All posts by Chris Shanahan

Wine review – Mount Majura, David Hook, McW Reserve 660

Mount Majura Canberra District Mondeuse 2016 $29
DNA analysis by Jose Vouillamoz in 2008 revealed Savoie red variety, mondeuse noire, to be either a half-sibling or grandparent of Australia’s signature variety, shiraz. Mount Majura’s Frank van der Loo first tasted mondeuse in France’s Savoie area early this century and was “struck by its delicious spicy character”. He planted mondeuse at Majura in 2010 and released the first wine in 2015. The second vintage provides unique medium-bodied drinking, featuring bright, fruity flavours reminiscent of summer berries infused with spice.

David Hook Central Ranges Hilltops Nebbiolo 2015 $38
Hunter-based David Hook sources fruit from the NSW Central Ranges area, including the Hilltops Region, centred on Young. Piedmontese red variety nebbiolo makes light coloured, highly aromatic wines with an at-times aggressive bite of tannin that seems at odds with the light colour. Hook’s version captures the variety’s alluring floral notes and fruity–savoury flavours. However, while the tannins give notable grip to the finish, they are comparatively tame for nebbiolo and work well with savoury food.

McW Reserve 660 Canberra District Syrah 2016 $22–$28
Former Canberran Jim Chatto now heads the McWilliams winemaking team where he presided over production of this juicy, loveable Canberra shiraz. I came across it in Dan Murphys, Cairns, while guiding an old mate through the confusing world of wine. Served lightly chilled in the warm FNQ climate, the wine impressed for its vivid crimson colour and equally vivid fruit flavours. A touch of spice, typical of Canberra shiraz, and fine, soft tannins completed a delicious drink-now dry red of real character.

Mount Majura Canberra District Touriga 2016 $29
Touriga provides an earthy, grippy contrast to Mount Majura’s bright and chirpy mondeuse, also reviewed today. Touriga shares mondeuse’s vibrant freshness and medium body. But earthy, savoury character and fine, grippy tannins give it a distinctly separate character. Winemaker Frank van de Loo suggests this late ripening variety’s success in Canberra is due to recent warm vintages. He writes, “The 2015–2016 season was our warmest to date (as measured by heat degree days), illustrating the ongoing effect of global warming”.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan
First published 1 August 2017 in the Canberra Times

Gin review – wildbrumby

Thredbo Valley Distillery Wildbrumby Gindabyne Gin
700ml $75

The gin craze now sweeping Australia brings us many exciting new variants from boutique distilleries across Australia – including this highly aromatic beauty from the NSW Snowy Mountains region. Thredbo Valley Distillery, maker of schnapps from locally grown fruit, turned to gin making with instant success it seems. Pure, clean and fruity, with juniper high notes, Wildbrumby provides exceptionally smooth, pure drinking with subtly distinctive flavours. The back label reads, “High quality spirit is infused with  a blend of Australian botanicals for over 10 years, then distilled in ‘Florence’, our small batch pot still, with the addition of aromatic herbs and spices, juniper and a threesome of organic citrus grown in our family orchard”.

It’s available at wildbrumby.com.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017

Wine review – Four Winds Vineyard, Collector Wines, Sassafras, Ravensworth

Four Winds Vineyard Canberra District Riesling 2016 $25
Four Winds Vineyard’s Sarah Collingwood, a finalist in the 2016 Women in Wine Awards, was in May selected for Wine Australia’s Future Leaders Program. News of Collingwood’s latest achievement coincided with a glass of Four Winds Riesling 2016 at the Tradies Canberra Wine House. I’d tasted and reviewed the wine last November. But like other Canberra rieslings, six months in bottle lifted it to another level. This is a classy riesling indeed, offering intense but delicate, lemon-like varietal flavours, amplified by fresh, drying acidity.

Collector Canberra District Rose Red City Sangiovese 2013 $32
Another local wine enjoyed at Tradies Canberra Wine House (see wine of the week) was Alex McKay’s sangiovese, grown, he says, “on a range of vineyards across both granite and shaley soil near Murrumbateman”. The wine also contains small amounts of four other Italian varieties, canaiolo nero, mammolo and colorino. McKay’s medium-bodied red separates itself from traditional Australian reds by putting sangiovese’s savoury, tannic character ahead of bright fruit flavour. The delicious fruit flavour remains, seeping its way through the savour and tannin with mouth-watering results.

