2020 Leo Steen, Chenin Blanc “The Steen” Jurassic Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley.
The Leo Steen Jurassic Chenin is one of the best and pleasing whites I’ve had this year, it is a stunner with a beautiful texture, oyster shell chalkiness and bright fruits, rivaling classic Loire versions of this grape. Steen, the Danish born ex Copenhagen sommelier, has crafted a stunning set of wines, with this one being his signature offering, and I was thrilled to taste through them with him at a small trade tasting, where he was pouring his latest set of stylish releases. The palate here with his Jurassic Chenin is marvelously layered and shows loads of purity and concentration with lemon/lime, white peach, melon and apple fruits, subtle aromatics, a delicate earthiness, wet stones, clove spice, leesy notes and sweet and sour herbs. The Jurassic Vineyard, planted in 1982, is a legendary Chenin site, it joins Chalone and Casa Nuestra as my favorite vineyards for Chenin Blanc in California and with its own-rooted vines set on sandy, fossil rich marine sediment and limestone soils, makes for an excellent home for this varietal, as proven here in Leo’s outstanding effort. It is noteworthy to add that the sustainably farmed Jurassic Vineyard has tiny berries and clusters that shine though in the finished wine with a real intensity of flavors, which is obvious here in this 2020 wine, of which only 166 cases were made, I highly recommend searching this one out, as well as exploring Steen’s other bottlings, including his Redwood Valley Casa Verde red field blend, the Santa Cruz Mountains Cab Franc and his gripping 100% whole cluster Grenache.
Chenin Blanc’s renaissance is in good hands these days with many fine examples been made from in California, including Justin Willett’s Lieu-Dit, Tegan Passalacqua’s Sandlands, the mentioned Casa Nuestra in Napa Valley, as well as Leo Steen, who is very focused on the grape and does a full range of dry versions, along with a sweet one and even a fortified Chenin made in the Angelica (California’s first commercial wine made originally from the Mission grape) style with a slightly oxidized element, which Leo says has a Sherry like quality. Leo, who has a well rounded background, having done stints in Alsace, Loire, Champagne and Burgundy to Spain and Italy moved to California in 1999 to, as he notes, immerse himself in winemaking, finally landing at Alexander Valley’s Stuhlmuller Vineyards, where he became the winemaker. At that time, in 2004, Leo also started his own label, which allowed him to make wines more to his personal tastes, leaning on his old world palate. Steen, to achieve his goals, uses a variety of fermentation methods and a combination of aging vessels in his wines to showcase each vineyard and terroir with transparency in his wines, with this one seeing a unique set of techniques with this Jurassic Chenin seeing some skin contact, 30% with a short skin maceration, with the rest getting fully a whole cluster pressing, with a native yeast fermentation and aged mainly in concrete eggs mostly for 11 months, then aged another 5 months in large neutral French oak cask before bottling. This Jurassic Chenin, by Leo Steen, is drinking fantastic right now and should evolve nicely for another 3 to 5 years, it is exceptional stuff. You can find Steen’s wines on his website and whole sale in California through The Source, who want to thank for introduction to these wines and Leo himself.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive