2010 Paul Conti Tuart Vineyards Chenin Blanc

It is said that confession is good for the soul, so it is time for me to fess up as it were. Chenin Blanc was my first adventure, perhaps even love, into the grape unknown! Apologies for that cliche but first impressions are always memorable and while the Chardonnay bandwagon was ploughing its way across our big brown land, the undervalued and underrated Chenin Blanc was punching above its weight, well at least for me. Those made by Brown Brothers, Coriole from McLaren Vale and Margaret River's Amberley Estate are three outstanding examples that spring easily to mind.

Part of the Paul Conti Premium Range of wines, the 2010 Tuart Vineyards Chenin Blanc is produced from fruit grown at Carabooda, north of Perth along what is known as the Swan Coastal Region. What characterises wines from this area of Western Australia are the mild maritime climate from the nearby Indian Ocean, the fertile sandy top soils that sit over limestone base soils and the Tuart tree, one of the rarest eucalypts remaining in the world. Paul Conti has produced this particular wine ftom grapes grown in Tuart soils, a direct result of this region's trees.

The Chenin Blanc grape is the mainstay of the Central Loire Valley in France and its best representations originate from the Vouvray, Savennieres, Anjou and Samur appellations. It is a grape whose wines range widely in style from the sparkling to the bone dry and off dry, from the medium sweet to the rich, concentrated botrytis examples. Some Australian winemakers even use barrel maturation to add complexity. All styles have the potential of age-worthiness, unusual for a white grape variety. Its versatility is such that the grape grows well in a variety of soil profiles and climates and appears to be resistant to many vineyard diseases.

In South Africa and in particular the Cape Coastal Region, Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted variety and known locally by the synonym Steen. It sounds more like the name of a beer than a wine but there are arguments that Steen is a true local variety, evolving over three hundred years of wine growing in that country, from the original imported Chenin Blanc grapes. How the grape arrived in Australia however, and particularly to its spiritual home in the west, is an interesting issue that can be answered partly by South Africa's proximity to Western Australia and by the importation of their vines to the west during the nineteenth century.

Pale yellow in colour with a slight green tinge in the glass. Off the bat there was a lingering cabbage stew stink on the nose that thankfully dissipated after some aeration. This wine then exhibited the trademark Chenin Blanc aromas of fresh red apples, citrus and pears. Crisp and soft, herbaceous fruit flavours ran the length of the palate to a long, refreshing finish.

I was blown away the first occasion I tasted this wine. The balance of fruit flavours, minerality and acid was spectacular. Perhaps it was the way it complemented the Thai food that accompanied it or the restaurant, I don't know. That profile was still there but I wasn't as impressed this time around. Second impressions can be different. Nevertheless, I will confess my affection for this grape remains!

Source: Retail Purchase. Rating: 88 Points. Website: http://www.paulcontiwines.com.au/

2007 Narkoojee Sparkling Cabernet Merlot

The Cuvee Robert Fordham is named as a tribute to the inaugural Chairman at Narkoojee Wines and is a sparkling blend comprising 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot.

The boutique Narkoojee Winery is situated at Glengary in the Western Gippsland sub-region of the larger Gippsland Wine Zone. Enormous geographically yet relatively small as a wine producing area, the Gippsland Zone defies any classification but its vastness does encapsulate three quite separate and distinct sub-regions in terms of terroir: east, south and west.

The climate in the Western sub-region is generally cool and dry influenced by the snowfields of the Great Diving Range to its north and west. Warmer autumns encourage longer ripening periods. The production of rich Chardonnays, softer and lighter Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Merlot blends and the emergence of sparkling wines are the hallmarks of this largest of the Gippsland wine sub-regions.

Let's face it, sparkling reds have been a unique Australian style of wine for donkey's years, an important staple in our wining and dining lifestyle. Mainly produced in the past from the shiraz grape, there is nothing better to tingle the taste buds and enliven the senses than a chilled bottle! As an accompaniment to the Christmas turkey in our own unique weather at that festive time of year, it is an ideal choice.

Narkoojee, meaning "place of flowers" in the local indigenous Kurnai language has produced sparkling reds for a decade and according to winemaker Harry Friend, is dependent upon the varieties available at the time of vintage.

Fermented in the bottle according to the traditional Champagne method, this sparkling comes across deep purply red in colour. The bouquet has a lively freshness of lifted black fruits and hints of Christmas plum pudding that entice immediate consumption. On the palate lovely Merlot dark fruits once again predominate with that little bit of cinnamon spice to add interest, which is all held together within a balanced, zesty structure. Medium bodied compared to some other sparkling reds from warmer climates. A mouthfilling and refreshing finish to this elegant sparkling blend of mainstream grapes. 

Source: Winery Purchase. Rating: 90+ Points. 
Website: http://www.narkoojee.com/narkoojee/

2007 McPherson Basilisk Marsanne Viognier

The Basilisk label is the name McPherson Family Wines has given to their premium range produced from grapes grown at the company's Goulburn Valley vineyards in Central Victoria. The mythical basilisk creature with the crested head of a rooster and tail of a serpent has been used as an inspiration to the classical Rhone blend of Marsanne and Viognier by virtue of the thinking that two different components make a complete whole.

The elegant aromatics and mineral structure of the wine's eighty percent Marsanne is enhanced, maybe slightly overpowered by the twenty percent Viognier's fragrance and muskiness, but it's a moot point here. This wine has won a slew of awards at regional and 
capital city wine shows and it is easy to see why.

Bright yellow in the glass, marmalade and fresh blossom on the nose are intriguing and enticing. An attractive palate combines apricot, pear, green peach and hints of nut. The lively texture is underpinned by a lemon acidity that will help the wine develop interest with age. Good balance, length and alcohol level. No oak was used in the production of this wine! A classic cool climate wine that will suit a diversity of cuisine types.

Source: Retail Purchase. Rating: 89 Points. Website: http://www.mcphersonwines.com.au/

2010 Terra Felix La Vie En Rose

The Rose Revolution juggenaut rolls on with this predominantly mourvedre-based variety from the central Victorian Upper Goulburn Wine Region. Summer is a great time of year to imbibe in the diversity of roses available, seemingly produced now from every conceivable red grape variety and blends thereof. It is the perfect drink for Australia's outdoor lifestyle and warm climate.

I thought I'd focus on the 2010 La Vie En Rose because of its Mourvedre component, which makes up about two thirds of the wine with the remainder, Shiraz and Grenache. Our use of the varietal has been in the popular Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre (GSM) blends from the Barrosa Valley and McLaren Vale regions, so this rose is an interesting take on this blend. It is slightly more complex and vibrant in colour than its predecessor the 2009 vintage, made from one hundred percent Mourvedre grapes and one of only a few such expressions of Mourvedre rose in Australia at present.

Mourvedre is an ancient red grape variety that researchers believe was introduced to Catalonia in modern day Spain by Phoenician maritime traders around 500 BC. It later became known as Monastrell throughout Spain or Mataro after the city in the Catalan commune of Barcelona. Its migration to France during the 1500's took the variety to the Rhone Valley and Bandol on the Mediterranean coast in Provence where it found sanctuary during the late nineteenth century phylloxera epidemic. The Great French Wine Blight as it was known, devastated French as well as other European vineyards and drove Mourvedre almost to the point of extinction. It actually took until after World War II for sufficient vinestock to be developed and adapted to combat the parasitic louse. Mourvedre plays the primary component in the renown Bandol AOC roses and other red wines today.

Terra Felix sources its grapes from selected cool climate vineyards throughout the Central Victorian Region, an area that has granite and alluvial soils and continental climate similar to the Northern Rhone District. Their choice of grapes reflects an Australian take on the classic Northern Rhone varieties and is a homage of sorts to the terroir in this part of the Lucky Country.

A striking dark pink colour in the glass, the strawberry, cherry, rose petal and herbal aromatics give you the impression that a candied, fruity concoction lays in wait. Far from it. Dry, medium bodied and well balanced. Underlying Mourvedre savoury, earthy notes enhance the palate's crunchy red apple freshness and crisp acidity. A serious rose.

Relax and drink this rose chilled while listening to amongst other of her classics, the original La Vie En Rose sung by the La Petite Mome herself, Edith Piaf. Tawdry, newer versions such as Grace Jones' will never cut the mustard and will just have you reaching for the vodka bottle! 

Source: Retail Purchase. Rating: 88 Points. Website: http://www.terrafelix.com.au/