Sassafras Canberra District Savagnin Ancestral 2016 $25
Sassafras Savagnin Ancestral offers a perky, tart, tasty take on sparkling wine. It’s made in a continuous but pernickety process: fermentation, refrigeration to arrest fermentation, maturation on yeast lees, light filtering into bottle (complete with residual grape sugar and surviving yeast), where fermentation resumes, consuming the sugar and creating the bubbles. The result is a light, fresh, pleasing sparkler with apple-like flavour and tartness – and a fine sediment resulting from the bottle fermentation. Fruit comes from the Quarry Hill Vineyard, Murrumbatemen. Available at sassafraswines.com.au.

Ravensworth Sangiovese 2016 $25
Bryan Martin’s sangiovese provides a tasty contrast to Alex McKay’s Collector reviewed today. McKay’s 2013 emphasises the savoury, tannic face of the variety, while Martin’s 2016, at this stage of its development, shows sangiovese’s gentler, fruitier side. Grape for Ravensworth came from five vineyards spread around Canberra, Hilltops and Gundagai. Gentle processing, including whole-berry ferments, extended skin contact and ageing in older barrels, produced a silk-smooth, medium bodied red with intense sour-cherry-like varietal flavour.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 27 June 2017 in the Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au

Wine review – Mada Wines, McKellar Ridge, Sholto, Ravensworth

Mada Wines Canberra District Shiraz 2016 $35
Hamish Young’s new shiraz combines fruit from two vineyards: Yarrh, at the northern end of Murrumbateman, near the Yass River, and Wily Trout, in the Nanima Valley, Springrange, near the southern end of Murrumbateman. The wine captures the perfume, ripe-berry and spicy characters of Canberra Shiraz. The rich, supple, soft palate is, at present, all about ripe, concentrated fruit flavour – though there’s savour and tannin there to add interest.

McKellar Ridge Canberra District Shiraz Viognier 2016 $34
Winemaker Brian Johnston writes, “I changed the winemaking strategy in 2015 to accentuate the fruit flavour, holding the wine in newer French oak for a shorter period, and bottling in January rather than June. I used the same strategy in 2016”. The strategy worked sensationally in 2015, an exceptional vintage. Again in the 2016 the technique emphasises Canberra’s red-berry-and-spice flavours on a soft, very fresh palate that finishes with a pleasantly tart bite of spicy oak.

Sholto Canberra District Sangiovese 2015 $20
Like Mada’s Hamish Young, Sholto’s Jacob Carter buys grapes from local growers then makes wine for his own label. Carter says, “I only use local fruit from around the Canberra region and have decided to stick only with alternative varieties and wine styles”. His sangiovese, from Jirra Vineyard, provides light to medium bodied current drinking, with bright fresh fruit, smooth texture and savoury tannins typical of sangiovese.

Ravensworth Canberra District The Tinderry 2016 $36
What do you get when you cross the red variety cabernet franc with white sauvignon blanc? Well, if it’s among the vines in 17th century Bordeaux, you get a torrid romance and an entirely new red variety, one of the greatest of all – cabernet sauvignon. But if its just grapes, and in Bryan Martin’s hands, you get a whacky red–white blend that works: fragrant, pungent, fruity, bity, savoury and strangely delicious. You’ll find it under the “weird stuff” tab at ravensworthwines.com.au. “We call it Flanc”, says Martin.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 30 May 2017 in the Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au

Birth of a Canberra bluechip – Clonakilla Syrah

Tim Kirk hosts a Clonakilla Syrah tasting, 9 March 2017. On the far left, 2006, the first vintage; on the right, the current release, 2015. The wine was not produced in 2007 or 2011, and in 2014 only a token amount was bottled but not labeled or released. Photo: Chris Shanahan.

Canberra’s one and only blue-chip wine, Clonakilla Shiraz–Viognier, has a rival. And it’s from the same winery. This is its story.

In 2010, Canberra’s Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier joined the blue chips of Australian wine – alongside Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace. Clonakilla’s ranking in the “Exceptional” category of Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine – based on long-term auction demand and prices – confirmed its unique status among Australian cool-grown shiraz styles.

