile that will rattle someone expecting a sedate white wine. It’s a wine that beckons you to take another sip as you ponder the different flavors and wonder about food pairings.

Speaking of food, this pairs with lighter meats, such as turkey and pork, and is a great pick for vegetarian meals. At $17 this is an outstanding buy. Production was 3,200 cases.

Full disclosure: This bottle was received as a marketing sample.

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