Top 20 Canberra and region wines of 2015

Riesling and shiraz remain Canberra’s trump cards by a country mile, so they feature prominently in my 2015 selections. While each comes in a regional style, the wines selected represent various hues along that style spectrum.

When we extend our search to neighbouring regions along the Great Divide, the palate of mainstream varieties opens considerably. Higher, cooler Orange and Tumbarumba provide graceful, modern chardonnays. Orange and Hilltops give us outstanding cabernet sauvignon – one for the cellar and a lower priced version to enjoy now.

Complementing mainstream wines, our embrace of so-called alternative varieties adds a couple of delicious Canberra-grown wines to the menu: the Austrian white, gruner veltliner, and Spain’s red tempranillo. Hilltops shows its diversity with three Italian red varieties – nebbiolo, and a blend of rondinella and corvina. And Tumbarumba contributes a juicy gamay, the red grape of France’s Beaujolais region.

In future years our winemakers will likely offer even greater diversity. A poll I conducted in September revealed 23 Canberra wineries now work with 14 alternative red varieties, while 17 process five alternative whites.

Many more wines might easily have been included in the list but for various reasons could not. These include high quality, small-production wines that simply sold out. While another, gold-medal-winning Lerida Estate Josephine Pinot Noir 2014, made the grade but won’t be released until 2016.

With the exception of Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2014, the wines in the list come from small producers and are not widely distributed. It’s the nature of our local, boutique wine industry. It means in many cases buying direct from the producer – a please weekend activity – or a phone call to find where wines are stocked.

Happy hunting and merry Christmas.

TOP 10 WHITES

  1. Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay 2014 $35
    Ross Hill Griffin Road vineyard, Orange, NSW
    The varied altitudes (and climates) of the Robson family’s vineyard (750 to 1000 metres) gives winemakers Phil and Rochelle Kerney an extraordinary palate of varieties to work with. Chardonnay comes from the family’s Griffin Road vineyard at 750 metres. Handpicked, whole-bunch pressed and fermented spontaneously in French oak barrels, it’s about as natural as wine gets. It showed great promise tasted from barrel about a year ago and now delivers on that promise: a seamless, plush, vibrant chardonnay, combining cool-climate, grapefruit-and-nectarine varietal flavour with the textural richness and flavour nuances derived from fermentation and maturation in barrel.
  2. Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 311 2014 $35.15–$40
    Tumbarumba, NSW

    Ultra-fresh Bin 311 2014 combines melon-rind and grapefruit-like varietal flavours with the texture and the slightly funky, biscuity influence of fermentation and maturation on yeast lees, without obvious oak flavours. The wine is an offshoot of Penfolds Australia-wide quest for the best chardonnay it could make. The $180 a bottle Yattarna was the result. But its by-product, Bin 311, is as good an expression of Tumbarumba chardonnay as you’ll find.
  3. 3. Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2015 $45
    Lark Hill vineyard, Lake George Escarpment, Canberra District, NSW
    Lark Hill 2015 gruner veltliner surpasses the quality of its very good 2014, created in a very difficult season. In contrast, “2015 provided optimum vintage conditions and we picked higher than normal quantities of fruit, with incredible quality and intensity”, writes winemaker Chris Carpenter. The intensely flavoured, deeply textured white supports Carpenter’s excitement. A multi-dimensional expression of this Austrian variety, it tingles and thrills with lemon- and melon-rind -like tartness on a sensuous palate, with a subtle rasp of skin tannins and taut, invigorating acid.
  4. Clonakilla Riesling 2015 $30–$35
    Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

    Clonakilla’s 2015 riesling could be the finest of the 40 vintages made to date. Very young rieslings tend not to reveal all their fruit flavours and take many months, sometimes years, to flourish. However, the 2015 already reveals great purity and intensity and is my favourite of the Canberra 2015 rieslings tasted to date. It topped the riesling class at the Canberra regional wine show and earned several trophies.
  5. Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2015 $35
    Helm and neighbouring vineyards, Nanima Valley, Canberra District, NSW

