WHAT: Sometimes the wine makes the place and sometimes the place where you drink it makes the wine. And if you’re lucky you drink a great wine at a great place, and you don’t care which influenced the other.
That was the case when we had Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2014 at a dockside restaurant in Key West recently. It was the perfect combination of food, wine and atmosphere to create a special evening.
This is one of those go-to wines I recommend to people who aren’t sure they like wine.
The unusual combination of Chenin Blanc and Viognier is light, fruity, crisp and just a little sweet, but not enough that you would call it a sweet wine. It’s great sipping by itself or with just about any food you could think of.
In the glass it is a pleasant pale yellow, with enticing aromas of citrus, peach and melon. The first sips deliver bright grapefruit and pear flavors, followed by lemon with hints of apple and key lime pie. The wine has a crisp mouthfeel and a pleasant, lingering aftertaste.
The Chenin Blanc from the Clarksburg appellation in the Sacramento River Delta was picked at a low sugar level to give the wine bright fruit character and low alcohol (12.5 percent). The Viognier from Lodi was picked at a higher sugar level to capture the floral and spicy nature of the grape.
After crushing and blending the wine was inoculated with two yeast strains and then cold fermented. The wine was bottled without seeing any oak, keeping it bright and refreshing.
While both grapes trace their heritage to France, you would never find this combination in Europe. Pine Ridge crafted this blend in the early 1990s as an experiment. The winery is known for making powerful, expensive reds as well as some high-end Chardonnay.
But when they put this wine on the market it turned out to be one of their most popular. They sell out every year, even though they produce a lot of it. The mix is generally about 80 percent Chenin Blanc and 20 percent Viognier. The Chenin Blanc contributes crisp, lush fruit flavors with the floral aromas and stone fruit notes of Viognier.
I’m a big fan of Chenin Blanc, and I think the addition of Viognier makes it even more approachable. This is a wine both novices and longtime wine drinkers can enjoy. It is popular on restaurant wine lists because while it is inexpensive, it tastes like it costs much more. We paid about $30 in the restaurant, which is a little higher markup than I like, but still within reasonable range.
Wine & Spirits annual restaurant poll in 2014 named it one of the most popular wines in American restaurants. It is widely available in restaurants and retail stores.
WINERY: Founded in 1978, Pine Ridge is known for quality Napa Valley wines. The original vineyard on a steeply terraced hillside in the Stags Leap District is home to the gorgeous tasting room and cellars along the Silverado Trail.
Founder Gary Andrus believed Napa could produce wines equal to the famous wines of Bordeaux, and he planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The grapes thrived and the wines became legendary.
The winery produces several Bordeaux blends, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Rosé. The winery now owns 200 acres spread across five prestigious Napa Valley appellations: Stags Leap, Oakville, Rutherford, Carneros and Howell Mountain.
The tasting room is popular and often crowded. A tour of the Pine Ridge caves, which extend for nearly a mile under the hillside, is even more interesting and enjoyable. The view outside the tasting room is spectacular, including a view of the pine-dotted ridge line for which the winery is named.
The winery has studied its vineyards extensively, refining the selection of varietals for specific vineyards, and selecting rootstocks that match each particular soil. Pine Ridge is committed to improving the quality of the grapes through the careful use of sustainable farming.
GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, and I had this wine with a nice seafood dinner at a waterfront restaurant in Key West last week. It was like eating outdoors because the large window walls were rolled up into the ceiling.
We loved sipping the wine before dinner, watching the colorful parade of tourists and locals walking along the docks beside our table. The light, refreshing taste was perfect after a busy day of visiting the Ernest Hemingway house, the butterfly and nature conservancy and the Harry S. Truman Little White House.
When our Florida lobster dinners arrived the wine was even better, mixing nicely with the rich tastes of lobster, butter and lemon. We could almost imagine ourselves on the huge yachts parked next to our table.
With its balanced acidity, this versatile wine pairs well with a number of dishes, from light salads to seafood to foods with a hint of spiciness.