All posts by Chris Shanahan

Five top Canberra and NSW high-country wines

On the back of two consecutive, bountiful, high quality vintages, winemakers in Canberra and the neighbouring NSW high-country released an amazing wealth of classy wines in 2016.

Regional specialties lighted the way. Canberra 2015 shiraz and 2016 riesling sit with Australia’s best. So does chardonnay from Tumbarumba and shiraz and cabernet sauvignon from Hilltops.

But our regional offering now stretches way beyond recognised specialties to delicious quirky wines, like naturally sparkling pet nats (from the French petillant naturel), and a spectrum of varietals, including savagnin, gruner veltliner, marsanne, roussanne, viognier, nebbiolo, sangiovese, tempranillo, montepulciano, barbera, gamay, touriga nacional and graciano.

Despite the excellence and diversity of styles now being made in the NSW high country, shiraz remains the most exciting variety. At the 2016 National Wine Show of Australia, judges tasted 299 shirazes. Canberra’s Mount Majura 2015 topped a field of 88 wines from the vintage. And Chalkers Crossing Hilltops CC2 2014 beat all comers from the 2014 vintage.

The two locals wrestled for victory in the trophy taste-off. Chalkers Crossing won (see review below). The success of the two elegant, medium bodied southern NSW high country styles shows a shift among judges away from Australia’s brawnier, traditional warm-grown versions. But more than anything else, it reveals growing recognition of mature winemaking and the high quality of shiraz grown at altitude in southern NSW.

Alex McKay's Collector Canberra District Marked Tree Shiraz Viognier won the National Wine Show of Australia's Red Wine of Provenance Trophy. Photo: Alan Howard
Alex McKay’s Collector Canberra District Marked Tree Shiraz Viognier won the National Wine Show of Australia’s Red Wine of Provenance Trophy. Photo: Alan Howard

Cementing that shift,  judges awarded the Red Wine of Provenance trophy to another local, Alex McKay’s Collector Marked Tree Red, a Canberra shiraz–viognier blend. Judges compared McKay’s 2015, 2009 and 2005 vintages to similar spans of vintages of Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz, Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz, St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz and Rosemount Estate Balmoral shiraz.

Back in the shiraz classes, local wines other than the two trophy contenders rated highly, with gold medals awarded to Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Reserve Shiraz 2015, Grove Estate Hilltops Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2015 and Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Estate Shiraz 2015 and 2014.

With so many delicious local wines available, my favourite five of the year represents outstanding examples of particular styles: one traditional riesling, two shirazes and two glimpses of the future in the white marsanne and red tempranillo.

But a score or more wines could easily have been substituted for the selections. That’s how good Canberra and region wines are at the end of 2016. The message is to be adventurous and enjoy yourself. There’s a wealth of wine out there to be discovered.

A FAVOURITE FIVE

Four Winds Vineyard Riesling 2016Four Winds Vineyard Canberra District Riesling 2016
Four Winds vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$25
Four Winds Vineyard’s Sarah Collingwood, a finalist in the 2016 Women in Wine Awards, missed out on the gong, but shares credit for her family’s delicious 2016 gold-medal-winning riesling. Any number of Canberra rieslings qualify for a “favourite” rating and singling out just one seems miserly when so many pass the luscious test. However, Four Winds sat among the silver and gold medallists on the tasting bench, then graduated to the dinner table where its delicate, juicy flavours and freshness left us looking for the second bottle.

collector-lamp-lit-marsanne-2016Collector Lamp Lit Marsanne 2016
Wayne and Jennie Fischer’s Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$22
Like other Canberra vignerons, Collector’s Alex McKay looks to Rhone Valley white varieties as alternatives to riesling, the district’s specialty. Marsanne leads a three-way blend with roussanne and viognier – all spontaneously fermented in oak barrels and all subject to a secondary fermentation converting tart malic acid to softer lactic acid. The varietal combination and winemaking technique produce a unique, savoury dry white well removed the floral, aromatic style of riesling. The aroma combines a citrus-like character (orange and mandarin) with subtly musk- and Turkish-delight-like notes. These are reflected on a smooth, richly textured palate of great vibrance and freshness, with a mildly tannic grip on the lingering dry finish.

Ravensworth Shiraz ViognierRavensworth Shiraz Viognier 2015
Ravensworth vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$36
What better wine to represent Canberra’s beautiful shiraz–viognier style than Bryan and Jocelyn Martin’s Ravensworth 2015, winner of four trophies at the 2016 Canberra and Region Wine Show. Judges voted it best shiraz, best Canberra shiraz, best dry red of show and champion wine of the show. This was the fourth time Ravensworth won the show’s champion’s trophy. The 2015 shows the exceptional depth and harmony of the great vintage – a buoyant, lively and exciting red, combining fruit, spice, savour and substantial though silky tannin structure.

Chalkers Crossing CC2 Shiraz 2014Chalkers Crossing CC2 Shiraz 2014
Chalkers Crossing vineyard, Hilltops Region, NSW
$22
Fruit, fruit and more fruit gives Celine Rousseau’s modestly priced CC2 shiraz tremendous drink-now appeal. In the 2016 National Wine Show it faced off against Canberra’s Mount Majura 2015 to win the trophy as best shiraz of 299 in a tough competition. It went on to win three more trophies – best single vineyard dry red, best dry red, and the Len Evans Memorial Trophy as wine of the show. Len would’ve approved of the wine’s fresh, ripe, succulent fruit and spice flavours and fine, soft tannins. Rousseau says only about a tenth of the wine sees oak, hence the predominance of the lovely fruit.

Mt Majura Tempranillo 2015Mount Majura Tempranillo 2015
Mount Majura Vineyard, Canberra District
$45
Frank van der Loo made Mount Majura’s first tempranillo in 2003 in the comparatively early days for this Spanish red variety. The vines performed well in Canberra’s climate and over time tempranillo became Mount Majura’s flagship. In the 2016 local wine show, Canberra and surrounding regions fielded 14 entries in the tempranillo class. Mt Majura 2015 topped the class and went on to win the trophy for “best dry red other varieties or blends”. The great 2015 vintage produced a tempranillo of exceptional dimension, featuring intense ripe, black-cherry-like fruit flavour, combined with a deep savouriness, reminiscent of soy. The variety’s distinctive, chewy tannins cut through the vibrant fruit, giving a long, satisfying finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 16 December 2016 in the Canberra Times

Wine review – Gundog Estate, Chalkers Crossing, McKellar Ridge, Four Winds Vineyard

Gundog Estate ShirazGundog Estate Canberra District Shiraz 2015
$40

The Burton family’s Hunter-based Gundog Estate owns a vineyard at Gundaroo and is soon to open a cellar door outlet in the old stables at the Royal Hotel. The family’s 2015 shiraz shows the deep, sweet, fruity–spicy depth of the excellent vintage, complemented by layers of soft, savoury tannins that give grip and drinking satisfaction. Gold-medal winner, Winewise Small Vignerons Awards 2016.

Chalkers Crossing Tumba ChardonnayChalkers Crossing Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013
$25
Like many high-country NSW winemakers, Young-based Celine Rousseau sources chardonnay from the cool, elevated Tumbarumba region. Her 2013 vintage tasted dazzling fresh at the recent Women in Wine awards at Avenue C Wine Bar, Campbell. Canberra finalist Sarah Collingwood (Four Winds Vineyard) missed out on gong but enjoyed great support from 17 local vignerons, including Rousseau, serving wine at the event.

McKellar Ridge Merlot Cab FrancMcKellar Ridge Canberra District Merlot Cabernet Franc 2015
$28–$30
Winemaker Brian Johnston models this silver medallist from the Canberra regional wine show on the reds of Bordeaux sub-region St Emillion. It combines merlot (70 per cent) and cabernet franc in a medium bodied style displaying the plummy fruit and grippy tannins of merlot, ameliorated by the perfume and softness of cabernet franc.

Four Winds Vineyard Riesling 2016Four Winds Vineyard Canberra District Riesling 2016
$25
Four Winds Vineyard’s Sarah Collingwood was a finalist in the recent Women in Wine Awards. She missed out on the gong, but has so far earned a gold and three silver medals for this absolutely delicious dry riesling. It combines the variety’s floral and citrus characters in its aroma. And the palate sings with delicate, mouth-watering, lemon-like varietal flavour.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 29 November 2016 in the Canberra Times

Capital Brewing Co to pour its first Canberra slab

Capital Brewing Co's Nick Hislop
Capital Brewing Co’s Nick Hislop

Canberra’s Capital Brewing Co launched into the Canberra market in April this year. Ex-San Diego brewer Wade Hurley produced the beers in a Sydney brewery.

At the launch, owners Tom Hertel and Laurence Kain of Hippo Bar and Rich and Sam Coombes of Batlow Cider Co, said they expect to build a Canberra brewery later in the year.

