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/

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