Four years earlier, however, winemaker Tim Kirk had created a rival to his own remarkable flagship. Clonakilla Syrah 2006, a comparatively robust style of Murrumbateman shiraz, immediately attracted quality comparisons with the revered shiraz–viognier blend.

Clonakilla Murrumbateman Syrah 2015, the current release. Photo: David Reist.

Although sourced from a vineyard planted in 1999, the new wine originated in Tim Kirk’s mind decades earlier – with a fascination in wines from the Rhone Valley’s Cote-Rotie and Hermitage regions.

The Cote-Rotie connection, based on Kirk’s 1991 visit to leading winemaker Marcel Guigal, inspired Clonakilla’s first shiraz–viognier blend in 1992.

But Kirk’s mind had also drifted further south down the Rhone to the hill of Hermitage and, in particular, to Paul Jaboulet’s La Chapelle vineyard, located on terraced slopes below the tiny chapel of Saint-Christophe. He still regards Jaboulet’s La Chapelle 1990 as one of the greatest wines ever tasted.

Kirk drew inspiration, he recalls, from Jancis Robinson’s writing on Hermitage’s leading producers. She once described good Hermitage as “Always majestic. Slow to mature, deep in colour, magnificently and hauntingly savoury rather than sweet and flirtatious, the quintessential syrah”.

Robust, savoury shiraz from Hermitage contrasts strongly with the fragrant, fruity shiraz-viognier blends of Cote-Rotie. But the style differences derive largely from the comparative warmth of the two regions.

Even with Hermitage in mind, Kirk remained limited in the wine styles he could produce by the nature of the fruit coming from the vineyard. However, new plantings on a warmer site expanded the possibilities.

Harvesting shiraz from the T and L 1 vineyard, the warmest of Clonakilla’s sites. Photo: David Reist.

In 1999 Tim Kirk and wife Lara planted shiraz on land they’d bought adjoining Clonakilla’s existing Murrumbateman vineyards. Within a few years the highest, warmest point of the new T and L 1 vineyard produced intriguing shiraz, notably more powerful than wine from other parts of the estate.

For a time, Kirk made wine from the block separately for observation, but ultimately blended it into the flagship Shiraz–Viognier. However, from the 2006 vintage, wine from T and L 1 earned its separate identity, and instant acclaim, as Clonakilla Syrah.

Comparatively powerful, tannic fruit from the site – the warmest of Clonakilla’s vineyards – underpins the style of the Syrah. But Kirk also uses fruit handling, fermentation and maturation techniques that add to the differences between the two flagship wines.

Clonakilla Shiraz–viognier, modelled on the wines of Cote-Rotie, comprises shiraz fermented with the white variety, viognier (5–6 per cent of the blend); Clonakilla Syrah is 100 per-cent shiraz (“syrah” is simply the French spelling).

Kirk says the viognier component, “influences the wine in a subtle way, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It elevates, expands and amplifies the aroma and palate and gives a viscous character that rounds the palate”.

Fruit for the shiraz–viognier comes from Clonakilla’s original, Euroka Park and T and L vineyards; Syrah’s fruit comes only from the warmest part of T and L 1 block. The different fruit sourcing creates a vital difference between the two wines.

From 1993 the shiraz-viognier ferments include whole bunches (currently 20–30 per-cent of total fruit, depending on vintage). The stems and stalks add noticeably to the aroma, flavour and texture of the wine; Syrah ferments contain no whole bunches.

The non-whole-bunch component of the shiraz–viognier is de-stemmed then pumped to open fermenting vats. The pump breaks the skin of many of the berries but also leaves many intact; the aim with Syrah, on the other hand, is to keep whole berries intact, so the bunches are de-stemmed into bins, then the berries are fork lifted, not pumped, into open fermenting vats.

Clonakilla syrah being de-stemmed. After de-stemmimg the berries are lifted and tipped from bins  into vats where the whole-berry ferment begins spontaneously. Photo: David Reist.

Once in vat, both the Shiraz-Viognier and Syrah follow a similar trajectory for a week or two: the mix of berries, or berries and bunches, as the case may be, cold soak for several days until a spontaneous fermentation begins. In the case of whole berries, fermentation begins inside the berry.

As the ferments heat up, plunging machines break up the cap of skins and grapes three times a day; as the ferment slows down, the vats are plunged daily.

After fermentation, Shiraz-Viognier and Syrah, head down two different paths: both remain on skins for a time after fermentation. But the Shiraz–viognier spends a total of about 18 days on skins (three weeks in 2017); while the more robust Syrah remains on skins for 31 days (with a few one-ton batches of six weeks in 2016 and 2017).

Kirk says the extended maceration of the Syrah, “mollifies the potent tannins, but they’re still powerful”. The gentler tannins of the Shiraz–Viognier don’t require such long skin contact.

The many Shiraz-Viognier components are now pressed off skins into 225-litre French oak barriques, about one third of them new, for a 12-month maturation period; the Syrah components are pressed to 500-litre French oak puncheons, one-third new, for 20–22 months.

The size of the barrels and duration of maturation affects the aroma, flavour and tannin structure of each wine. Oak is not obvious in either, rather the two maturation methods complement the character of each wine: the floral, lusciously fruity, silky Shiraz–Viognier and the deeper, darker, more potent Syrah, with its latent, coiled depth.

Does Tim Kirk love one child more than the other? “That’s like asking whether you prefer your son or your daughter”, he laughs. “I love both. I celebrate them equally. They’re distinct personalities. I thrill in their complexity and I thinks it’s almost miraculous we can make these on this little landscape we farm”.

The almost miraculous, definitely remarkable Clonakilla Syrah 2015 costs $96 at cellar door – same price as the equally remarkable Clonakilla Shiraz-Viognier 2015.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 9 May 2017 in the Canberra Times, CT app and goodfood.com.au

Wine review – Quarry Hill, Helm, Ravensworth, Clonakilla

Quarry Hill Two Places Tumbarumba-Canberra Pinot Gris 2016 $24
Like other Canberra wineries, Quarry Hill uses grapes from higher, cooler Tumbarumba for some wine styles. In this instance Tumbarumba pinot gris (94 per-cent of the blend) joins grenache from Quarry Hill’s Murrumbateman vineyard in a fresh, zesty, light pink dry wine. The savoury palate offers a subtle pear-like flavour, with a dry, gentle grip and a warm alcoholic aftertaste.

Helm Canberra District Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $42
As I gathered stories for the Canberra vintage report, several winemakers reported grafting cabernet vines over to other varieties they considered more suited to the climate. Ken Helm, however, remains committed to the variety and in the outstanding 2015 vintage produced a pleasing result. The switch from mainly American oak to mainly French oak, adds to the wine’s appeal. The oak lifts the floral varietal aroma and better complements the slightly leafy varietal flavour of the firm, tannic palate.

Ravensworth Outlandish Claims Bitter Tonic $45
Winemaker Bryan Martin writes, “vermouths and aromatised wines emerged when a wine had issues – ploughing various bitters and botanicals covered up the problem and a bit of sweetness pulled it all together”. Martin makes white and red versions of his tonic, both infused, via fortifying spirit, with the herbal aromas and flavours and intense bitterness of exotic and indigenous herbs, spices, roots and leaves. Among its many outlandish claims, the tonic reputedly “prevents double chins” (if not double vision). Delicious.

Clonakilla Murrumbateman Ceoltoiri 2016 $36
It’s light coloured, medium bodied, fruity, juicy, silk textured and completely irresistible. A blend of the Rhone varieties mourvedre, grenache, shiraz, cinsault, counoise and roussanne from an 0.4-hectare Clonakilla vineyard, Ceoltoiri (Irish for musician) occupies yet another spot on the Rhone-style red spectrum produced by Tim Kirk. This is the lightest coloured and bodied of the styles, offering a delicious depth of pure berry flavours combined with silky tannin. To be released. 27 April.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 25 April 2017 in the Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au

Vignettes from Canberra’s cool, wet, hot, dry, cool, wet, dry vintage

Wily Trout vineyard’s Will Bruce harvests pinot noir, 23 March 2017. Photo: Chris Shanahan

Canberra’s grape vines slept in last spring, ending a run of early starts to the growing season. Cool spring weather, rain (and resulting cold soils) retarded budburst, flowering and fruit set, setting the scene for the latest harvest in years, though not late by historical standards.

