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Monthly Archives: July 2011
Helm Canberra District Half Dry Riesling 2011 $25 Bang! Hear the firing gun? It’s the opening of unwooded white season, as our winemakers launch the first of their 2011 vintages. In Canberra the main game is crisp, mainly dry rieslings — with some exceptions, like Ken Helm’s mouth-watering semi-dry style. The cool season delivered high natural acidity, a great virtue for this style. As the best of the German off-dry styles demonstrate, there’s magic in the combination of intense fruit flavour, delicacy, low alcohol and a strong line of acid offsetting the sweetness. Australian rieslings generally can’t emulate the delicacy of the German wines, but Helm’s ticks all the other boxes in 2011.
Jacob’s Creek Reserve Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2009 $10.90–$17.99 Here’s to Jacob’s Creek for moving to regional naming on its Reserve range – matching varieties to region. But why not go the whole hog and supply rich technical detail to reviewers, as most other winemakers do? Alas, the labels might have changed, but the fast moving consumer goods marketing mentality still prevails in the company’s dumbed-down press material. That quibble aside, the wines are remarkably good – even the pinot, a difficult variety to produce well at this price. It looks, smells and tastes like pinot and avoids the sometimes confection-like character found in some cheaper version. It’s made to drink now.
Jacob’s Creek Reserve Barossa Shiraz 2008 $10.90–$17.99 It’s so good after almost forty years of the Jacob’s Creek brand to see the Barossa name on one of the cheaper wines in the range – not just as an address for the brand, but as the single origin of the wine in the bottle. And it’s a bloody good Barossa shiraz – deeply coloured but not opaque, still youthfully crimson at the rim, ripe, but not over-ripe, and full flavoured but not heavy. There’s a nice core of plump, vibrant, juicy, cherry-like fruit, but it’s mingled with soft tannins and even a touch of oak – the real thing at a fair price. Watch for the discounts.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 31 July 2011 in The Canberra Times
Wynns Coonawarra Estate winemaker Sarah Pidgeon flashed through Canberra recently, judging at the Winewise Small Vignerons Awards, but taking time out to show-off her new releases – some of the best drinking and most cellarable reds in the country.
Pidgeon works alongside chief winemaker, Sue Hodder. And together, since 2001, they’ve collaborated closely with Coonawarra vineyard manager Allen Jenkins, polishing the wines of Coonawarra’s best-known and biggest brand to a dazzling sheen.
They started with a makeover of the vineyards, then in time for the 2008 vintage, commissioned a new small-batch winery. The latter finally allowed separate harvesting and processing of small batches of grapes from the potentially thousands of sections of what is now Treasury Wine Estates’ 900-odd hectares in Coonawarra.
Those vast holding service Penfolds, Lindemans and Rosemount, as well as Wynns – so the benefits of segmenting the crop potentially flows through to those brands, too.
But for Treasury Wine Estates (formerly Foster’s), Wynns remains the main game in Coonawarra, with its big volume white label shiraz and black label cabernet, icon wines, Michael shiraz and John Riddoch cabernet, and a growing range of specialty, sometimes one-off reds, showcasing various sections of the vineyard.
Harold Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 was the first of these one-off specialties. It’s followed this year by a 2009 cabernet sauvignon from the Davis vineyard and new releases of shiraz and a cabernet shiraz blend from vineyards sprinkled along V and A Lane – Coonawarra’s traditional north-south dividing line.
Wynns’ eight new-release reds come from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages – all good years in Coonawarra. It is, quite simply, a stunning line up, ranging from the charming, easy-drinking white label shiraz 2010 (with proven long-term cellaring ability) to the profound Michael Shiraz 2008 and John Riddoch 2008.
I review each of the wines below, based on a tasting with Sarah Pidgeon. The price range for any individual wine can be very wide. The lower prices are a combination of estimates, based on discounting of the previous vintages, or actual advertised prices of the new releases. The higher prices are Treasury Wine Estates’ recommended retail prices.
