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Here lies this grand old Australian classic


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In May I wrote about a ravishing and quirky Chenin blanc from Château Pierre-Bise Savennières Roches aux Moines, on the Loire in Atlantic France.

It prompted me to make what is a ritual call to Dowie Doole to check the progress of their Tintookie Chenins, grown in the vineyard of that name in a Blewett Springs gully just over the ridge from here.

I can’t think of a better Australian example of this variety than any of the three vintages they have in stock, if not all on easy sale. The 2006 is reserved at cellar-door for certified fanatics; the 2008 is in good stock and on sale; the 2012 is wisely being held for a late spring release.

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Lulu Lunn and Drew Dowie in their Tintookie Vineyard Chenin blanc vines at Blewett Springs.

In exceptional years, vignerons Lulu Lunn and Drew Dowie put some of their best old-vine Chenin aside for wild ferment, old oak and plenty of yeast lees stirring before 18 months in bottle and release.

The rest goes into the standard Dowie-Doole Chenin, made for early release and bargain slurping.

It’s hard to think of any grape with more staunch natural acidity than Chenin: all these Tintookie wines will last until long after their deaths. By which I mean that long after their fruits stir much beyond a burnished syrup, the acid will still be bright and alive.

These wines have not had the mellowing caress of botrytis, as most Loire Chenins do, whether they’re fermented sweet or dry. So they’re freaky beasts, built like over-loved greyhounds with a fair stretch of snake genetics.

In this confusing world of everything that ends in o and winemakers scrambling to discover the new Coke yo-yo variety just before it goes up, here lies this grand old Australian classic right under our noses.

Grown and made with unusual gastronomic intelligence.

Dowie Doole Tintookie McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc 2006
$35 (very limited cellar door); 11.5% alcohol; Diam compound cork; 93+ points

Honey. Blackwood blossom honey. Pears going soft in the old timber grange. Soft autumnal smells. Then the acrid aromas of the edge emerges as the wine warms: Hessian; burlap. Cinder toffee. Matches and cordite.

Drink. The texture’s the first knockout. Viscous and oily, but with a very tidy and stern blade of natural acidity slicing the whole squishy fruit open.

The flavours are back among those autumnal fruits, with Ditters dried apples and pears soaking in rainwater for a tart. I can smell somebody whipping the cream. I’ll lick the bowl! I wanna lick the bowl!

But even after three days open, the wine still has the capacity to pull the lips tight with its bright acid and fine phenolic tannins while inside in the gooey sector the mouth just lurves that syrupy fruit.

As a drink, those autumnal tones remind me much of some mellow Roussanne with freakishly staunch natural acidity. It’s a dead frank arthouse movie short as much as a drink. If you can score some, watch it with some … cheese, which Lulu will find for you at Smelly Cheese, where she works in the Central Market.

Dowie Doole Tintookie McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc 2008
$30; 11.5% alcohol; Diam compound cork; 94+++ points

All the above, but wound up two notches. This big baby has a deeper, more meaty, earthy pungency on one hand, and that acrid cordite making an even more prickly edge on the other. It smells of hearty fatty acids with a dash of blacksmith, like the hearth of The Boar’s Head.

To push the extremes of this wine’s form, here, the palate’s more creamy, along the lines of lemon butter or lemon sabayon. And yet it has little syrup, but even more austere acid, and the dry tannin of juniper. This really does give meaning to the word ‘pucker’.

So it’s a very twisty quicksilver teen indeed. Swinging between exhaustion and ecstacy. Don’t give it the car keys until 2025.

Right now? Roast pork belly at The Elbow Room.

Dowie Doole Tintookie McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc 2012
Not yet released; 12.5% alcohol; Diam compound cork; 94+++ points

Maybe it’s the extra notch of alcohol that magnifies the cream in this wine. I reckon it’s creamy earlier than the other two ever got. Which makes it more accommodating as a junior. It’ s a touch gingery, too, like fresh-sliced root. And there’s peppery watercress, like the stuff Col Light’s doctor left in Delamere Creek.

Texturally, this wine’s a bit more slimy than syrupy, like a good Quealy Pinot gris. It’s snaky. Ravishing. Shivery in its acidic direction and purpose. A very rare chrome snake.

And the acid here is indeed chrome-plated. My favourite colour, chrome. This wine has more chrome plating than a ’59 Caddy. It’ll take many years to get some patina. Expected to be released in the late spring.

This is a great and mighty wine.

NOTE: I just took a call from Dowie Doole which confirmed that shareholders Leigh Gilligan and Drew Dowie have sold their slice of the business to a staff consortium led by their winemaker Chris Thomas. Drew and Lulu’s Chenin blanc will remain an important part of the portfolio; Norm Doole stays in; business as usual; peace in the valley.

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