Ken Helm in his museum cellar, 22 March 2017. Photo: Chris Shanahan

At Murrumbateman on 22 March Ken Helm observed, “Picking times are back to the long-term average here after the earliest vintage on record in 2016”. He anticipated picking the last of his valley’s crop – late-ripening shiraz and cabernet sauvignon – at the end of the first week of April.

The first fruit he processed, gewürztraminer, came from his daughter and son-in-law’s nearby vineyard, The Vintner’s Daughter. It was the only non-riesling bubbling away in his big, new riesling cellar, completed just in time for vintage.

A week and several rain storms after that visit, Helm harvested healthy, ripe shiraz but thought cabernet sauvignon required another two weeks to ripen. Despite a prediction of more rain, “It’s bullet proof”, he believes.

By month’s end Helm rieslings from Canberra, Orange and Tumbarumba were through fermentation and “looking fantastic”, he says.

At Lerida Estate, Lake George, 10mm rain on 5 March couldn’t dampen owner Jim Lumbers’ outlook. As a welcome breeze dried out the grapes, Lumbers described the 2017 vintage as “Wonderful, with the biggest yield ever and quality almost perfect”.

He said, “We picked pinot noir for rosé last week and we’ll harvest an even bigger crop [for red wine] in three weeks. We’re picking pinot gris today and chardonnay next Friday”. He anticipated a shiraz harvest in three weeks, but with more rain predicted picking might be delayed.

By 27 March as the rain cleared after an extremely nervous wait, Lumbers believed he’d “Dodged a bullet, with rain damage and losses near zero. The worst we suffered was botrytis [botrytis cinerea, a fungus] affecting about 10 per cent of the remaining pinot noir. We picked it yesterday but left the affected fruit. It was a miracle we lost so little in such a big crop”.

But botrytis has its noble side, too, concentrating flavour, sugar and acid in luscious white dessert wines. Given the humid conditions, Lumbers says, “We decided to leave nearly half the pinot gris to botrytis”.

He anticipated picking shiraz on 4 April – or earlier if it rained.

The cool, wet start to the season ameliorated January’s savage heat wave. At The Vintner’s Daughter, Murrumbateman, Stephanie Helm said spring rain meant good soil moisture and lush canopies. The healthy canopies protected fruit from sunburn and her vines skated through the heatwave without signs of stress.

With husband Ben Osborne, she harvested a good crop of healthy riesling on 14 March, gewürztraminer two weeks earlier, and anticipated picking merlot a week later and shiraz and viognier at the end of March.

On 6 March, before harvest started, Lark Hill’s Chris Carpenter held high hopes for the 2017 vintage. He said the family’s two biodynamic vineyards – Lark Hill and Dead Horse – held good quantities of disease-free, healthy fruit.

Two days later, the Carpenters harvested pinot noir and chardonnay for sparkling wine from Lark Hill vineyard. A particularly cool site at 860 metres, Lark Hill specialises in riesling, gruner veltliner, chardonnay and pinot noir.

Chris Carpenter samples Lark Hill Chardonnay, 25 March 2017. Photo: Chris Shanahan

By 25 March the sparkling ferments were complete, and Lark Hill vineyard chardonnay, picked 20 March, fermented vigorously in barrel. Rain had delayed ripening in the pinot noir, Carpenter said, and he expected to harvest it around 8 April. He anticipated ripening of riesling and gruner veltliner around 14 April.

Lark Hill’s lower, warmer Dark Horse vineyard at Murrumbateman grows the Rhone Valley varieties, shiraz, viognier, marsanne and roussanne plus Italy’s sangiovese. Carpenter expected to pick the Rhone whites on 3 April, the shiraz in two passes on 3 and 14 April, and the sangiovese on 18 April.

At Yarrh Wines, Murrumbateman, Neil McGregor and Fiona Wholohan harvested most of their crop before the rain arrived on 22 March. By 29 March only the late-ripening sangiovese remained on the vine. Wholohan expected to pick it on Sunday 2 April. The fruit remains disease-free, she said.

Yarrh Sangiovese Pet Nat 2017, Canberra’s first release of the vintage. Photo: Neil McGregor

McGregor said the wet spring set Yarrh’s vines off to a late but vigorous start, “but they didn’t go nuts”, he said. Anticipating hot weather, he began irrigating before Christmas and “paid attention to fruit shading” through canopy management, especially on the western side.

A tiny amount of fruit “got zapped” by the sun, he said, but most came through the season in great condition. While shiraz ripened a week earlier than the long-term average (after being three weeks early in 2016), other varieties ripened at normal times.

Wholohan and McGregor expect to offer their first wine of the 2017 vintage – Yarrh Pet Nat Sangiovese Rosé – during Canberra Harvest Festival, 8–9 April.

Richard Parker in a packed Long Rail Gully winery, 22 March 2017. Photo: Chris Shanahan

Richard Parker, winemaker at Long Rail Gully, Murrumbateman, expected to process around 500 tons of grapes, the winery’s largest vintage to date. He said, “Quality is amazingly good”. In a “compressed vintage, riesling, pinot gris, shiraz, pinot noir and merlot all ripened within one week”.

A busy Clonakilla winery, Murrumbateman, expected to process around 350 tons of grapes from its own vineyard, other Canberra growers, and neighbouring Tumbarumba and Hilltops regions.

On 22 March, Winemaker Bryan Martin noted the slow, wet start to the season, followed by perfect flowering across all varieties simultaneously, as warm, dry conditions set in. The resulting big crop began to arrive, “In a fairly orderly fashion –pinot noir two weeks ago, then sauvignon blanc, then we picked the last block of riesling today”, he said.

Winemaker Bryan Martin with a Clonakilla pinot noir ferment, 22 March 2017. Photo: Chris Shanahan

Hilltops shiraz was already fermenting, though the majority of Clonakilla’s shiraz remained on the vine, along with cabernet varieties and other Rhone Valley red varieties.

Heavy rain later that afternoon switched on owner Tim Kirk’s anxiety meter. But interviewed in the vineyard on 27 March, he said, “It’s looking good. There are odd bits of botrytis on some bunches, but we can pick around them. We’ll pick it all before Thursday. They’re fully ripe, with gorgeous spice flavours but at lower Baume [a measure of sugar content] than last year”.

Greg Gallagher with ripe shiraz, Gallagher vineyard, 22 March 2017. Photo: Chris Shanahan

Shiraz was on Greg Gallagher’s mind too after the rain on 22 March. But grapes in his Murrumbateman vineyard were ripe and scheduled for picking the following day. “I decided to pick them this week”, he said, “as they have lovely plum flavours”. He’d already processed riesling and sauvignon blanc as well as pinot noir and chardonnay for sparkling wine.

At Capital Wines, Murrumbateman, owner Andrew McEwin says volumes are above normal, but not by much. He says, “It’s a successful vintage by the look of it. My shiraz is spectacular, the best rieslings are very fine and fragrant, but quality depends on vineyard management and varies from grower to grower”. He expects sangiovese to be the last variety harvested, in mid to late April.

On 23 March, climbing down from his tractor in Wily Trout’s pinot noir vineyard at Springrange, Will Bruce described harvest timing as normal after a run of early-ripening years. He said, “It can’t get any better than this. The pinot’s a larger crop than usual, around nine tonnes a hectare, and the whites are excellent”.

Pinot pickers, Wily Trout Vineyard, 23 March 2017. Photo: Chris Shanahan

He’d already harvested chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot for rosé and was part way through picking pinot noir for red wine. He expected to pick shiraz the following week and saw no threat to quality or quantity. From this vintage Bruce will make his Wily Trout Wines at Nick O’Leary’s new Hall winery.

O’Leary’s winery, completed just before vintage on the former Lawson vineyard, sits on the eastern rim of the Murrumbidgee Valley, near Pankhurst, Wallaroo Vineyard, Surveyor’s Hill and Brindabella Hills Winery.

Nick O’Leary with Best’s Great Western Clone Shiraz, 23 March 2017. Nick bought the Lawson vineyard at Hall and completed his winery in time for the 2017 vintage. Photo: Chris Shanahan

O’Leary rates vintage quality as very high, especially for whites. Rieslings have lower sugar levels with lots of flavour and good acidity. He says harvest is around two to three weeks behind last year, which is back to normal, and “Everything’s coming in together. There was no break after riesling – in fact, tempranillo and riesling came in together”.

Riesling is the district’s hot variety this year according to O’Leary. Everyone’s after it, he says, including out-of-district makers, and if you can find it, expect to pay $2000 a ton – the second highest price for the variety in Australia after Tasmania’s $2300 a ton.

Brain Sinclair, ferments a Surveyor’s Hill sauvignon blanc at Brindabella Hills Winery, 23 March 2017. Photo: Chris Shanahan

Down the road from O’Leary, Brindabella Hills vineyard remains out of production as owners Roger and Faye Harris negotiate a sale. But winemaker Brian Sinclair uses the Brindabella Hills winery for his new Ironcutter label and also makes wine for neighbouring Surveyor’s Hill and Wallaroo vineyards, and Bermagui’s Rusty Fig vineyard.

At 24 March neighbouring Pankhurst Winery had harvested tempranillo and pinot noir, while cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, arneis, marsanne, roussanne and chardonnay remained on the vine. Allan Pankhurst described quality as “Superb to date, but we’re not half way yet”. He added the vines remained disease free after the first of the rain and anticipated a clean harvest, including his first substantial crop of Piedmontese white variety, arneis.

“Last year we blended it with marsanne and roussanne in our Box Tree White. This year we’ll have only a ton, but it’ll be enough to make a separate white”, said Pankhurst.

In the last of our vintage vignettes, Canberra’s inner city Mount Majura Vineyards reported on 24 March quantities generally slightly above estimates. Winemaker Fran van de Loo says, “We’re happy with quality so far”. However, much of the healthy-looking crop remained on the vine. Van de loo expects vintage to end with the harvest of graciano towards the end of April.

Provided all goes well in the last week or two of harvest, Canberra can expect another high quality vintage, with ample volumes and a greater diversity of varietals and wine styles than ever.

A season that was successively cool, wet, warm, dry, hot, cool, wet, then dry, ultimately produced excellent wine grapes. Wine made from those grapes will bear the season’s stamp. We can expect spicy reds, delicate whites and slightly lower alcohol in many of the wines – all subtle variations on a regional style. It’s really all about the weather and how our vignerons respond to it in vineyard and winery.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
Firsts published  4 April 2017 in the Canberra Times and goodfood

Wine review – Ballinaclash, Grove Estate, Moppity Vineyards, Vintner’s Daughter

Ballinaclash Sub Tuum Hilltops Shiraz 2014
$25

Sub Tuum Shiraz comes from Peter and Cathy Mullany’s 16-hectare Ballinaclash vineyard near Young. The wine – made by Chris Derrez and Lucy Madox of Madrez Wine Services, Orange – won gold at last year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show. Medium bodied, vibrant and fresh it shows the region’s delicious cherry-like varietal flavour and spice, with soft, juicy tannins. It’s available from ballinaclash.com.au and jugiongcellars.com.

Grove Estate Sommita Hilltops Nebbiolo 2013
$47
Brian Mullany holds interests in and manages several Hilltops vineyards totalling around 100 hectares. The largest, Grove Estate (49-hectares) sells fruit to leading Australian wineries, including components for Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz. Mullany trusts his nebbiolo grapes (a Piedmontese red variety) to Canberra winemaker Bryan Martin. The 2013, tasted alongside the 2014 and 2015, showed a delicious core of bright fresh fruit, tightly held by savoury tannins.

Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Reserve Hilltops Tempranillo 2015
$27
Jason Brown recently hosted a tasting at his 70-hectare Moppity Vineyards, covering wines from his Moppity and Tumbarumba vineyards. The Moppity wines (Hilltops region) showed class across a range of red varieties, including shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, nebbiolo and tempranillo – released under various Moppity, Lock and Key and Cato labels. His just-released tempranillo presents vivid, crimson colour, alluring perfume and matching vibrant fruit, wrapped in assertive but soft tannins.