Seven months later, the promise looks set to become reality with the pouring of the first concrete slab scheduled for Tuesday 15 November 2016.

Director of brewing operations, Nick Hislop, said Capital’s brewery and bar areas would occupy half of an existing 2,000 square metre building in Dairy Road Fyshwick. The initial fitting is to include three uni-tanks and a bright tank, with combined production capacity of 24 hectolitres, plus bottling and keg-filling facilities and a public tasting area.

Hislop says the opening is scheduled for February-March 2017. At that stage the brewery will include a public sales and tasting area with trucked-in food. Later plans include a kitchen and two beer gardens.

Capital Brewing Co currently offers six beers in outlets around Canberra:

  • Coast Ale – an easy drinking ‘California common’ style
  • Trail Pale Ale – a hybrid, like a hopped-up English Pale Ale, using English yeast and Australian hops
  • Evil Eye IPA – An approachable 5.8%-alcohol IPA using Topaz hops
  • First Tracks Stout – uses chocolate wheat malt, includes Barrio Collective (Braddon ACT) whole roasted beans in the boil and cold-brew coffee post-ferment
  • Spring Board – A seasonal American-style wheat beer, with orange and coriander, with honey as an adjunct, all fermented dry and highly carbonated. Dry and orangey, not estery.
  • White Cockatoo – A collaboration with Marrickville’s The Grifter Brewing Co. A wheat IPA using American yeast, Australian ingredients and American techniques, including double dry hopping with Galaxy and Topaz varieties

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

Wine review – Clonakilla, Summerhill Road, McWilliams Tumbarumba, Long Rail Gully

Clonakilla Shiraz ViognierClonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2015
Clonakilla vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District
$96

Even among all the sensational 2015 vintage Canberra shirazes, Clonakilla’s flagship shiraz viognier retains its number one position. Three times in the past four months it topped tastings I attended. Away from the austerity of the tasting bench, it seduced and thrilled recently at Aubergine Restaurant, Griffith, Canberra. Chef Ben Willis’s succulent lamb rump, broad beans, black garlic and celtuce heightened the wine’s fragrance and supple, juicy, depth. And the wine lifted the food in one of the most delicious wine–food combos imaginable.

Summerhill Roadl rieslingSummerhill Road Riesling 2016
Summerhill Road vineyard, Lake George Escarpment, Canberra District
$20
Twenty-three of 34 2016 dry rieslings won medals at the recent Canberra regional wine show. One of the silver medallists, Summerhill Road, comes from a vineyard on the Lake George Escarpment, about 11km north-west of Bungendore as the crow flies. The appealing young riesling combines floral and lemony varietal aroma. The soft but lively, fresh palate reflects the aroma. It finishes dry and pleasantly tart.

McWilliam's Appellation Tumbarumba ChardonnayMcWilliams Appellation Series Chardonnay 2015
Tumbarumba, NSW
$21.90–$25
In the 2016 Canberra regional wine show, the Tumbarumba region earned 14 of the 17 medals awarded in a class of 35 2015-vintage chardonnays. Little wonder Canberra winemakers line up to buy fruit from the region. McWilliams won seven of those medals, including a gold for this outstanding example of modern, barrel-fermented chardonnay. It’s bright, fresh with deliciously citrus- and nectarine-like varietal flavour, smooth texture and dry, zesty finish.

Long Rail Gully Pinot GrisLong Rail Gully Pinot Gris 2016
Long Rail Gully vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District
$19.80–22
Winemaker Richard Parker makes the Canberra specialties, shiraz and riesling, but also makes convincing pinot noir and pinot gris – varieties generally associated with cooler growing areas than Canberra. His new vintage pinot gris provides fuller-bodied, grippier drinking than, say, riesling, with a round, rich palate, smooth texture and a fresh, pear-like aftertaste. The extra weight and texture comes from barrel-fermentation and ageing of a portion of the blend.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 8 November 2016 in the Canberra Times

Canberra’s BentSpoke brewery launches packaged beer

BentSpoke owners Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain with ACT  Chief Minister Andrew Barr (centre)
BentSpoke owners Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain with ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr (centre)

BentSpoke Brewing Co yesterday unveiled its second brewery and a high-speed canning line, located in Mitchell, a Canberra industrial suburb.

Brewer Richard Watkins says the new facility has the potential to brew six million litres a year – equivalent to 666 thousand nine-litre slabs – making it by far Canberra’s biggest brewery.

Until an on-site bar opens in mid-2017, the brewery’s output will be devoted to cans and kegs for distribution around Canberra.

Since opening in mid 2014, BentSpoke’s original brewpub, located in inner city Braddon, has produced around 300,000 litres of beer across about 50 styles. The beers have all been served on site from tap.

However, the opening of the larger Mitchell brewery, with its canning and keg-filling capacity, puts BentSpoke into the highly competitive wholesale beer business. It will fight for tap and shelf space against both mainstream and craft brewers, including Canberra locals Zierholz, Pact Beer Co and Capital Brewing Co.

Watkins says local retailers are keen to support local brewers and by launch date on 3 November, 11 outlets had signed up. These included Plonk, Prohibition, Ainslie Cellars, Curtin Cellars, Jim Murphy Fyshwick and Airport, Page Bottle-O, and the Woolworths-owned BWS stores at Calwell, Franklin and Mawson.

BentSpoke cans feature a removable pull-tab and wide opening
BentSpoke cans feature a removable pull-tab and wide opening

For the launch, Watkins released canned versions of two popular BentSpoke brews. Mid-strength (4.2% alcohol) Barley Griffin Canberra Pale Ale offers ultra fresh flavour with distinctive hops filling the mid palate and giving a vigorous, lingering bitterness. It’s streets ahead of most mid-strength brews. Crankshaft IPA, at 5.8% alcohol, delivers opulent malty character, citrusy hops flavour and thrilling bitterness – a delicious version of this popular, characterful USA West-Coast style.

Both come in 375ml aluminium cans with a pull-tab that completely detaches as it opens almost the entire diameter of the can.

Before commissioning the new brewery, Watkinson hired former James Squire brewer Mick Rance. “He’s a great brewer”, says Watkins, “and he’s got the technical skill to use the canning equipment. We have very low oxygen levels in our beer, as low as the big brewers, which is a big achievement”.

Watkins believes cans offer several advantages over bottles: they’re impervious to light, they don’t smash, and they’re light. The rip-top version he selected gives a wide, round opening that allows the drinker to see and smell the beer – a notable improvement over other pull-tabs. However, the tab detaches completely, leaving a sharp-edged, 50-cent-sized circle of aluminium to dispose of.

That’s a retrograde step in my opinion, reminiscent of the first detachable rip-tops of the 1970s. Discarded tabs from beer and soft drinks littered the ground everywhere. Some people even swallowed them after they’d been dropped into cans. After medical, environmental and public outcries, businesses eventually replaced them with tabs that remained attached. While people are unlikely to swallow the large new tabs, the fact that they detach from the can creates a litter problem, and leaves a loose end on a technology that otherwise benefits the consumer.

BentSpoke Brewing Co is a partnership between Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain, and the Meddings family, owners of Melbourne-based brewing supplier Bintani Australia.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

Sensational 2012 Grange leads Penfolds 2016 releases

Winemaker Peter Gago in Penfolds Magill Cellars, Adelaide
Winemaker Peter Gago in Penfolds Magill Cellars, Adelaide

Led by a sensational Grange vintage, Penfolds will release its 2016 collection across Australia on Thursday 20 October.

The predictably impressive line up, includes many highlights: Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2015, Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2014, Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2014, Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2014, Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2014, RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2014, Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 and Grange 2012.

It also raised a couple of doubts. Will the leesy, lemony 2014 Yattarna Chardonnay flesh out and blossom with age? Will the fruit in Magill Estate Shiraz 2014 eventually absorb the wine’s abundant oak? Winemaker Peter Gago’s confidence in both gives hope. He’s a credible source. But should buyers shoulder the risk, or wait and come back to the secondary market a few years down the track?

I base my notes on the wines on a pre-release press tasting hosted by Penfolds in Melbourne on 20 September. As the wines haven’t been released yet, I’ve quoted Penfolds recommended retail prices. For most wines, prices should fall below these levels as retailers fight for your business.

Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling 2016
Woodbury vineyard, Eden Valley, South Australia
$30
Bin 51 shows the soft, round, easy drinkability of rieslings from the 2016 vintage. The aroma combines floral and citrus varietal characters which carry through to a round, juicy seductive palate. Keen acidity accentuates the citrus-like varietal flavour as it cleans up and dries out the mildly grippy finish.

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2015
Tumbarumba, NSW
$45
The lowest priced of Penfolds three chardonnays shows its cool origins with grapefruit- and white-peach-like varietal aromas and flavours. These form the heart of a delicious, pure, varietal dry white – though fermentation and maturation in older French oak barrels added significantly, if unobtrusively, to its elegant structure, texture and flavour.

Penfolds Reserve Bin A Chardonnay 2015
Adelaide Hills, South Australia
$100
Turn up the volume. After the subtle, pure, elegance of Bin 311 we arrive at a powerful chardonnay combining intense fruit with equally intense winemaking-derived flavours. However, the great fruit comfortably absorbs the influence of new, charry oak (40%), spontaneous fermentation and full malolactic conversion (a secondary fermentation converting malic acid to lactic acid). Lemon-butter-like varietal flavour and tang; charry, spicy oak; and nutty, lees-maturation flavours all come together in an impressive, elegant, fine-boned chardonnay.

Penfolds Bin Yattarna 2014
Derwent Valley and Central Highlands, Tasmania 73%;
Adelaide Hills, South Australia 27%
$150
Is the emperor naked? Winemaker Peter Gago urges patience and time for the 2014 flagship to show its best. Certainly it’s delicate, leesy, lemony, taut, and austere at this stage. Will the underlying nectarine-like flavour blossom with age, as Peter believes? Yattarna’s provenance supports his belief, but buying it remains an act of faith.

Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mataro 2014
McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek and Wrattonbully, South Australia
$35
Penfold­s blend of the Rhone’s shiraz (aka syrah) and mataro (aka mourvedre or monastrell) goes back more than half a century. The 2014 combo offers mouth-filling shiraz softness, tempered by spicy, savoury mataro. It starts soft and juicy,  ends with a pleasant acid-tannin bite

Penfolds Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz 2014
McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully, Padthaway and Coonawarra, South Australia
$45
­Lots of ripe, upfront fruit and soft tannins give drink-now appeal to this blend of cabernet sauvignon (52%) and shiraz (48%) – although a chewy, Penfolds richness suggests good drinking for some years yet. Cabernet contributes herbal and blackcurrant-like notes that punch through the generous shiraz and background sweet oak.

Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2014
Barossa Valley, South Australia
$45
Bin 138 takes us away from the multi-region blend to Penfolds’ heartland, the warm Barossa Valley. Deep with crimson rim, almost opaque. Earthy, beetroot- and black-cherry-like aromas, with the aromatic, musk-like lift of grenache. Mouth-filling, warm flavours reflect the aroma. Earthy, spicy, fruity finish with soft tannins.

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2014
­Coonawarra, South Australia
$45
Four hundred kilometres south of the Barossa, Coonawarra’s cool maritime climate produces the elegant, fine-boned Bin 128 shiraz that contrasts with the opulence of the warm-grown style of Bin 28. Finessing in the Coonawarra vineyards and winemaking in recent years saw a maturing of the style. Medium to deep, crimson-rimmed colour; fragrant and attractive aroma showing a cool-climate floral side of shiraz; sweet, red-berry and spice flavours; elegant, succulent palate with fine tannins giving backbone and satisfying dry finish.

Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz 2014
Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Wrattonbully, Port Lincoln and Clare Valley, South Australia
$45
Although originally from Penfolds’ Kalimna vineyard in the northern Barossa, Bin 28’s sourcing diversified as production increased. However, it retains its full-bodied warm-climate shiraz style – spectacularly so in 2014: Opaque red-black with crimson rim; aroma of black cherry with savoury soy- and black-olive like notes; big, generous palate of sweet, pervasive fruit, meshed in soft, mouth-coating tannins. Warm, rich, satisfying – and a litmus of Penfolds quality.

