Aussie Chenin Blanc
When I was there in the Australian spring of 2000, I was focused entirely on the red wines, from its fine Shirazes and excellent "Lloyd" and "Mary Kathleen" reserves to its intriguing reds made from Italian varieties like Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.
By making that choice, though, I deprived myself of one of Coriole's most interesting bottlings: Coriole is also known for its Chenin Blanc, a white variety best known in the Loire Valley of France, and - outside McLaren Vale - rarely planted Down Under.
Happily, I finally got caught up the other day, spotting Coriole's 2003 Chenin Blanc - nowadays bottled under a sturdy Stelvin-brand metal screw cap - at a local shop. Naturally I snapped it up, and I'm glad I did. It's one of the better expressions of this fine grape I've found, rich but structured, showing a good balance between New World fruit and Loire-style minerality in a well balanced table wine that's delicious now but seems to have what it takes for long-term aging.
Chenin Blanc has been planted in McLaren Vale for a century or more, by the way, but it was long misidentified as the Spanish Sherry grape Albillo. Coriole's Chenin vines have been growing since 1977, 10 years after the winery was founded.
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Coriole 2003 McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc ($14)
This is a clear and very pale straw-color wine with a distinct greenish-brassy hue. Its aroma is focused on ripe, juicy lemons, with an appealing touch of musky melon in the background. There's tart lemon and mixed white fruit in a full flavor that seems bone-dry; any residual sweetness is more than cloaked by firm, structural acidity. There's intriguing contrast in a flavor that's rich and full yet steely and dry, a seeming contradiction that plays out in excellent balance, with subtle minerality joining bright, lemony acidity in a long finish. Looking for Loire analogies, it reminds me more of a Saumur or a Quincy - or maybe even a Savennieres - than a Vouvray, but something about the bold overall package stamps it as Australian. U.S. importer: Robert Whale Selections Ltd., Washington, D.C. (Dec. 16, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Very well suited indeed with a Northeastern Italian chicken-and-pasta dish from Marcella Hazan's new cookbook, Marcella says, "Blasut's chicken-thigh pasta sauce with herbs, tomatoes and white wine."
VALUE: A well-balanced and even ageworthy white wine of real quality and value, this is well worth the mid-teens price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Deliciously fresh for immediate consumption, and the Stelvin screwcap will keep it that way. Given Chenin Blanc's unusual capacity for improvement with cellar time, I wouldn't hesitate to keep it for 10 years or more under good storage conditions. Note also that the 2004 vintage is now coming into the export market, and it should be extremely fresh.
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Friday, Dec. 17, 2004