Canberra and surrounding districts – top 10 reds, top 10 whites of 2014

The maturity and breadth of our local wine industry shows in this selection of the top-10 whites and top-10 reds of 2014.

The selection could easily have come from the Canberra district alone, so rich are the pickings from vineyards spread at altitudes varying from around 550-metres to 860-metres above sea level.

However, our surrounding regions on the Great Dividing Range, share much with Canberra. They too reveal a spectrum of shades of flavour driven by different grape varieties, different altitudes and latitudes and different approaches to grape growing and winemaking.

The choice, then, remains mostly within the Canberra District, but includes wines from higher, cooler Tumbarumba and Orange, the warmer Hilltops region and one outlier from near sea level at Bermagui, on the NSW south coast.

The mix of regions and winemakers takes us well beyond Canberra’s red and white specialties, riesling and shiraz, though they, deservedly, comprise the majority.

The coast gives us savignan, a savoury white, originally thought to be Spain’s Albarino. Tumbarumba provides two of its specialties – chardonnay and bubbly. Hilltops gives us a purely varietal cabernet sauvignon and an excellent example of Piedmont’s noble red variety, nebbiolo. And Orange contributes a fragrant, silky pinot grown at around 900-metres above sea level.

A spectrum of rieslings and shirazes leads the Canberra line up. But the region’s versatility shows in a marsanne-led white blend, a high altitude local expression of Austria’s gruner veltliner, a tempranillo (Spanish red variety), a sangiovese (Italian red variety), and a red blend of the Rhone Valley varieties grenache, shiraz, mourvedre and cinsault.

These are all small producers and wines may not be widely distributed. Their websites and cellar door generally offer direct sales and, of course, you can phone for details of retail distribution. Half of the thrill is in the hunt.

TOP 10 WHITES

Ravensworth ‘The Grainery’ 2013 $27–$30
Murrumbateman, Canberra District
Winemaker Bryan Martin describes The Grainery 2013 as, “a blend of mainly marsanne, roussanne, chardonnay and viognier, plus a mixture of aromatic varieties, riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc”. Whole-bunch pressing and spontaneous fermentation in oak barrels produced a bright, medium-lemon coloured, full flavoured wine. Richly textured, bordering on viscous, with a pleasantly tart, melon-rind-like bite, it’s a most loveable and distinctive dry white.

Rusty Fig Savarino 2014 $16.50–$23
Rusty Fig vineyard, Bermagui, NSW

In 2002, Gary Potts and Frances Perkins planted the 1.6-hectare Rusty Fig vineyard near Bermagui. However, their Spanish white variety, albarino, turned out to be France’s savagnin blanc. So they coined the name ‘Savarino’ for this delicious medium bodied, savoury dry white – made at Brindabella Hills Winery, Hall, by Brian Sinclair. It’s available at Plonk Fyshwick, several south coast bottle shops between Moruya and Eden and by the dozen only online (at rustyfigwines.com.au).

Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2014 $45
Lark Hill Vineyard, Lake George Escarpment, Canberra District, NSW

The Carpenter family describe 2014 as, “one of the most challenging vintages to date” at Canberra’s highest vineyard. Frost and unsettled spring weather disrupted flowering, reducing the crop. But what remained of the Austrian variety, gruner veltliner, successfully weathered the hottest, driest summer and wettest autumn on record. Spontaneously fermented in older oak barrels, the wine offers aromas of spice and melon and a richly textured palate with unique flavours reminiscent of spice, herbs and melon rind. Steely acidity accentuates the flavours.

Coppabella “The Crest” Chardonnay 2012 $20–$30
Coppabella vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW

Jason and Alecia Brown own the 68-hectare Moppity vineyard in the Hilltops region and the 70-hectare Coppabella vineyard at higher, cooler Tumbarumba. The Browns produce three beautiful chardonnays, including “The Crest”. This is genuine cool-climate chardonnay, with grapefruit-like varietal flavour and the thrilling acidity that gives the wine elegance, freshness and great length of flavour.

Courabyra 805 Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier 2001 $65
Gairn family Vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW
Courabyra is a collaboration between Stephen Morrison and his sister and brother in law, Cathy and Brian Gairn. Together they own some of Tumbarumba’s earliest plantings, developed from 1981 specifically for sparkling wine production. As the wine predates the Courabyra brand, we can assume Ed Carr originally made it for Hardy’s ill-fated Canberra winery, Kamberra. This gold-medal winner delivers delicate, fresh fruit flavours, brisk acidity and the patina of textures and flavours derived from a decade’s maturation on yeast lees. (Available at courabyrawines.com).

Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2014 $35
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

“Our vineyards and some of those in our region and other parts of NSW and Victoria suffered pretty badly as a result of the frosts in October”, writes Ken Helm. He salvaged sufficient Murrumbateman fruit, however, to make his excellent Classic Dry Riesling, though not enough to make the flagship premium product. Classic Dry 2014 impresses for its brightness, clean citrus-like varietal flavour, and steely, dry finish.

Mount Majura Riesling 2014 $27
Mount Majura vineyard, Canberra District, ACT
Canberra 2014 vintage rieslings earned several big gongs during October. Four Winds Vineyard won a gold medal at the Melbourne show. And at Canberra’s International Riesling Challenge, Mount Majura won trophies as best dry riesling of the show and best Canberra district riesling.It offers aromatic and delicious, full-throttle varietal flavour with quite high acidity that refreshes and accentuates the fruit flavour.

Nick O’Leary “White Rocks” Riesling 2013 $37
Westering vineyard, Lake George, Canberra District, NSW

Canberra winemaker Nick O’Leary sources grapes for White Rocks from one of Canberra’s oldest vineyards, planted by Captain Geoff Hood in 1973. These venerable old vines, with huge trunks, produce tiny crops of powerfully flavoured grapes. From them O’Leary makes an extraordinarily concentrated riesling – a wine of great power but also of finesse and delicacy.

Four Winds Vineyard Riesling 2014 $22
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

The impressively aromatic, purely varietal Four Winds riesling won gold at the 2014 Royal Melbourne Wine Show. The intense flavour belies the mere 11.2 per cent alcohol. However, with that intensity comes a high level of acidity that gives some austerity to the palate. This is normal for Canberra riesling and is easily resolved by giving the wine another 6–12 months in bottle.

Jeir Creek Riesling 2014 $25
Jeir Creek vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Rob and Kay Howell’s Jeir Creek Riesling 2014 won a gold medal at this year’s Canberra Regional Wine Show. The aroma combines lemony and floral varietal characters that come through, too, on a generous, fruity palate. Typical Canberra acidity cuts through the fruit, giving great freshness in a pleasantly tart lemony way. The combination of rich fruit and high acidity promises a pleasant flavour evolution for some years in a good cellar.

TOP 10 REDS

Capital Wines “The Ambassador” Tempranillo 2013 $25
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Though volumes remain small, the Spanish variety, tempranillo, may become another Canberra red specialty. Outstanding examples from Mount Majura, Capital Wines and Quarry Hill, all hit the excitement button. At a masked tasting, Capital Hill The Ambassador 2013 and Quarry Hill Lost Acre 2013 thrilled the tasters and split the table over first preference. Finally, Capital Hill pulled in front, to my taste, as it captured the vibrant, blueberry-like fruitiness of the variety while weaving in savoury notes and finishing firm and tight – another of the variety’s signatures.

Four Winds Sangiovese 2013 $25
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
A recent tasting of Canberra sangiovese demonstrated this Italian variety’s great potential in the region. But it’s not an easy variety, says Winemaker Bill Crowe. In 2013 he dropped much of the crop on the ground – reducing the yield from an unripen-able 20-tonnes to the hectare to just under nine perfectly ripe tonnes. The medium-bodied, drink-now wine, shows exuberant, bright fruit flavours, cut through with the variety’s tight, fine, savoury tannins.

Swinging Bridge M.A.W. Pinot Noir 2012 $38
Rowlee Vineyard, Orange, NSW
Tom and Georgie Ward’s impressive M.A.W. pinot comes from the Rowlee vineyard, Orange, 910 metres above sea level – an altitude with growing temperatures suited to chardonnay and pinot noir. Tom Ward says he made the wine from two pinot clones, and matured the wine in a combination of small and large French oak barrels. The wine offers bright, fragrant, cherry-like varietal character, with attractive savoury undertones and a silk-textured tannins. (Available from swingingbridge.com.au).

Freeman Nebbiolo 2012 $35
Freeman Altura vineyard, Hilltops, NSW

Brian Freeman gave Piedmont’s notoriously difficult nebbiolo a head start by grafting it onto thoroughly established 40-year-old pinot noir vines. And in 2012 he made from them an elegant, distinctive red well removed from Australia’s generally fleshy styles. The wine shows nebbiolo’s typically pale colour, floral- and -savoury aroma and taut, firmly tannic, medium bodied palate. Delicious, ripe fruit flavours push teasingly through those tannins ahead of the firm, savoury, lingering finish.

Moppity Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $30
Moppity vineyard, Hilltops region, NSW
Canberra’s neighbouring and slightly warmer Hilltops region rivals us in shiraz quality but appears to have the edge with cabernet sauvignon. Jason and Alicia Brown’s 2013 Moppity, with three trophies and three gold medals, shows what the region can do. The medium-bodied, elegant red displays pure, bright, ripe-berry varietal aroma and a palate to match – complete with juicy mid-palate flesh that easily carries the firm backbone of tannin.

Clonakilla Ceoltoiri 2013 $36–$45
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Tim Kirk’s Ceoltoiri (the musicians) combines “grenache, shiraz, mourvedre and a tiny splash of cinsault”, writes Kirk, adding, “it may surprise you”. It’s certainly different from last year’s release from the cool 2011 vintage. The warmer vintage offers the alluring, sweet, musk-like fragrance of ripe grenache, seasoned with spice and pepper. The brisk, medium bodied palate reflects the aroma, though the spicy character asserts itself through the fine, soft, savoury tannins.

Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2013 $32
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Ravensworth 2013 is one of the greatest reds to come out of the Canberra District, a very fine but powerful expression of the local specialty – shiraz co-fermented with small amounts of the white, viognier. The wine reveals in a youthful way Canberra’sdistinctive floral aroma, vivid berry-and-spice varietal flavours and sensuous, supple texture. It appeals now, but will deliver even more with bottle age.

Mount Majura Shiraz 2012 $32
Mount Majura vineyard, Canberra District, ACT
As everyone swoons over Canberra’s 2013 reds, Mount Majura’s 2012 reminds us of the limitations of vintage generalisations. The 2012 won gold medals in the 2013 Canberra and Region Wine Show and Winewise Small Vignerons Awards. Then five judges at the 2014 Winewise Championship rated it as the best in its category. The highly aromatic 2012 shiraz shows varietal spice and a strong stemmy character, derived from the inclusion of whole bunches in the fermentation. The medium bodied, silky palate reveals good fruit, seasoned with stem and spice.

Nick O’Leary Bolaro Shiraz 2013 $55
Fischer family Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Nick O’Leary’s makes Bolaro from Great Western clone shiraz, grown on Wayne and Jennie Fischer’s Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman. His 2013 vintage reveals the great flavour intensity and solid tannin structure produced by these outstanding vines. A quick encounter with the wine hints at the delicious, spicy fruit held by those firm tannins. Tasted over a couple of days, however, the fruit’s alluring sweetness reveals itself fully, albeit integrated with the wine’s spicy, savoury character and beautiful tight but silky tannins. (Gold medal, national wine show 2014).

Lerida Estate Shiraz Viognier 2013 $49.50
Lerida Estate vineyard, Lake George, Canberra District, NSW
Lerida Estate led an impressive Canberra District performance in the 2013 shiraz class at the 2014 National Wine Show of Australia. Rated the best of three Canberra gold-medal winners, it went on to win the Chair of Judges’ trophy. A slow-evolving style, it offers bright, red-berry fruit, seasoned with typical Canberra spice, with underlying savoury characters and quite tight, though fine, tannins. Owner Jim Lumbers expects to release the wine mid 2015. Put this one on your wish list.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published:

  • 2 December 2014 in goodfood.com.au
  • 3 December 2014 in the Canberra Times
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