Dowie Doole Tintookie Chenin Blanc 2006

Considered in conventional terms, a more serious wine than its sibling, though to my mind this is an entirely different conversation from whether it’s better or worse. Indeed, I’m on the record as preferring many “second label” wines to their reserve partners, as what constitues a “reserve” wine for some producers strikes me as most unimaginative. Throwing oak, extract and a general exaggeratedness of scale at something does not automatically make a better or more worthy wine. Dowie Doole’s Tintookie poses the question of reserve wines rather differently. For a start, it’s made from Chenin Blanc, so the template for its elevated status isn’t so obvious as some. Indeed, what does a reserve Chenin Blanc look like in the Australian context?

According to Dowie Doole, it has a whole lot more winemaking for starters, and a price tag to match (though still rather reasonable when placed in context — this is a single vineyard wine made from seriously old vines). Interestingly, my initial reaction on smelling this wine was that it shares some characteristics with aged Hunter Semillon; specifically, a cheesy note along with a bit of toasty development. First impressions are where such similarities end, though. There’s marked minerality on the nose, along with high toned citrus and a general sense of control. I’m not sure that it smells terribly similar to its Loire models, but that’s a good thing in my book. This is its own wine.
The palate shows quite full, intense fruit flavours that nonetheless sit within a tight, textural, minerally context. Good impact on entry with immediate flavour and mouth-watering (natural) acidity. Bursting forth from this framework is juicy, slightly simple citrus fruit on the middle palate, almost painfully intense, and for me a little at odds with the restraint and complexity shown elsewhere. A lovely dry, textural after palate leads to a long, flinty and quite beautiful finish.
This is a really fascinating wine, though I’m not sure it coheres as a style from top to bottom. I am wishing for a more extreme expression of the fruit, less luscious and more ethereal, which I suspect would complement the character of the acid and the textural inputs. Perhaps some further bottle age is what I’m really looking for. A really worthwhile wine and one I’m glad exists.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A30
Closure: Diam

Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc 2009

There aren’t too many wineries in Australia who have made a speciality of Chenin Blanc. In the case of Dowie Doole, one can legitimately say it is a producer who is at the vanguard of Chenin in Australia, with two quite different wines in its range. The Tintookie (to be tasted soon) is a subjected to a variety of winemaking tricks, whereas this wine is a more straightforward expression of the grape. Both wines are made from old vines (70+ years) in the McLaren Vale region.

Being more accustomed to reserved Loire styles, I was taken by surprise when I sniffed the exuberantly expressive aroma of this wine. Very clean notes of cut apple, a hint of passionfruit and a general fruitiness that reminds me of Sauvignon Blanc or Verdehlo, but without smelling like either. There’s also a bit of minerality — just a bit — that adds some complexity and sophistication. Mostly, though, this has a fresh, pleasing aroma profile reminiscent of Summer picnics.
The palate is a big burst of fruit flavour, entirely appropriate and in line with the character of the nose. I could proceed to analyse it, and point out how unexpected is the racy minerality, how pleasingly textural are the phenolics on the after palate, how long is the wine’s thrust through the finish, but I suspect I’d be missing the point. Indeed, this is a wine to throw back by the dozen, a highly drinkable dry white whose aim is to quench thirst and lubricate lazy weekends. When looked at in this light, it is very well judged for immediate gratification, cleverly balancing soft fruit flavours and fresh acid structure. 
This label throws its hat squarely into a ring dominated by schools of Sauvignon Blanc and gaggles of Pinot Gris. At the price, and with this quality, it makes a strong argument for the battler Chenin Blanc.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A16
Closure: Stelvin

Domaine Côteau de la Biche Vouvray Sec 2005

I spied this while at lunch today and couldn’t resist buying a bottle.

On the nose, apple and pear plus a collection of somewhat prickly notes that remind me a little of pies baking in a slightly-too-hot oven. It’s very distinctive and quite forward, expressiveness growing as I sit with it through the evening. On entry, the most notable element is a thick, round mouthfeel that is quite unexpected after a relatively tight nose. Hence, the wine has good impact and presence. Labelled “sec,” there’s no overt sweetness, although fruit flavours are quite forward and soft in the context of the style. Apples and pears and, dare I suggest, grapes are the primarily flavours, overlaid with that distinctive marshmallow and toffee halo that one sees in some Loire Chenins. I wish it had a bit more incisiveness and bite, as well as a notch more intensity. A little tame through the after palate, the wine is of average length, seeming to taper off too quickly relative to its punch on the middle palate.

An easygoing Vouvray that provides a good hit of Loire goodness for not too much money. For my dollars, though, there are probably others that represent better value.

Domaine Côteau de la Biche
Price: $A31
Closure: Cork

Marc Brédif Vouvray 2006

In an effort to distract myself from market woes, corporate reorganisations and general predictions of gloom and doom, I have this evening turned to my most reliable companions, cheese and wine. To be specific, a goat’s cheese omelet and Loire Chenin Blanc. I’ve been drinking older Chenins lately so it’s nice to consume a fresher example.

Pale hue, watery almost, excellent clarity. The nose is pungently fruity, showing a combination of pineapple and fig-like fruit, along with a good streak of savoury minerality. The latter, savoury aspect shows a hint of sulfur, ending up smelling as much of gunpowder as anything else. Enough with the obscure descriptors, though; there’s balance, richness, some complexity. I’ve been smelling this wine for a good two hours and am still enjoying each sniff. It’s a lot more forward than the 2005 version and, in a perverse way, I miss the evasiveness of the earlier vintage.

In the mouth, the richness of the aroma translates to some residual sweetness and relatively straightforward fruit character. Fine acidity and a certain fullness of body are most striking on entry. Minerality soon emerges along with rich fig/pear fruit. Good balance between sweetness, savoury notes and acidity. The wine comes alive from the mid palate onwards, with a characteristic Loire-like mix of floral delicacy and richer, baked pie flavours. Very long finish.

Overall, this wine seems less structured and textural than the 2005, and hence more approachable and generous in its youth. I don’t have enough experience to know how this particular vintage will age, but suggest its softer acidity encourages immediate consumption. Excellent value.

Marc Brédif
Price: $A25.65
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: October 2008

Château Pierre-Bise Chaume 1er Cru des Coteaux du Layon 2003

Curiously, I believe this appellation no longer “exists,” having been redefined out of existence by the INAO. Of course on anything but a technical level that is a ridiculousness; wines from this area now go by the “Chaume” label, pure and simple. At least, I think so…

This is a sweet wine made from the Chenin Blanc grape. Yes, I’m still tasting Loire Chenins. I’m kind of addicted to them at this stage, and happily so, as there’s nothing remotely like them from a local perspective. This one shows a rich golden hue, suggesting some development or at least a degree of lusciousness. The nose is forthright and inviting, with notes of pineapple, passionfruit and enough edgy flint to keep things from becoming too easy. Some complexity, with honeyed notes contributing to the overall profile.

On the palate, an explosive continuation of tropical fruit is most noticeable, but the mouthfeel and associated structure is what gets me. There’s a nice interplay between fine acidity and considerable viscosity that helps the wine to appear both fresh and rich at the same time. The flavour profile turns to citrussy sourness on the after palate, before a long, herb-tinged finish.

Nice wine. Unlike some dry Chenin-based wines, this one tends towards opulence rather than intellectuality, without sacrificing character and a measure of complexity too.

Château Pierre-Bise
Price: $NA (500mL)
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: September 2008

Domaine des Baumard Savennières 1995

Onwards with the aged Loire Chenin tastings. This wine should make an interesting companion piece to the 1995 Domaine aux Moines sampled a few days ago.

On the basis of the present wine, I’d say the Domaine aux Moines was excessively oxidised (though still interesting to taste). By contrast, here we have an altogether fresher aroma profile. A truly inviting mix of beeswax and cooked apple, with mineral complexity woven throughout. There’s abundant detail on the nose and the elements are well integrated. Quite singular and fabulous to boot.

The entry is fresh with tingly acid that creates a cool, almost jazzy impression. Body crescendos and delivers flavour on the mid-palate that is round without being heavy. More cooked apple, pineapple and slate intersects a mouthfeel that, contradictorily, balances lively acid with luxurious viscosity. It’s as much a tactile wine as anything else. A wonderfully sophisticated savouriness swells through the after palate and soars up to the back of the mouth. I’m not sure what descriptor is best (it strikes me as slightly sulfurous but that’s an approximation more than an accurate description); it’s distinctive and is a foil to the more obviously fruit-driven aspects of the flavour profile. Long, lingering, delicate finish.

This wine is a pleasure. I’d say good bottles could go a while longer, too.

Domaine des Baumard
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: September 2008

Domaine aux Moines Savennières-Roche aux Moines 1995

A mature, deep golden colour.

On the nose, a powerful, almost off-putting, aroma of overripe fruit. Initially, oxidised characters were dominant, but the longer it sits in glass, the fresher it seems to get. The most flagrantly aged notes have receded to expose some youthfulness, although there’s no mistaking this as an older wine. Sharp tropical fruit, honey, a more savoury note (perhaps related to oxidation), but with a whole range of complexities too, floral and sherbet-like in character

In the mouth, excellent, resolved acid forms a great backbone. Although the acid is quite prominent, it is wholly in balance, and adds freshness to the flavour profile. Notes of sharp tinned pineapple vye with floral honeysuckle and a sort of waxy dimension. As with the nose, it’s complex beyond easy description. Impressive intensity of flavour, and satisfying length of palate. Mouthfeel is a highlight, being relatively full and waxy.

