Fratelli Wines Chenin Blanc 2013

It’s not great.

With that out of the way, we can tackle the more interesting question of: why bother? India’s not renowned for its acceptance of wine, with beer and whisky tending to thrive at its expense. Yet the state of Maharashtra, centre of India’s wine industry and this writer’s present location, has a long history of growing table grapes. So why the hell not?

If nothing else, it’s interesting to see the beginnings of an industry. Local wines are enthusiastically promoted on many restaurant wine lists, and it seems a few players (Sula, Fratelli, Grover, Turning Point) dominate on premise. The varietal mix is decidedly unfocused. Whites range from Chenin Blanc to Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and (inevitably) Chardonnay. Reds include all the usual suspects — Cabernet, Shiraz, Merlot — but I’ve also spotted some Sangiovese. I’ve also tasted a surprisingly palatable sparkling wine. No indigenous varieties yet spotted, alas.

The wines have ranged from cleanly commercial to downright faulty (a particular red wine I had the other night seemed a veritable catalogue of technical faults, and not in an interesting way). So far, the whites have been more successful, and this wine in particular shows some decent varietal character, if also a ragged structure and level of flavour dilution that fights against full satisfaction.

Paired with some local food, it went surprisingly well – the food’s pungent flavours didn’t entirely overwhelm the wine’s delicacy. One can’t help but think a relatively good food and wine match in this context must be more accidental than by design, though. Certainly, the prominent collaborations between Indian producers and those from (in this case) Italy and France (Michel Rolland’s name is stamped all over Grover’s wines) suggests an imported aesthetic rather than anything truly local and organic.

I hope to try a wider range over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Fratelli Wines
Price: ₹500/glass
Closure: Cork
Source: Wine list

Marc Brédif Vouvray 1985

There are many ways one might frame a definition of “good friends.” For now, though, my working formula is:

People who save an evening from your bottles of disappointing white Burgundy and corked biodynamic Pinot Noir with a superb aged Vouvray and a few luscious, late-night glasses of Penfolds Grandfather Port.

Indeed, dinner yesterday was bookended by beautiful wines offered by my companions, the first of which I shall discuss in a moment.

To digress briefly, wine can be the most frustrating of things, and it sometimes feels as though those frustrations come in multiples. I rocked up to dinner with a couple of bottles that promised much pleasure: a 2010 Alain Chavy Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles — not previously tasted, but for which I had high hopes considering Chavy’s powerful ’10 Puligny-Montrachet Folatières and St Aubin En Remilly bottlings — and the ’09 Hochkirch Maximus, enjoyed several times previously.

The Chavy was only okay; surprisingly for a 2010 Burgundy, it’s quite blowsy through the mid-palate, its evident complexity of flavour undermined by indistinct articulation and a general sense of blurriness. The Hochkirch would have been delicious, I’m sure, were it not for a massive dose of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (thanks, cork). And that was pretty much that.

Perhaps the disappointment wouldn’t have been so great had the first wine, this old Brédif, been less enjoyable. There’s something about old white wines in particular that I find fascinating and, in a way, more remarkable than old reds, because they are so unlikely. Chenin Blanc gives great acid, sure, but there’s an obviousness to many red wines, structurally, that makes ageability a foregone conclusion. By contrast, when a white wine grows old with grace, I can’t help but marvel a little at how it’s happened.

This is, surely, at its peak. There are subtle signs of oxidation now — a hint of flor sherry, some aldehydic nuttiness — that overlay core notes of baked apple pie and spice, creating a wonderfully complex flavour profile that moves between these primary and tertiary notes without skipping a beat. Indeed, this kept changing over the hour or so we tasted, with some luscious dried fruit notes creeping in towards the end. It’s in the mouth, though, where this truly comes alive. An off-dry style, this still has the acid structure to create brisk movement down the line and counterbalance a lovely swell of residual sugar through the after palate. Flavours range from savoury to sweet, giving some angularity to the wine but never robbing it of its comfort. Texturally, there are several dimensions, a slippery, waxy mouthfeel giving way to raspier textures through the finish. And what a finish; exceptionally long by any measure.

A truly delicious wine.

