“French toast, it’s really good with French toast…with like some fresh berries on it…”
Marcus Rafanelli winemaker L’Ecole No. 41
Well with that kind of recommendation how can you not?!
So we did. While I couldn’t find challah, I did find a big fluffy loaf and cut it thick and made a beautiful French toast with cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey. But we will get to that later.
We have been working with L’Ecole No. 41 this year. Monthly we gather with Constance, Marta, and Marcus on Zoom with some other writers and we talk about the wine for the month.
This wine was received as a media sample. No other compensation was received and all opinions remain our own.
This month’s wine is the 2020 Chenin Blanc Old Vines from the Yakima Valley
Yes, this is a little further off from their Walla Walla Winery than usual and there is a story behind it.
The history of Chenin Blanc in the US and Washington
First, you must know that in Washington in the late 70s and early 80s there was quite a bit of planting going on. People were trying out multiple varieties trying to see what would stick. In the 80s this grape was very popular as a high acid and high yield variety that could be blended, often into jug wines some of which were actually labeled “Chablis” (of all things LOL)! As palates changed many of these vines were ripped out.
Jean Ferguson of L’Ecole No. 41 loved Chenin Blanc, in particular the style from the Loire Valley in France known as Vouvray. In the 70s many thought the climate in Washington would be suited to Chenin, due to their similar latitudes (The Yakima Valley is 46.32° and Vouvray in the Loire Valley is 47.41°) and many vineyards in the Yakima Valley were planted to Chenin Blanc.
So in 1987 they sourced fruit and made their first Chenin Blanc at L’Ecole. This wine has become a standard at L’Ecole, sourced from old vines planted in 1979 in the Yakima Valley.
These old vines come from Upland Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA as well as Willard Farms and Phil Church Vineyard both of which sit high into the foothills of the mountains north of the Valley.
Here is a shot of the old vines from Willard Vineyard.
As vines age, their roots dig down into the subsoil and find water. At this age, they don’t stress easily. Older, wiser, they can take loads more than their younger siblings when it comes to weather or drought. You have considerably less vintage variation, these old vines are consistent. They are also putting out fruit with more balance and concentration.
The love affair with Chenin Blanc in this country and Washington has changed. Once a darling, it fell out of favor for Riesling and Chardonnay. I went to look for a list of Washington State White wines to see where Chenin Blanc ended up. Chardonnay is the most planted white wine grape with 7,403 followed by Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. Then you get to “Other Whites” with Pinot Gris (1,779 acres), Gewürztraminer (222 acres), Viognier(115 acres), and Semillon (95 acres). Chenin Blanc comes in under the next sub-category of “More:” so I am assuming there is not much. I found a 2017 report that had it listed at 67 acres.
So these are vineyards that are cooler due to altitude and it allows the grapes to ripen slowly and retain their acid. This is a late-ripening variety and it’s often mid to late October before they harvest the Chenin Blanc.
Jean Ferguson, is surely responsible for saving some of those Chenin Blanc vines from being pulled out. L’Ecole No. 41 currently has 14% of the market share for Chenin Blanc in the State of Washington. Thanks, Jean!
2020 Chenin Blanc Old Vines Yakima Valley
The 2020 Vintage was ripening during the fire season. While there were no fires in the Yakima Valley, they did see smoke. Luckily the Gulf Stream pulled the smoke out over the Pacific before pushing it back over this part of Washington.
What does that mean? Well, smoke taint comes from early smoke. Once it has been in the atmosphere for a while and blown around over the ocean, you still have air that is not the healthiest for humans, but no longer holds those volatile compounds that will mess up the grapes.
The haze from the smoke meant less sunlight which extended the growing season and the hang time. So when it was clear and safe for the vineyard workers to get back out there, the grapes were ripe and happy and ready to be picked.
This wine did partial malolactic fermentation to round out this high acid wine, giving it just a bit of roundness in the mouthfeel.
The wine has notes of nectarine, honeysuckle, citrus zest, yellow apple, elderflower, and chalk. On the palate, it adds some tropical notes like kiwi (which informed one of our toppings for our French Toast).
They made 3,200 cases of this wine, it sits at 13% abv and it sells for an amazing $17 per bottle!
On to the pairings!
So as we mentioned, we took Marcus’ mention of French toast as a challenge! But we wanted to do something savory also. Riffing on the breakfast for dinner theme we ran with shrimp and grits.
French toast with honey thymed ricotta and fresh fruit
So our French toast was topped with ricotta mixed with honey and fresh thyme then raspberries, kiwi, white peach, and nectarine then a wee sprinkle of powdered sugar.
So you might wonder about this sweet dish with this wine. Constance did when Marcus mentioned this in our chat. But we did not over-sweeten the dish and the eggs, bread and fresh fruit were lovely with this wine. (Thanks Marcus!)
Shrimp cooked in bacon fat with cheesy grits
On to the Shrimp and grits. Our grits were adorned with butter and cheddar. I know, seafood and cheese? Yep, in this case, it really works. We first fried up some bacon, then cooked the shrimp in the bacon fat and finished it with chopped parsley, green onions, garlic, and lemon juice. That bacon gets crumbled and sprinkled on top.
The dish is just gorgeous to look at and it is delicious. With the wine, the shrimp are sweeter. Not a wow moment pairing, but comfortable and delicious.
You can find this Chenin Blanc on their site, or…if you are ready to travel, you can head to Walla Walla (the city so nice, they named it twice) and visit the beautiful L’Ecole No. 41 tasting room in the old schoolhouse just outside of Walla Walla.
Check before stopping by on their hours and requirements for reservations as these things are changing as we open back up.
More on the Wines of L’Ecole No. 41 and on wines from the Yakima Valley
Breakfast? Dinner? Who cares, it's delicious. The grits get a good dose of butter and cheddar cheese and the shrimp cook in bacon fat to really amp up the flavors. We do add a little green with some green onions and parsley.
- 1 cup yellow grits
- 4 cups of water
- 3 tbs butter (unsalted)
- 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
- 6 slices of bacon
- ½ lb peeled, deveined shrimp
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 3 green onions chopped
- 1 clove of garlic minced
- ½ lemon juiced
- First things first, start the grits.
- Get 4 cups of water boiling in a medium pot.
- Add salt and pepper then add the grits.
- Give this a good stir so it doesn’t clump.
- Cook 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally with a kitchen mitt (this will blurp and burn you if you are not careful!)
- While that is cooking
- Crisp up the bacon in a skillet
- Pull this out to drain on a paper towel
- Add the shrimp and cook in the bacon fat until it is pink.
- Add the parsley, green onions, and garlic, cook for about a minute.
- Pull off the heat and squeeze in the lemon juice and stir.
- The grits should be ready, add the butter and cheese and stir it to its happy gooeyness!
- Put this in a bowl, top with the shrimp mixture, and sprinkle with the chopped bacon.
Amount Per Serving Calories 335Total Fat 23gSaturated Fat 12gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 9gCholesterol 144mgSodium 952mgCarbohydrates 9gFiber 1gSugar 1gProtein 22g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Breakfast, brunch, or even dinner. French toast is simple, delicious, and filling. Top it with a honey thymed ricotta and loads of fresh fruit!
- ½ cup ricotta
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 tsp honey
- ½ cup fresh raspberries
- 1 kiwi sliced
- ½ nectarine
- ½ white peach
- ½ lemon
- ½ loaf fresh French loaf (use challah if you can find it) about 8 thick slices
- 4 eggs
- ¼ cup milk
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tbs butter
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tbs powdered sugar
- Mix the ricotta, honey, and thyme leaves stripped from the stem. Set aside.
- Slice the kiwi, peach, and nectarine mix with the raspberries, squeeze the lemon on top and cover with a wet paper towel. Set aside.
- Mix the eggs, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey and whisk until blended.
- Start the butter and oil on a griddle pan on medium-high heat.
- Dunk the bread and brown on the griddle on both sides.
- Pop it in the oven to keep warm until ready to serve.
- Top with the ricotta and then the fruit mixture and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Amount Per Serving Calories 215Total Fat 12gSaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 6gCholesterol 204mgSodium 134mgCarbohydrates 17gFiber 3gSugar 11gProtein 11g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Sources & Resources
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.