As with other aged wines, and aged whites in particular, this will be matter of taste. The other half took an immediate and unswayable dislike to it. I rather like it, though. It seems to be getting younger as the evening wears on. Whilst I’ve not quite come to terms with the more oxidative aspects of this wine’s flavour profile, there’s a lot to like in its complexity and structure. I’d be interested to taste another bottle and understand if this one is suffering from excessive oxidation.

Domaine aux Moines
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: September 2008

Peter Lehmann Chenin Blanc 2007

Barossa Chenin Blanc. I’m guessing it won’t bump Pinot Gris from fashionably derivative restaurant wine lists any time soon. However, Chenin Blanc interests me as a variety because, as lovely as it can be in the Loire Valley, it seems to leave its personality at home when it travels. And yet, the loveliness of a nice Vouvray keeps me hoping for greater things in our local wines. At under $10, at least this wine makes it inexpensive to test the waters.

Served cold, this wine smells of prickly lemon, green apple, a hint of honey and a slightly waxy note that adds some softness to the aroma profile. Closer to room temperature, the aroma stays remarkably static, gaining in richness but not losing its fundamentally bright, aromatic character. There’s nothing especially wrong with the way this wine smells, but it’s also a bit bland, the way an IKEA bookshelf is bland. You know it will do the job, but you can’t really love it.
The palate seems more strongly influenced by temperature. Initially, this wine displays a tight, almost overwhelmingly lemon-like palate, bright and refreshing in its sharpness and acidity. Mouthfeel is nicely textured, with a blanket of well-judged acidity providing a nice sense of freshness, if not a terribly sophisticated structure. At first, I thought I detected a hint of oxidative flavours, but this seemed to fade through the evening. As it warms, the wine shows notes of honey and round, slightly sweet fruit, all of which provides enjoyment on the mid-palate. Perhaps a hint of minerality too. There’s certainly a good deal of flavour. Acidity carries the wine cleanly through the after palate, where the flavour profile reverts to citrus-driven astringency, clean and satisfactorily long.
A fuller, yet still refreshing Summer white to serve with lunch. I’m not seeing the depth and complexity of a top Chenin Blanc, but on its own terms I think this wine succeeds well, and manages to present a degree of character one might not expect at this price point. It is interesting to note the label encourages bottle age. Excellent value.
Price: $A9.40
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: August 2008

Kiona Chenin Blanc 2006

This wine shows a simple nose of something like Libby’s fruit cocktail, which strikes me as fairly clumsy. There’s also a smell there that doesn’t seem right – is it sulfur? dirt? something more sinister? Finally, there’s also a noticeable amount of CO2 in the glass – not enough to be really spritzy, but enough to form bubbles in the bowl.With a bit more time, the bad smell blew off, and the fruit resolved itself into something more like low quality airline soap. Yeah, soapy – and almost like unripe avocado. It’s not particularly appealing but at least it’s original.In the mouth, the CO2 is much more noticeable, and the overall effect is of a heavy, simply fruity wine that dies on the palate. There’s no perceptible acidity to back up the heavy fruit, and for all of the dunderheaded fruit, the overall mouthfeel is thin and unappetizing. It’s just not pretty. I’d suggest you lace it with fresh strawberries and serve it with a Sunday brunch buffet at the nearest Waffle House.Kiona

Price: US $6.99
Closure: Plastic cork
Date tasted: December 2007

—For the record, I do believe that Washington has fantastic potential for great Chenin Blanc – the L’Ecole No. 41 can be incredibly good. This one, however, misses the mark.

Marc Brédif Vouvray 2005

On the nose, soft, powdery, floral notes along with orange blossom honey and crisp white peaches. There’s almost a hint of pineapple there as well, and a suggestion of peat smoke, almost like Scotch. Finally, there’s something else going on here just behind the scene – almost bread-y, like fresh baked brioche.In the mouth, the wine is soft and rich, mouth-filling, but it’s on the finish where the big surprises are: a very much savory note of fresh apple pie along with a calming, supporting streak of acidity. The flavor hangs around for quite a long time after you swallow; it’s kind of like biscuits with whipped honey butter, with a hint of peach. There’s also a curiously bass note there, which is what I suppose one calls minerality: it’s like a subtle underpinning of all of the higher positioned flavors and returns again and again unexpectedly, drifting in and out of focus.This is a wine of great subtlety and grace; I imagine it would pair well with venison stew, somehow.Marc BrédifPrice: US $12.99Closure: CorkDate tasted: December 2007—Julian is absolutely correct when he describes the attack of this wine as largely textural; the slippery, fat, acidic, oily, ever-changing feel of the wine is one of its great pleasures. Funny thing, though – I can’t remember the last time I read a tasting note that really paid attention to the way a wine feels!