2021 Leo Steen, Chenin Blanc, Saini Farms Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
These Leo Steen Chenins, by winemaker Leo Hansen, are some of the most pleasing California whites I’ve had this year, with this Dry Creek Valley version joining Hansen’s awesome Jurassic Vineyard Chenin in having a beautiful texture, oyster shell chalkiness and bright fruits, and as I mentioned in prior reviews, rivaling classic Loire versions of this grape. Leo Hansen, the Danish born ex Copenhagen sommelier, has crafted a stunning set of wines, with his latest releases, with this one being one of his signature offerings, it delivers fresh, crisply dry and vibrant detail and has a classic presentation of white peach, pear, lemon and firm green apple fruits, along with a crystalline purity, mineral tones, delicate white blossoms, tangy herbs, muskmelon fresh, almond and unsweetened honey. Not as vinous or complex as the Jurassic, this wine, ultra pale greenish gold in the glass, is clearly its own wine, with textural quality coming through with air and is very distinctive in its own way, slightly dusty, saline rich and more electric on the brilliantly judged lighter framed palate, making it a lovely Summer sipper and sublime with shell fish and sea foods. The Saini Farms vineyard in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley AVA has some of the oldest Chenin Blanc vines in the region with 41 year-old vines planted on, as Leo Hansen notes, Yolo sandy loam soils which was an ancient river bed, these dry-farmed vines see warm days and cool nights, making for ripe and balanced fruit. I am becoming a huge fan of these wonderfully crafted wines from Hansen, the Dane ex-pat, especially these Chenin Blanc offerings, but for sure his other single varietal and single vineyard wines are just as good and thrilling with his Cabernet Franc and Grenache reds also being stand outs in his collection of small lot goodies, all of which I highly recommend.
As I’ve reported, 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, Casa Nuestra in Napa Valley, Jaimee Motely, Raj Parr, Chappellet, Chalone, Ian Brand, who just released his old Durney (Massa Estate) old vine version as well as these Leo Steen bottlings. Hansen is very focused on this grape, historically connected to Vouvray, Saumur and Montlouis, as well as being in South Africa, does a full range of dry versions. Leo also does 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 Hansen 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, Leo Steen Wines, which allowed him to make wines more to his personal tastes, leaning on his old world palate. To achieve his goals, he 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 Hansen saying for this wine, the grapes, gently crushed, underwent 2 to 3 hours of skin contact prior to pressing. The wine was then fermented in stainless steel using indigenous yeast for approximately one month until complete dryness before the Saini Chenin was racked mainly to neutral French oak, with about 10% going to concrete egg. This wine, which came in at 13% natural alcohol, was lees aged for about 6 months and then bottled quickly to preserve its vibrancy, which was just apart perfect to capture the best qualities of this grape and place.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive