Downing Dry Chenin Blanc 

A few crisp and refreshing quaffers

Chenin blanc is one of the most versatile white wine grapes, responsible for everything from crisp and refreshing quaffers, to rich and long-lived sweet wines. It also forms the backbone of a variety of sparklers. Originating in France's Loire Valley in the ninth century, it has spread across the globe. Much of what is grown goes into mostly forgettable bulk wines, but at its best, it offers solid quality at a great price. Here are the panel's top picks:

2009 Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc, $9.99

For as long as I can remember, this winery has championed chenin blanc, sticking with the variety since its first vintage in 1972. With its lightly floral, honeyed-melon nose backed by a characteristic bit of black walnut, it remains a California classic. The soft fruit flavors and light acidity make for an easy-drinking value of a wine, perfect for summer sipping.

2010 Man Chenin Blanc, $8.99

South Africa has a special affinity for this grape, and Man's has always been a standout. Also known by the name Steen, it is that country's most widely planted variety. There's a nice richness to the nose in this wine, offering a mix of ripe peach and lemon pound cake. Impeccably well-balanced on the palate, crisp peach and lime mingle with spice and fresh garden greens. This one is a consistent bargain.

2010 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier, $14.99

Chenin blanc makes up 79 percent of this California entry--the viognier adds a definite depth to the blend. It's filled with ripe apple and tropical fruit aromas, and there's a certain zest to the fruit flavors that are marked by gooseberry, pineapple and lime. Until the end of the month, you should be able to find this wine for around 10 bucks but then the price goes up to $14.99 in July.

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