Given intense retail interest, especially in the white label shiraz and black label cabernet, we’re almost certain to see intermittent discount wars – so it pays to shop around. For example, the 2009 vintage of the shiraz recently specialled at $8.75 a bottle – an absurdly low price for a wine with proven capacity to cellar for decades.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2010 $8.75–$23 Sarah Pidgeon says, “I was pleased to be there for 2010, it was such a wonderful vintage”. She describes it as an “even” year, without the temperature spikes of 2008 and 2009, with warm temperatures at flowering and veraison (when the berries change colour and begin to soften) and more moderate temperatures during the ripening period.
The wine’s probably a touch better even than the very good 2008 and 2009 vintages. And it continues in the same bright, pure and fruity style – a result of the vineyard overhaul, harvesting times and tweaking in the cellar, especially in regard to oak maturation.
Pidgeon says only about 10 per cent of the barrels are new, with the remainder two to three years old, and roughly one fifth of the wine not oaked at all – to provide “freshness and purity”.
And that’s what the wine has – a heady, floral aroma and freshness and purity of Coonawarra red berry flavours with a delicious, deep, silky texture. It’s medium bodied, seductively fruity and easy to drink now. But it has the substance to age gracefully for many years.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate V and A Lane Shiraz 2009 $40–$50 This is a selection of more powerful shiraz from vineyards along the east-west running V and A Lane. Here we see the benefit of the new small-batch winery, says Pidgeon. It enabled progressive harvesting and fermentation of fruit and consequent maturation in a range of different types of oak barrels. This gave the winemakers greater blending options.
The wine’s dense, crimson-rimmed colour points to its power and ripeness – a deeper, denser more brooding wine than the white label shiraz. It still has vibrancy and freshness, but spicy oak flavours and tannins weave through the fruit. But despite its greater dimension, the wine retains signature Coonawarra elegance.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz 2008 $69.35–$90 Pidgeon says the winemaking and grape growing teams think long and hard about what goes into Michael. It has to be “the best, perfect and the pinnacle” she says. It’s based on a couple of key vineyards on the eastern side of the Riddoch Highway, near the winery and “others we keep our eye on”, she says.
It’s an extraordinary wine – somewhat less chunky than the ones made in the nineties, more refined, but still deep and powerful. It’s aromatic and based on deep, sweet, blueberry-like fruit flavours, mingled with beautiful, cedary oak – a wine of rare dimension needing time to evolve. While the tannins are strong, they’re integrated with the fruit flavours, fine-grained and soft.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate V and A Lane Cabernet Shiraz 2009 $38–$50 Like the shiraz from V and A Lane, this wine presents a strong face of Coonawarra – a blend of many parts, including components matured in a range of oak from different areas and coopers. The oak gives a cedary note, but the cabernet drives the wine with its blackcurrant flavour and strong, fine, elegant structure – fleshed out subtly by the shiraz. This is another strong but elegant red.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate “The Siding” Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $10.95–$23 Introduced to the range from the 2009 vintage, “The Siding” is an aromatic cabernet made specifically for early drinking. It captures a spectrum Coonawarra cabernet flavours from red-berry to cassis and even a slight touch of leafiness. Like the white label shiraz, some components see no oak and provide a purity and freshness that puts fruit to the fore. It’s very Coonawarra, very cabernet and very drinkable – right now.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $25–$35 Black Label is deeper coloured than “The Sidings”, but still limpid. It presents a deeper side of cabernet, including black-olive and cassis-like flavours, bound up in sweet, spicy oak. It’s a buoyant, balanced cabernet – generous but elegant, with fine, firm tannins. It remains one of Australia’s best value, long-term cellaring wines. It’s probably better now than it’s ever been. Watch for the discounting as occasionally dips below $20.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate “Davis” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $40–$50 The Davis vineyard, located just south of the winery, was planted to cabernet sauvignon in 1957. In 2008 wine from the vineyard “stood up as different”, says Pidgeon, so they kept it aside for individual bottling. This is an opulent and powerful cabernet, combining black olive and cassis varietal flavours with a particularly juicy, ripe, supple mid palate and powerful but soft tannins – opulence and elegance combined. An outstanding and potentially long-lived wine.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $69.35–$90 Sarah Pidgeon says the flagship cabernet comes from a diversity of vineyards sprinkled around Coonawarra, principally in the north, but can include southern vineyards in warmer years. Since John Riddoch’s reintroduction under Hodder and Pidgeon, the style has retained its power and intensity but become softer. The current release is densely coloured with a brilliant crimson rim – a deep and brooding wine in which the cabernet fruit and oak really sing in harmony. This is a great cabernet.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 27 July 2011 in The Canberra Times
Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2008 $10.90–$17.99 Adelaide Hills, South Australia Reflecting the growing trend to regional marketing, Jacob’s Creek, part of French-owned Pernod-Ricard, recently moved to regional labelling on its reserve range. The range was originally launched in 2000 as multi-region blends. They’ve always hit the sweet spot for quality and value – especially during bursts of sharp retail discounting. The re-badged reserve chardonnay delivers exceptionally high quality at the price. It’s bright, fresh and young, albeit plump, at three years and reveals appealing citrus and ripe-peach flavours of Adelaide Hills chardonnay, enhanced by oak fermentation and maturation.
Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2009 $17–21.95 Barossa, South Australia Yalumba captures grenache beautifully in this realistically priced version, sourced from low-yielding Barossa bush vines. It’s a blend of many batches, crushed and fermented separately and aged in four to six year old French, American and Hungarian oak barrels. These provide an oxidative maturation environment without inserting overt woody tastes. The result is a highly aromatic, deeply fruity, slightly spicy, moderately savoury, silk-smooth, soft red to enjoy right now. It avoids the confection character sometimes seen in grenache.
Picardy Pinot Noir 2009 $38 Picardy Vineyard, Pemberton, Western Australia Picardy was the palest coloured wine in a recent small line up of pinots – one each from Martinborough and Marlborough, New Zealand, plus Yarra Valley, Tasmania and Pemberton, Australia. Behind the deceptively pale colour, though, lurked an exceptionally delicious pinot noir. The penetrating aroma combined a stalkiness, presumably from whole-bunch fermentation, with a gaminess and ripe-cherry fruit. The palate really sang – lively and fresh and mouth-wateringly delicious, with an intensity belying the pale colour. Made by Dan Pannell, son of Bill Pannell, founder of Moss Wood, Margaret River, and later Picardy.
Coriole Sangiovese Shiraz 2009 $16 McLaren Vale, South Australia Coriole was an early Australia pioneer of the Italian red variety, sangiovese, establishing vines at McLaren Vale in 1985. It’s now one of the leading producers of the style – reaching a notable high point with its Reserve Sangiovese 2007. Here, though, we see comparatively austere, tannic, savoury sangiovese mollified by plush and juicy shiraz. Shiraz fattens out the palate nicely, but the tight, dry, savoury sangiovese tannins have the final say. These work particularly well with savoury food like olives and tomato-based sauces.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2011 $16–22.99 Coonawarra, South Australia Coonawarra’s cool enough to make decent, if not cutting edgy chardonnay. And winemakers Sue Hodder and Sarah Pidgeon rightly capture the region’s bright melon-rind, peach and nectarine-like varietal flavours in a drink-now, not overworked style. Pidgeon says they ferment and mature around half of the blend in oak barrels and the other half in stainless steel tanks – of that ,they clean up a portion when it’s pristine, fresh and fruity; the remainder they allow to sit on yeast lees, gaining texture. The final blend is zingy fresh, with clear varietal flavour and a rich, smooth texture. It’s made for early drinking.
Robert Stein Harvest Gold 2009$25 375ml Mudgee, New South Wales This is an estate-grown wine made by Jacob Stein from semillon grapes affected by the fungus, botrytis cinerea (aka, noble rot). The fungus looks disgusting, but in some circumstances creates extraordinary sweet wines by dehydrating grape berries, thus concentrating their sugars, acids and flavours. In this version, modelled broadly on the stickies of Bordeaux, we taste intense apricot and marmalade-like flavour of stunning sweetness – but without the offsetting acidity seen in Bordeaux versions. It’s nevertheless a luscious wine, probably best suited to stinky, runny cheeses.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 27 July 2011 in The Canberra Times
Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Unser Original 500ml $6.90 This old family brewery, currently managed by Georg Schneider VI, produces this benchmark, bottle conditioned Bavarian wheat beer. Our bottle poured medium amber coloured, displaying classic, aromatic clove-like and fruity aroma and flavour. Alas, the head collapsed and the beer lacked vivacity – indicating old stock near its use-by date.
North Coast Brewing Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale 355ml $10.90 From the North Coast Brewing Company, Fort Bragg, California, comes this 9.4 per cent alcohol, deep mahogany coloured ale, dedicated to famous piano playing monk, Brother Thelonious – depicted on the label with a keyboard halo. It’s luxuriously malty and syrup smooth – an opulence that easily carries the high alcohol.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 27 July 2011 in The Canberra Times
Despite all the gloomy news from America, craft beers continue to boom as total beer sales decline, according to the Brewers Association.
The association’s website, www.brewersassoication.org, says craft beers grew 11 per cent by volume and 12 per cent by value in calendar 2010. This came on top of 7.2 per cent volume growth and 10.3 per cent value growth in 2009. Overall beer sales in the USA declined by an estimated one per cent by volume in 2010 and 2.2 per cent in 2009.
The association says craft brews accounted for 4.9 per cent by volume and 7.6 per cent by value of US beer sales in 2010. In a massive market like the USA, that’s not small beer – translating to around 1.164 billion litres and $7.6 billion.
Australian Brews News (www.brewsnews.com.au) laments the lack of a similar “active and unified voice representing the interests of small brewers.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 27 July 2011 in The Canberra Times
Brokenwood Indigo Vineyard Beechworth Chardonnay 2010 $30 Hunter based Brokenwood planted its Beechworth, Victoria, vineyard in 1999 – the chardonnay inspired by the beauty of wines made by neighbour Rick Kinsbrunner’s Giaconda winery. Brokenwood’s version, made in the Hunter by Iain Riggs and P-J Charteris, is a wine of exceptional purity and finesse – built on an underlying rich but delicate stone-fruit (white peach and nectarine) varietal flavour. Clean, refreshing acidity accentuates the flavour and fine-ness, giving buoyancy and life to the rich texture, derived from a wild yeast ferment and maturation on lees in barrel. It’s easy to drink now but should evolve well for some years.
Taylor’s Estate Clare Valley Shiraz 2009 and Tempranillo 2009 $17–$18.95 Family-owned Taylors owns about 550 hectares of vines in the southern Clare Valley. By my estimate that equates to about 400 thousand dozen bottles. They play on a big scale and claim their shiraz accounts for 29 per cent of Australian red wine sales, though that seems unlikely. Whatever their market position, Taylor’s wines offer excellent value. The shiraz delivers the pretty fruit of the vintage – a big, juicy, soft warm red that slips down all too easily. The tempranillo is a fair interpretation of this Spanish red variety, with vibrant blueberry like fruit and savoury, quite firm tannins.
Coriole McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009 $28 A thoughtful letter from owner, Mark Lloyd, charts the course of wine fashion since his father produced the first Coriole shiraz in 1970 – from big, to light to natural (but sometimes microbially spoiled) to super-ripe, extractive and oaky (for the American market) and back to a more balanced style over the last decade. The 40th vintage exemplifies that last style beautifully – delivering on the Lloyd family’s 40 years of honing their grape-growing and winemaking skills. It’s deep and generous, in the Vale style, but supple and evenly balanced with a savoury vein running through the ripe shiraz flavours.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 24 July 2011 in The Canberra Times
Most beer drinks best soon after release – brewers having provided appropriate ageing in their cellars. But some styles, like Cooper’s vintage ale, age well, the flavours altering gradually over time.
To see the changes, we put the new Cooper’s Extra Strong Vintage Ale 2011 to the test alongside the 2010 and 2009 vintages, supplied by Coopers, and the 2008 and 2007 from Schloss Shanahan.
The tasting revealed significant changes from youngest to oldest. The brisk, just-released 2011 leads with an assertive hoppy aroma and flavour hovering over the deep, sweet malt – a balanced but big, bold style.
The slightly deeper coloured 2007, still fresh and gassy, tells the malt story – toffee and caramel aroma and a rich, smooth, palate that brings in golden syrup as well. The hops, barely detectable in the aroma by now, show up in the bitter finish.
The other vintages sat between this hops-dominant to malt-dominant spectrum – all in great shape, particularly the exuberant 2008.
Cooper’s Extra Strong Vintage Ale 2011 375ml 6-pack $20 This is a classy drop – big, bold and idiosyncratic but not over the top. Pungent, resiny hops lead the flavour charge, backed by deep, sweet, generous malt and luxurious, smooth texture – finishing with a delicious, assertive, hops bitterness. It’s easy to drink now, but from experience the flavour evolves with age.
Asahi Super Dry 330ml 6-pack $18.99 What a contrast Asahi is to the big, bitter, malty Coopers vintage ale. It combines delicacy, flavour and lingering hops bitterness and suits both delicate and spiced food – the beer equivalent of dry young riesling. It’s imported by Foster’s and therefore widely distributed – a positive for a style that’s best consumed young and fresh.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 20 July 2011 in The Canberra Times
Domaine Chandon Shiraz 2009 $33.95 Colbinabbin Vineyard, Mount Camel Range, Heathcote, Victoria This was my pick from a recent tasting of five shirazes – one each from Coonawarra, Margaret River, Heathcote, McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley. It appealed for its enticing, floral aroma, vibrant ripe-cherry fruit flavour and assertive, savoury tannins – a complete and satisfying red that pulled away from its impressive company as the tasting lingered on. Winemaker Lilian Carter says it “comes from a longstanding collaboration with the highly regarded Colbinabbin Vineyard located on the eastern slope of the Mount Camel Range”.
Quarry Hill North Block Dry White 2011 $20 Quarry Hill Vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales A wine region’s sophisticated when it makes both world-class flagship wines and beautifully made and presented affordable wines like Quarry Hill’s North Block. It’s a collaboration between Professor Dean Terrell, grape grower, and winemaker Alex McKay. An unoaked blend of 40 % sauvignon blanc and 60 % savagnin (thought to be albarino when planted), the wine is brilliantly clear and pale – and as crisp and fresh as a granny smith apple, complete with a subtly apple-like aftertaste. It’s bone-dry, softly textured and beautifully clean and fresh. Available at www.quarryhill.com.au
Curly Flat Chardonnay 2009 $42 Curly Flat Vineyard, Macedon Ranges, Victoria We test drove our Curly Flat at Artisan, Narrabundah – definitely worth the $15 corkage, and the excellent food made the wine even more enjoyable. It’s a bigger style of chardonnay and quite a contrast to the more austere 2007 vintage and subtle 2008. But it’s a case of big being good – the generous, ripe, citrus and nectarine varietal flavours melding deliciously with the very high quality oak. The rich, fine texture and subtle undertones of oak fermentation and maturation only added to the appeal.
Houghton Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2010 $8.55–$11 Western Australia Good luck to the new owners of Houghton, that venerable Western Australian brand – once independent, then, over time, part of Thomas Hardy, BRL Hardy, Hardy Wine Company, Constellation Wines Australia and now Accolade Wines. Fortunately, Houghton had access to a huge range of top vineyards spread through Western Australia’s south west. The quality of fruit shows in this often-discounted red. It offers ripe, plummy flavour, medium body and elegant structure, albeit with a slight rustic edge to the tannins. Great value here.
Mount Majura Tempranillo 2010 $40 Mount Majura Vineyard, Canberra District, Australian Capital Territory Winemaker Frank van de Loo says tempranillo has become Mount Majura’s signature variety – “even as our most expensive wine, it is the wine that many customers seek us out for”, he writes. And they won’t be disappointed in the 2010 when it’s release early next month. It’s of medium colour and body with appealing, vibrant blueberry-like aroma, with a touch of spice. The same lively fruit and spice comes through on a concentrated, juicy palate – the fruit quickly enveloped by tempranillo’s signature firm, but not hard, tannins.
Mount Majura TSG (Tempranillo Shiraz Graciano) 2010 $28 Mount Majura Vineyard, Canberra District, Australia Capital Territory In this exotic blend, Frank van de Loo sandwiches Australia’s good old workhorse shiraz, between the Spanish varieties Tempranillo and Graciano. Frank says that tempranillo and shiraz work best on the site, but graciano “proves to be a good partner in the blend, adding spice and lift”. It’s a highly aromatic red, tempting with its sweet, spicy red-berry character – and completely delicious on the palate, combining the soft generosity of shiraz with the tannic bite of tempranillo and buoyancy of graciano.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 20 July 2011 in The Canberra Times
Balnaves of CoonawarraShiraz 2009 $24 The Blend 2009 $18 Cabernet Merlot 2009 $24
We have a winter-warmer red fest here today, starting with these big-value reds from the Balnaves family, Coonawarra. The shiraz appeals because it doesn’t try to be bigger and burlier than it really do – as we sometimes see in overworked Coonawarra shiraz. The wine’s limpid, vibrant with ripe-berry flavours, medium bodied and simply a delight to drink right now – an ideal luncheon red. The slightly more potent blend combines cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s clearly cabernet based, with a slight leafy edge, elegant structure and firm tannins – characters that come through, too, in the riper, more concentrated Cabernet Merlot.
Williams Crossing by Curly Flat Macedon Ranges Pinot Noir 2009 $24 Curly Flat owners Phillip and Jeni Moraghan are about to replace the recently reviewed 2008 vintage with the 2009 – a serious pinot at a modest price. Each vintage the Moraghans make multiple small batches of pinot noir from estate-grown fruit, every batch intended for their $48 flagship blend. As the wines mature in oak barrels, however, they declassify some components. These become Williams Crossing, perhaps the best value pinot noir in Australia as it’s about 80 per cent as good as the $48 wine but half the price. The 2009 is a fragrant, ripe, pinot with a tight tannin structure and fine but rich texture.
Hewitson Mad Hatter McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009 $65–$70 Winemaker Dean Hewitson developed Mad Hatter from the 2002 vintage on, trialling various winemaking techniques and oak maturation regimes. It’s from a single, low-yielding north-west facing vineyard in McLaren Vale’s Blewitt Springs sub-region. Hewitson’s new release shows the great fragrance of the vintage. And the wonderful, deep fruit flavour simply belies its two years in 100 per cent new French oak barrels. Vivid, ripe-cherry fruit flavour underpins the wines, but it’s woven in with fruit and oak tannins and subtle, sweet and savoury inputs of the oak. It’s an intense, elegant shiraz, magnificent to drink but with years of development ahead.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 17 July 2011 in The Canberra Times
What an awesome sight the Casella family’s Griffith winery is from the air – a glittering expanse of massive stainless steel tanks housing tens of millions of litres of wine destined for the highly successful Yellow Tail label.
It might smack of homogeneity. But in fact the wine inside those tanks represents a vast network of independent grape growers spread across south-eastern Australia – including the slopes of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales.
This is the story of one of those vineyards – just one piece in the giant Casella jigsaw puzzle.
First a little background. Casella makes the fabulously successful Yellowtail brand. In May this year British consultancy, Intangible Business, named it as the most powerful Australian wine brand in the world and number 37 in the top 100 wine and spirit brands globally. And in the Shanken News report of 5 July 2011, Yellowtail topped the list of Australian imports into the USA in 2010 at 8.5 million dozen bottles – four times the volume of second placed Lindemans.
My back-of-the-envelope reckoning puts total production at perhaps 12 million dozen bottles a year – given that Yellowtail sells domestically and Casella exports to around 50 countries.
Ever wondered how many grapes that takes and what area of vines it might require? On the same envelope, with Boorowa viticulturist, Mark Sims, we computed 12 million cases translates to around 160 thousand tonnes of grapes from vines covering between 10 and 11 thousand hectares. Little wonder, then, that the capital investment and risk is so widely dispersed.
Sims says he’s worked as a middle man for Casella for many years, managing vineyards and sourcing up to 20 thousand tonnes of grapes a year along the western slopes of the Great Divide, between Mudgee and Cowra.
About ten years back Sims and a couple of farming mates from Warren and Nyngan thought they’d grow grapes together. After a long search, a very attractive property became available on the Belubula River, Canowindra.
The property, Belubula Farm, had originally produced hay, lucerne and chaff, says Sims. A new owner used it for cattle and changed the name to Pinnaroo.
The little idea became a bigger one requiring more capital, so the original mates “pulled in extra partners, pooled our capital and formed Pinnaroo Partners”, say Sims.
From 2002, they established a 110-hectare vineyard, contracted to Casella and planted 90 per cent to chardonnay and five per cent each to viognier and pinot gris.
Sims says the vineyard runs east to west, peaking at about 400 metres above sea level. The east-west orientation provides under-canopy shade for the berries, says Sims, a veteran of grape growing in this warm area.
Sims manages the vines and the families from Warren (Glen and Narelle Whittaker) and Nyngan (Paul and Jenny Buckley) look after the farm. And the other partners are all regular visitors: Mark Sim’s wife, Luisa, Mark and Cathy Beach of Warren, David Buckley of Newcastle, Peter and Margaret Carnell of Dubbo, Glen and Michelle Hamblin of Nevertire, Chris and Mary Logan of Sydney and Peter and Suzie Sims of Canberra.
But like most contract grape grows, the Pinnaroo partners began to produce a little wine for themselves – selecting small parcels of the best fruit and sending it to winemaker Richard Parker at Long Rail Gully, Murrumbateman.
Of course, friends then wanted some, so they created the Pinnaroo brand and sell it through www.pinnaroowines.com.au
Quantities remain small, but these are seriously good wines from an estate that normally slakes the thirst of those mighty Yellowtail tanks in Griffith.
Pinnaroo Estate Partners Reserve Cowra Viognier 2010 $25 Viognier provides a unique drinking experience. Yalumba pioneered the variety some thirty years ago. But plantings increased during the late nineties, partly to make varietal viognier, partly as a minor component in blends with shiraz.
The early stand-alone versions tend to be picked very ripe, resulting in high-alcohol whites with sometimes over-the-top apricot-like varietal flavour and, a solid bite of tannin and a thick, sometimes oily texture.
These are all natural qualities of the grape. But it’s possible to maintain the varietal characteristics in a much more refined package – demonstrated in this delicious version, made by Richard Parker at Long Rail Gully, Murrumbateman.
The Pinnaroo partners hand harvested the grapes at a comparatively low 12.9 per cent alcohol potential – not the 14.5 or 15 per cent often seen from comparable climates.
In Parker’s hands this translated to a full-flavoured, aromatic dry white, displaying clear-cut apricot and ginger varietal character. He matured the wine on yeast lees for 12 month, building a lovely, soft creaminess that sits well with the natural viscosity of the style. It’s a comparatively delicate expression of viognier, with none of the hardness and a very lively, fresh acidity.
Pinnaroo Estate Partners Reserve Cowra Chardonnay 2009 $25 This is an exciting wine – and far removed from the Cowra chardonnay stereotype. At two years age we might expect a dark-golden, fat-but-fading peachy dry white. Instead we have a lemon-coloured, vibrant barrel-fermented chardonnay displaying great flavour intensity (melon rind and white peach), subtly enhanced by barrel fermentation and maturation on yeast lees. A wonderfully rich but fine texture matches the intense fruit flavour. And the alcohol’s a modest 12.9 per cent.
It’s hard to imagine how a Cowra chardonnay could be any better than this – a great example of very high quality fruit being artfully handled by a skilled winemaker.
Pinnaroo viticulturist, Mark Sims, says it’s made from the best chardonnay block on the 110-hectare vineyard – planted to the Entav 76 clone. Richard Parker made the wine at Long Rail Gully, Murrumbateman.
Pinnaroo Estate Partners Reserve Hilltops Shiraz 2008 $25 Like Canberra, the Hilltops region, around Young, New South Wales, makes delicious shiraz, albeit in a generally fleshier style than Canberra’s – but still medium bodied and far removed from, say, the bolder Barossa versions.
As in the other Pinnaroo wines we enjoy the combination of skilful grape growing by Mark Sims and sensitive winemaking by Richard Parker at Long Rail Gully. The grapes seemed to have been picked at just the right point of ripeness – with the varietal, ripe-cherry flavours at full tilt and packed with the vibrancy of fresh berries. This comes through on the highly aromatic, slightly savoury, spicy aroma and on the juicy, fine-boned palate – a kiss of French oak sweetness adding to the pleasure of the shiraz flavour. Grapes come from Mark and Luisa Sim’s Boorowa vineyard.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published 13 July 2011 in The Canberra Times