Until I started the "Around $10 Project" this isn't even a wine I would have looked at.
Actually...that's kind of a lie. I used to look at it and scratch my head. As far as I knew, this was the same Pine Ridge Vineyards that has a beautiful, scenic, and exclusive looking winery and tasting room on the Napa Valley's hoity-toity Silverado Trail. Like many of its neighbors, Pine Ridge has a secluded, "members only" vibe (and I don't mean the 80s jackets, although if the staff wore those I would change my mind).
My impression and knowledge of the place was that it was another high-rent Napa Cab shop with solid wine that I should try someday.
This doesn't fit at all with an $11 Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend that's available pretty much everywhere. I assumed it must be a different brand and there was a lawsuit pending (as is sometimes the case with winery names, BTW). So I dug in a bit.
Usually a lower-end offering from a winery means a large conglomerate is behind them -- people looking for the cash cow to finance the small production wines, which cost more to make and don't sell as quickly. Turns out it's not a wine conglomerate but a HUGE company called Leucadia, which mostly deals in metals. Go figure. They also deal in bottom lines, so that explains this sales engine.
Regardless, the group that manages the "mini-Berkshire Hathaway" wine holdings has some very nice, boutique properties who make good wine so who can complain?
Pine Ridge gets Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg, near Sacramento. Due to cooler fog and breezes from the San Francisco Bay, Clarksburg isn't as hot as neighboring areas, so the Chenin actually has some flavor and acidity. Viognier can take the heat, so it still retains its floral aromatics even in a hotter climate like Lodi, a bit further east and south. They make strange bedfellows -- a native of the Loire Valley and another from the Northern Rhône but it's like peanut butter and jelly: it seems so wrong but it's so right.
In the early 90s, Pine Ridge created this weird blend. It's been on tons of best value lists and the critics praise it every year. So, I gave it a try...
The Wine: 2011 Pine Ridge Vineyards Chenin Blanc + Viognier
Grapes/Where:79% Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg, 21%Viognier from Lodi, California
Alcohol: 12% (surprisingly low for a wine from warmer areas, they picked earlier to retain acidity and keep the grapes from baking)
Color: Spritzy/small bubbles, rich, dark straw color. Dark for a white, but both grapes tend to make wines slightly richer in color, so no surprise there.
Smell: For the price, this had a lot going on. Peach, lemon, and pineapple lifesaver were strong. There were notes of hay/straw and candle wax from the Chenin Blanc. Also vanilla bean, lemon custard, soy, and salt water/mineral smells. No oak on this wine so the vanilla was probably from an interaction of the honey flavors of Chenin Blanc and the floral aromatics of the Viognier.
Food Pairing: Soft cheeses, cream sauces on chicken or fish, and any other warm, creamy food would be delicious with this (fettucine alfredo anyone?).
Drink or sink?: Drink. love that it's not one note, it's very complex. This is not just a summer sipper, with its low alcohol and interesting flavors it's a food wine.
Have you tried this wine? What did you think?