Marc Brédif
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc 2012

Dowie Doole is, somewhat daringly, a Chenin Blanc specialist when it comes to white wines. This isn’t entirely without precedent in the McLaren Vale, but remains unusual by any measure. This label, the standard Chenin, has evolved over the past few vintages to the point where it far outstrips its price tag in quality terms. Each year seems to bring greater nuance, more complexity, tighter stylistic focus; the current release continues this line.

It can be hard to know what to expect from Chenin, so divergent are the styles that can be crafted from this fickle, homesick grape. Dowie Doole takes its inspiration from Loire models, emphasising the varietal’s tension between apple fruit and nervy, mineral acid. Hence, although the nose promises some lusciousness of character, there’s an underlying savouriness, quite prickly and vivacious, that, for me, is the true feature of this wine. The aroma profile moves between apple flesh, the barest hint of tropical fruit, and the smell of rain on hot rocks. Unsettling and beautiful.

The palate delivers what the aroma suggests; a deceptively fruit-forward entry gives way to a much more complex, sweet-savoury middle palate, supported by deliciously vibrant acidity. I’d love to think Sauvignon Blanc is a gateway drug to this sort of wine, something equally refreshing but with an altogether more unusual flavour profile. The after palate sings with savouriness and apple skins, before a clean, fresh finish enlivens the mouth.

I can’t quite believe this is only $16 retail. It would be value at twice the price and strikes me as the best Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc (excluding the fascinating Tintookie wines) I’ve yet tasted.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A16
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc 2011

Given it is one of the few producers in Australia serious about Chenin Blanc, Dowie Doole’s Chenins always get me extra excited when they arrive in the mail. Straight into the fridge for this and a tasting at the first opportunity.

Riesling is often championed as the most transparent of grapes, clearly showing variations in site and vintage. I’d argue that Chenin shares a good amount of this transparency, and certainly Dowie Doole’s regular label shows interesting variation year-on-year. Having said that, this shares a degree of stylistic DNA with its immediate predecessor, particularly with regard to a sense of tautness and a thread of minerality that runs through the whole.

The nose is cool and steely at first, a nice edge of flint leading to suggestions of fuller, almost tropical fruit. There’s a wild streak of overgrown weeds in the aroma profile, somewhat heady though not nearly as obvious as the grassiness one sometimes sees in Sauvignon Blanc, for example. The palate hasn’t quite come together yet, but it’s on its way. True to the varietal, acid is present in abundant quantities, lending a sandpaper texture as well as a sherbet edge to the lemon and stonefruit characters. There’s good impact and reasonable intensity, the wine’s weight counterbalancing its edgy structure.

I think a few months in bottle will help the individual elements to settle a bit, though for lovers of a more extreme style, the wine in its present state may be preferable. Either way, the flavours are extremely unusual in the Australian context, and I’m quite blown away by how daring this label has become for a mainstream $16 white. A curio for sure, but so much more too. This is one of the better alternative summer whites on the market.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A16
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Field Recordings Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2008

Look, I know I really shouldn’t be saying this, but I’m sure we can all admit that we’re innately predisposed to like certain wines and not others – and that before having ever even tasted them. The name alone of this wine makes me smile: as an old school music nerd, I’ve got plenty of CDs around that are, well, field recordings: right now, I’m listening to Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Dartmouth Street Underpass just, you know, because.

The packaging of the wine is beautiful: beautiful typography, very fresh and clean, and the overall vibe is that of a winemaker who is content to get out of the way and let the wine be itself: fine by me. Heck, even the wine itself appears cloudy, unfiltered: if your idea of vinuous beauty is liquid that looks more like an agricultural product than lemon crush, then you’re in excellent territory here.

Speaking of territory, it’s always delightful to see lieux-dit on the label: there seems to be a growing trend of bottling wines with labels that emphasize where they’re from and not “what they are” (in a varietal sense), and I think that’s pretty awesome as well. The overall effect is undeniably kinda awesome; I would expect to see this on Terroir’s wine list before the year’s up… but of course only if the wine itself measures up.

Does it? Thankfully yes. Beautifully textured, displaying golden yellow clouds in the manner of fresh cider, the wine smells of chalky gravel, fresh lemon zest, and neroli. It also smells very wine-like in a way few New World wines tend to: it’s got a real edge of steely austerity to it as well, smelling less like primary fruit and more like a Serious Adult Beverage.

Texturally the wine tends towards medium weight, with not much haptic impact. Stylistically it reminds me more of oaked South African chenin blanc than it does of anything French – there’s something in the texture that’s reminiscent of lees – but there’s no obvious oak here at all, so my guess is that it saw bâtonnage but no new oak.

The experience of a drink of this is exceptional at this price point. It begins with a calm, almost barley water-like note, backed by forceful acidity, before fattening out in the midpalate to be almost Meursault-like, with suggestions of hazelnut and cream, before slinking away into a soft, gentle, lengthy finish with an almost-bitter edge to it. It’s a beautiful thing, lovely to drink, and I’ve replayed it a dozen times just now, marveling at the experience.

Best of all, I distinctly get the feeling that the winemaker’s input here was indeed minimal: there’s no obvious chicanery going on here, just good wine made from good grapes grown in a good place. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an American chenin blanc this good before; here’s hoping he’s able to not only make more in the future, but that it finds the audience (and market) it so richly deserves.

Field Recordings
Price: $15
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Champalou Vouvray Sec Tendre 2008

I had a glass of this with a friend and some friendly pork rillettes. Not sure of the match, but the wine was very enjoyable, if initially served way too cold.

The nose is quiet at first, evolving to show ripe apple flesh and a sharp, detailed minerality that elevates and organises the whole aroma profile. There’s also a sense of sea breezes here, a light brine influence that I find tantalising and quite visual.

Nothing on the subtle nose flags the dramatic intensity of the palate, though. Instant impact on entry, this wine doesn’t hold its apple and lemon fruit flavours back at all. There is plenty going on if you value complexity; for such a young and relatively affordable wine, I’m impressed by the array of citrus rind flavours, moving between floral and fleshy then back again. There’s also an architecture of minerals here, contesting and ultimately overpowering the fruit, though the effect isn’t nearly as brutal as my words might suggest. Acidity is quite sensational, zipping things along and remaining a firm influence right along the line. The impression is crystalline, precise and driven; flavour, sure, but this wine’s strength is more figurative. Loved it.

Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc 2010

Whether it’s the youth of this wine, vintage conditions or a stylistic choice on the part of its maker, the 2010 Chenin from Dowie Doole is a significantly more taut, edgy experience than previous vintages (for example, the 2009). And, as delicious as the softer, fruit salad Chenin style can be, this is something else entirely, closer to the reserve Tintookie wine than to its predecessors. 

The nose shows aromas of delicate apple skins, minerals and a fairy floss note that I’m sure I’m describing poorly; fairy floss is the first thing that comes to mind, though, and it’s something I’ve noticed in a lot of Loire Chenins. It’s fresh and expressive, but not at all slutty; any seduction happening here is of the high class sort. 
In the mouth, a burst of minerality that races through to the middle palate, where Granny Smith apples mix with a hint of roasted almonds. This is so structured and alive — the acidity is abundant and natural-tasting — it takes a moment for actual flavours to register, but they are there, fresh and clean, and quite intense. Decent thrust through the after palate leads to a slight dip just before an unexpectedly long, truly impressive finish.
When opening the bottle, I expected a fresh, easy Summer quaffer. This release really is a step up, though, showing real sophistication of structure and restraint of flavour. This delivers a lot for the dollars, and I would not be surprised if it improves over the medium term. 

Dowie Doole
Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dowie Doole Tintookie Chenin Blanc 2008

I believe this is due for release in late 2010, so I feel lucky to get a sneak preview of one of the few adventurously styled Chenin Blancs in Australia. The 2006 was impressive, even though its vibe seemed in some respects unresolved. Hence, I’m keen to understand how Dowie Doole, with its second Tintookie release, has evolved its idea of Australian Chenin style.

This has been made broadly in the same manner as its predecessor; picked early, barrel fermented, left on lees, etc. Yet the balance is subtly different. The nose is quiet and seems more Loire-like than the 2006: intense minerality and an ephemeral fruit character that seems a cross between stewed apple and something much pricklier. I’m not getting an overt oak influence in the aroma profile, which isn’t to say it’s not there. Indeed, there are wisps of vanilla and spice that combine well with the other aromas and seem subservient to them. Overall, the nose is far from exuberant; rather, it poses little questions and scatters clues in equal measure. Very curious and quite compelling.
The palate is a lot more assertive. My key criticism of the previous release was its forthright, slightly simple fruit presence on the middle palate, which seemed at odds with the sophisticated architecture around it. Pleasingly, this aspect of the 2008 seems better balanced. The entry is immediate and flavoursome, with tight, controlled citrus and apple flavours riding a lovely wave of fine acidity. The shapeliness of the attack is reflected in a mid-palate of excellent definition, where fruit and tantalising minerality are joined by oak and lees derived flavours. Even though it’s very young, the flavours seem well integrated; especially slick is the way the minerality seems to turn subliminally into spicy oak then back again, neither dominating the other. Texture is another highlight; the acidity is fine and even, and there’s a deliciously chalky mouthfeel through the back half of the palate. Excellent drive and continuity of line through the after palate, through to a finish that is impressively long. 
Lots of superlatives here; I’m probably biased, as this is my kind of wine. It’s exceptionally dry, no doubt too severe for some tastes, and would seem well prepared for bottle age. A clear step up from the first release, then, suggestive of both smart handling and a firm view on how Chenin ought to taste. Can’t wait to see what’s next.
Update: a couple of nights in the fridge and this wine is showing a lot more worked complexity, in line with receding acidity. It retains the grainy, lees derived flavour and palate texture on the back palate in particular, but the whole is softer, funkier and more expressive. A really interesting wine. 

Dowie Doole
Price: $NA
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Simply Sunshine White 2009

From my perspective, this is a curio: an inexpensive white wine made for the German market. I was sent samples by the apparently indefatigable Leigh Gilligan, whose various ventures enjoy strong distribution, and seem to resonate strongly, in Germany. The interest for me, apart from the wine itself, is the marketing approach, which draws explicitly on Australia’s reputation for “sunshine in a bottle” wine styles. While this approach is now hotly contested in the local industry, there’s no doubt Australian wine is known in export markets largely for this type of wine, so if nothing else I’m eager to taste wines with a claim to representing the style and, hence, a certain face of the industry.

The interest in terms of what’s in the bottle relates to a particular concept of wine at this price point, something Chris recently touched on. He described a certain kind of wine as “fermented grape juice beverage product;” drinks that are technically wine but stylistically about as far as you can get from the generally accepted definition. Of course, I’m applying a massive, snobby value judgement to this description, even though I have no desire or ability to argue with the enjoyment many gain from imbibing [yellow tail]. Then again, what I do have is a desire for authenticity at all price points, and I believe well-priced wine does not need to taste like an industrial, wine-flavoured beverage.
I’m vindicated in this belief by this wine, at least. It’s not a secret Grange by any means, but it looks, smells and taste like real wine. It’s easygoing, with bubblegum florals, a bit of sharp citrus and sweeter, rounder fruit that oddly reminds me of Lipton’s peach iced tea.  There are no varieties listed on the bottle, and from the aroma profile I thought there was some Rhone action in there, but no, it’s mostly Chardonnay with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. The palate is soft and cuddly. More peach tea, a hint of crisper florals and, well, not a lot else. So complexity isn’t a high point, nor is it the aim I should imagine. Rather, this wine delivers generosity, a round mouthfeel of satisfying viscosity and perhaps just a hint of residual sugar to help it go down. It’s a bit low in acid, which translates to a somewhat clumsy progression through the mouth, if not outright flab. But it’s hard to argue with the tasty flavour profile here. 
Great barbeque wine. Nicely done.

Simply Sunshine
Price: €5.45
Closure: Stelvin

Pascal Janvier Jasnières 2008

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way this wine smells. Fruity and exuberant, all soft spring blossoms and chalky minerality, this smells like the first sunny day of springtime feels. And how does it taste? It’s a revelation, a reminder that yes, something approximating pure joy can in fact be found with little effort on your part. I find it difficult to describe this wine; it’s, well, ineffable. It’s full, rich, fruity, not sweet, and there’s a wonderful twist towards the finish: suddenly, the texture changes to elegant silk, shell middens under overcast skies, seagrass waving in the breeze, suggesting childhood seaside vacations and an absolute lack of care.I only wish I had some oysters.Pascal Janvier
Price: $16
Closure: Cork