    In the subtly varying world of Canberra riesling, Ken Helm heads down a different path than, say, Ravensworth or Clonakilla. Helm keeps his Classic Dry bone dry, with residual sugar of just 2.5 grams a litre and comparatively low alcohol of11.8 per cent. It’s therefore lean and delicate and, at this very early stage of development, with floral aromas and intense lemon-like varietal flavours. Gold medal winner at the Canberra regional wine show.
  6. The Vintner’s Daughter Riesling 2015 $28
    Vintner’s Daughter vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
    Ken Helm’s daughter, Stephanie and husband Ben Osborne’s first riesling showed early class, winning trophies as best riesling of the 2015 Winewise Small Vignerons Awards and best Canberra riesling of the International Riesling Challenge. It’s absolutely delicious, delivering pure, varietal, floral and citrus flavours, cut through with shimmering, fresh acidity. A small amount of residual grape sugar rounds and softens the palate, but it remains fine, delicate, dry and suited to medium-term cellaring.
  7. Capital Wines Gundaroo Vineyard Riesling 2015 $28
    Gundaroo, Canberra District, NSW

    In 1998, Mark and Jennie Moonie planted Geisenheim clones of riesling at Gundaroo. They sold the vineyard to Ruth and Steve Lambert in 2004. But in 2013, by now co-owners of Capital Wines, they bought grapes from the vineyard for a special single-vineyard riesling. This, the third vintage, is in the tight, slow-evolving style typical of winemaker Andrew McEwin. It’s delicate, yet steely with delicious citrus like varietal flavour just beginning to push through.
  8. 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. O’Leary’s definitely onto something special with this unique, powerful yet delicate riesling, with its intense, citrusy varietal flavour and invigorating, lemony-tart finish. This is another notch above the excellent 2013 reviewed last year.
  9. Ravensworth Riesling 2015 $25
    Murrumbateman and Wamboin, Canberra District, NSW
    Acidic young Canberra rieslings can be “a bit of an ordeal without sugar”, says winemaker Bryan Martin. To soften Clonakilla and Ravensworth rieslings, he blends in a splash of unfermented juice to offset the acidity. With Ravensworth, Martin combines a pure, protectively made component with material spontaneously fermented on skins, grape solids and lees. The blend presents lemony tart, delicious Canberra riesling with the added flesh and grip contributed by the spontaneously fermented component. Gold medal winner.
  10. Gallagher Blanc de Blanc 2010 $50
    Gallagher vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

    Greg Gallagher’s 2009 vintage won a silver medal at the Canberra regional wine show. It sold out in November. But the 2010’s just as good. A full-bodied style, it offers really fresh and vibrant melon-like varietal flavours, with the patina of brioche-like flavours and creamy, chewy texture derived from ageing on yeast lees in bottle for five years. Gallagher makes, bottles, matures and despatches his outstanding bubblies from his own purpose-built cellars.

TOP 10 REDS

  1. Freeman Rondinella Corvina Secco 2010 $35
    Freeman vineyard, Hilltops, NSW

    Brian Freeman’s blend emulates the highly distinctive Amarone reds of Valpolicella, Italy, made by co-fermenting fresh-picked and dehydrated rondinella and corvina grapes. Freeman dries part of his rondinella and corvina grapes in a neighbour’s prune dehydrator, then ferments it with fresh-picked material. Freeman’s 2010 presents very strong, sour-cherry- and port-like flavours, meshed with the distinct aromas and flavours of oak, on a potent and tannic palate that some will love and others will hate.
  2. Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $14–$18
    Moppity vineyard, Hilltops, NSW

    After much TLC in the vineyard, and several changes of contract winemaker, we’re seeing the best wines yet from Jason and Alecia Brown’s Moppity vineyard. This is perhaps best seen when a great vintage like 2013 comes along. For a modest sum, Lock and Key provides a pure, fruity expression of cabernet, with cassis-like flavour, subtle, complementary oak and an elegant structure. You get a lot of wine for the price.
  3. Ross Hill Pinnacle Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $40
    Ross Hill Griffin Road vineyard, Orange, NSW

    In 2013, The Ridge, a section of the Robson family’s Griffin vineyard, produced evenly ripened cabernet of a quality rarely seen in Orange. Winemaker Phil Kerney successfully captured the varietal flavour and richness of those grapes. A deep, vividly coloured wine, Pinnacle shows equally vivid, ripe berry flavours in a deep, sweet palate, cut through with cabernet’s assertive, ripe tannins. This is powerful, harmonious and elegant cabernet with good cellaring potential.
  4. Ravensworth Charlie Foxtrot Gamay Noir 2014 $30
    Johansen vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW

    Earlier this year winemaker Bryan Martin eagerly accepted a small parcel of red gamay grapes from the Johansen vineyard, Tumbarumba. With fruity, drink-now Beaujolais in mind, Martin picked the brains of a visiting French winemaker. The Frenchman contacted winemaking mates in Beaujolais and voila, Ravensworth Gamay Noir emerged. Fleshy, fruity and delicious it provides huge drink-now pleasure. It won a gold medal and trophy at the Canberra regional wine show.
  5. Mount Majura Vineyard Tempranillo 2014 $45
    Mount Majura, Canberra District, ACT

    After the deeper, darker 2013 vintage, Mount Majura 2014 reveals a fragrant, fruity side of Canberra-grown tempranillo. The aroma and palate both suggest ripe, red berry characters, which push through the variety’s distinctive firm but fine tannins. The bright fruit character gives the wine tremendous drink-now appeal – though the tannins and underlying savouriness should see it evolve for three or four years in bottle.
  6. Capital Wines Kyeema Tempranillo Shiraz 2014 $36
    Kyeema vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
    Capital wines offers two tempranillos – the bright, fruity, irresistible Ambassador 2014 ($25) and this denser, deeper blend of tempranillo and shiraz, sourced from the Kyeema vineyard. The combination works seamlessly. Tempranillo’s blueberry-like fruit flavour and firm, fine tannins, remain. But shiraz adds spicy flavours and flesh to the mid palate. It’s an elegant and satisfying red, made by veteran Canberra winemaker Andrew McEwin.
  1. Ravensworth Nebbiolo 2014 $35
    Hilltops, NSW
    As Bryan Martin and David Reist launched their book, Tongue and Cheek, in March, guests quaffed Martin’s 2014 nebbiolo. The Piedmontese variety makes lighter coloured, highly fragrant reds of great power and elegance, with firm, grippy tannins. Martin’s wine sits at the darker end of the nebbiolo scale, with alluring fragrance and a round, soft palate. The tannins do come back and bite in the end, but this is already a friendly and distinctive drink.
  2. Collector Reserve Shiraz 2013 $58
    Kyeema and Nanima vineyards, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
    In a masked tasting of 20 Canberra 2013 vintage shirazes last year, Collector Reserve rated very highly on first tasting, and even higher after a second, closer look. It presents a deeply layered spicy, savoury, fruity, supple side of Canberra shiraz. It’s one of the best from district in the great 2013 vintage and has the advantage of being still available. It should cellar extremely well.
  1. Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2014 $36–$48
    Murrumbateman and Hall, Canberra District, NSW

    We compared O’Riada to Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2014 ($90–$100) and Hilltops Shiraz 2014 ($28–$33). Six tasters enjoyed the solid Hilltops wine, but as the night wore on, the levels in the other two bottles declined rapidly. Ultimately, in vocal opinions, as well as volume consumed, the intense, silky shiraz viognier won the day by a comfortable, but not wide, margin, over the classy, harmonious O’Riada, a gold medal winner at the Canberra regional wine show.
  2. Nick O’Leary Shiraz 2014 $30
    Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
    Nick O’Leary’s 2014 shiraz topped its class at this year’s Canberra regional wine show. A month later, judges at the NSW Wine Industry Awards named it NSW Wine of the Year. The limpid 2014 offers sweet and alluring red-berry and spice aromas. The vibrant, fresh, medium-bodied palate precisely reflects the aroma, with its spicy, rich, berry fruit flavours. Soft, silky tannins give the wine its smooth texture and gentle finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 1 and 2 December 2015 in goodfood.com.au and the Canberra Times

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