Back in the dark ages of American wine consumption only the most enlightened seafood restaurants offered much beyond undistinguished, sweetish California chenin blanc and middling chardonnay. That early experience put us off domestic chenin blanc for a long time. Happily, we have been saved from ourselves by the 2009 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier (widely available for about $14), a felicitous blend from a winemaker who cares about these grapes.
This is a splendidly refreshing summer wine, as at home as an aperitif or poolside sipper as with a fine mess of chilled peel-and-eat shrimp. Chenin blanc dominates the blend at 80 percent, giving it its distinctive and lively flavor profile, while the viognier adds graceful floral notes, especially on the nose, and a bit of spice. Chenin blanc comes to the fore on the tongue, with luscious but crisp apricot, pineapple and melon, maybe a hint of tangerine, the whole informed by a nicely flinty mineral edge. This gorgeous wine finishes long and clean and cool.
The Pine Ridge Winery is a Napa Valley stalwart, its oldest vineyards dating to 1978. For this blend, the chenin blanc grapes are harvested early for peak acidity and the wine is bottled by January of each year. Whether early harvest and bottling are the defining secrets of this wine or just an interesting little side note matters not at all to the wine drinker, of course. What counts is its subtle beauty in the glass.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. For an index and archive of reviews, go to pictograph.com.