Vintner’s Daughter Canberra District Riesling 2016
$30
In 2014 Stephanie Helm and viticulturist husband Ben Osborne bought Yass Valley Wines, changed the name to Vintner’s Daughter, and quickly grabbed attention, initially for their outstanding 2015 riesling. While the 2016 vintage hasn’t achieved as much wine-show success as the 2015, it’s in a similar style. Lemon-like varietal aroma and flavour give the wine great vitality. Bracing, fresh acidity gives a pleasantly tart grip to the dry finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 28 March 2017 in the Canberra Times

Capital Brewing Co takes shape

Capital Brewing Co launched in the Canberra market last April, selling kegged beer made in Sydney by their own American brewer, Wade Hurley. At the launch, Capital partner Tom Hertel announced plans to shift production to Canberra following construction of a brewery in Fyshwick, Canberra.

Though originally scheduled for opening in late 2016, the brewery is now likely to be commissioned by late May 2017, said Capital’s Nick Hislop during a site visit today. However, the consumer launch will likely be some months later as production settles and Canberra’s cold winter ends.

The pictures show Capital Brewing’s location and give a glimpse of what promises to be an outstanding new beer venue.

Capital Brewing Co location
Capital Brewing Co, now being fitted out at 1 Dairy Road, Fyshwick, Canberra. It’s due for commissioning in May 2017, with a public opening in spring.
Entry and courtyard
Capital’s Nick Hislop in the large, landscaped courtyard. The area will all be licensed and includes a stage for gigs.
Meccano for brewers
Nick Hislop and the US-made brewing stuff, ready for assembly.
Brewing platform and customer service area
The brewery will go on the raised area. The lower area is to be fitted with high benches and stools, with the bar to the right and out of sight in this shot.
A rear courtyard, too
Nick in the rear courtyard with baby plants already beginning their long climb up the structure.

Read The story behind Capital Brewing Co.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017

Wine review – McWilliams Tumbarumba, Shaw Vineyard Estate, The Vintner’s Daughter, McKellar Ridge

McWilliams Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2014
Rob Parke’s Glenburnie vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW
$40
At last year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show, Tumbarumba region bagged 14 of the 17 medals awarded to chardonnays from the 2015 and earlier vintages. This silver medallist from the show, made by Andrew Higgins, captures the intense varietal flavour of cool-grown chardonnay fermented and matured in French oak barrels. The delicious chardonnay flavour harmonises with the barrel-derived characters, creating an opulent, silk-textured wine of great elegance and character.

Shaw Vineyard Estate Riesling 2016
Shaw vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$30

Graeme Shaw grows riesling at his Murrumbateman vineyard but trucks the grapes to Calabria Family Wines, Griffith, for winemaking. This is a bigger, stronger style than the average Canberra riesling, thanks largely to the influence of botrytis cinerea, a fungus growing on the grape skins. Shaw riesling gives Canberra’s typically bracing, fresh acidity and citrus-like varietal flavour. And the botrytis influence shows as an orange-rind-like aroma and flavour, accompanied by a subtle sweetness and grippy, mildly tannic finish.

The Vintner’s Daughter Shiraz Viognier 2015
Vintner’s Daughter vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$40
While her father Ken Helm continues to champion Canberra cabernet, Stephanie Helm opts for the regional specialty – shiraz–viognier – grown and made in conjunction with her husband Ben Osborne. In 2014 the couple bought and renamed Yass Valley Wines and from the vineyard produced this impressive red in the outstanding 2015 vintage. Medium bodied, in the Canberra mould, it offers juicy, sweet fruity, spicy varietal flavour and soft tannins. It may cellar well, but the seductive, sweet fruit and caressing tannins make it irresistible now.

McKellar Ridge Riesling 2016
Briar Hill vineyard, Canberra District, NSW
$22
Brian Johnston’s silver medallist from the regional wine show reveals a leaner, high-acid side of Canberra riesling, with lemon-like varietal flavour and an exotic touch of passionfruit. The natural acidity intensifies the flavour and contributes to the lively, fresh, dry finish. Johnston writes, “The grapes are all hand picked, de-stemmed and pressed into a stainless steel vat”. This gentle processing and a cool fermentation account for the wine’s purity and delicacy.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 27 February 2017 in CT app and the Canberra Times