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2014
Marananga, Barossa Valley
$90
Kalimna in the northern Barossa remains the capital of what some call “Grange country”. However, the Grange mantle extends to Marananga in the western Barossa and, following extensive planting of the in the 1990s, volumes increased sufficiently to create a sub-regional expression in Bin 150. “Opaque red-black with crimson rim; intensely aromatic, combining, plums, earth, oak and that special, alluring Penfolds lift; gorgeous, seductively plush plate, juicy and lively, with sensuous fruit – aided and abetted by plush, pillow-soft tannin. A complete and unique red”.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Coonawarra and Clare Valley, South Australia
$90
Textbook cabernet sauvignon: “Deep red-black with crimson rim; varietal aroma of blackcurrant, herb and mint with subtle undertone of oak; lively, fresh palate reflecting the aroma, mouth-filling but elegantly structured with assertive though fine cabernet tannins”.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2014
Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra, South Australia
$90
Built for long-term cellaring, Bin 389 combines cabernet and shiraz from two warm regions – the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale – and two significantly cooler areas –Wrattonbully and Coonawarra. It’s an harmonious combination in the dense, powerful Penfolds style: “Opaque red-black colour with crimson rim; aroma of earth, soy, black olive and ripe black cherry; buoyant, dense palate, saturated with dark fruit and savoury character, reflective of the aroma; layered and deeply integrate tannins”.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2013
McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Padthaway and Port Lincoln, South Australia
$100
In the Penfolds red line-up, St Henri alone matures in 50+ year-old large oak vats rather than small barrels. However, the absence of obvious oak flavour doesn’t rule out other winemaker influences. Winemaker Peter Gago describes St Henri as “Cleverly propelled by just the right amount of formics and VA [Peter’s italics]” – jargon for compounds that develop naturally in the presence of air and in small amounts can give life and vivacity to wine. (Grange creator Max Schubert, at times criticised for the amount of VA [volatile acidity] in Grange, confessed to ruining a few batches). However, individual thresholds for detecting these compounds vary, meaning those with greater sensitivity may be distracted by them. “Deep red-black with crimson rim; a touch of VA lifts the subtle fruit aroma giving the wine another dimension; glorious palate – elegant and refined with intense, potent pure ripe-cherry-like fruit, bound with grippy but ripe and fine tannins. Beautiful wine, destined to evolve for decades”.

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2014
Magill Estate, Adelaide, South Australia
$130
In late 1982 Max Schubert’s hand-written proposal to the board of Adsteam (Penfolds owner at the time) resulted in the creation of Magill Estate Shiraz in the 1983 vintage. Schubert’s proposal, supported by Penfolds chief executive Ian Mackley and general manager Jim Williams, saved the inner-suburb vineyard from the bulldozer. The vineyard produces a medium-bodied style. In 2014, a substantial wine, with superb fruit, seems dominated by new oak. The fruit may absorb the oak over time, but only time will tell.

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2014
Barossa Valley, South Australia
$200
Where Grange shows the immense power of warm-grown shiraz matured in American oak barrels, RWT captures a more refined expression, matured in French oak. “Deep red-black with crimson rim; intensely floral, aromatic expression of shiraz with a spicy note and cedar-like perfume from the barrels; oh, so fine palate of ripe, buoyant shiraz fruit, layered with fine tannins and spice that could be derived from both the fruit and oak”.

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Barossa Valley, Padthaway and Port Lincoln, South Australia
$500
Bit by bit Bin 707 closes the price gap on Grange. An equivalent wine in quality, if not yet in reputation, 707 ages gracefully for decades. Chateau Shanahan occasionally marvels at the 1986, one of the greatest 707s of all and, I believe, a more complex wine than Grange of the same vintage. The 2014 reveals all the dark and brooding glory of Bin 707: impenetrable, crimson-rimmed, red–black colour; deep, succulent varietal blackcurrant flavours; additional savoury elements, reminiscent of soy and charcuterie; a distinctive, sweet oak character that permeates the fruit, but with time will disappear into it; and powerful but fine oak and fruit tannins to see the wine through decades of cellaring. This is a great wine.

Penfolds Grange 2012
Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, South Australia
$850
One of the great vintages. “Opaque red-black colour with vivid crimson rim; earth, sweet, ripe fruit, oak and black-olive flavours all swirl together into one deep, powerful whole of great vibrance, freshness and layered depth. This is Grange in all its idiosyncratic glory. Best drunk from about 15 years after vintage”.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

Canberra’s sensational 2015 reds

Canberra’s 2015 vintage produced sensational reds, perhaps the best in the district’s history. The quality – now in the glass for all to enjoy – justifies the superlatives sprinkled around like water at harvest time last year.

At Lerida Estate, Lake George, Malcolm Burdett says, “It’s the best ever. Better than the 2013”. Greg Gallagher, Gallagher Wines, Murrumbateman, agrees. At harvest last year he said, “I think this is the best vintage I’ve done in this district”. A year on, with his 2015 reds bottled (but not released) he’s calling them “perfect”, a result of ripening conditions from mid-January to late March being “fantastic”.

At Hall, Alan Pankhurst rated it “a bit better than 2013”, while at Murrumbateman Ken Helm declared, “It has outdone even 2013. It ticked every box and is the best across all varieties. If we get a better vintage than this, I’ll be very, very surprised. It’s a cracker”.

More expansively, but in a similar vein, Mount Majura’s Frank van de Loo writes, “[2015] probably was my best vintage ever, certainly exceptionally good – we had fairly mild conditions through summer, a bit more humid and cloudy than we otherwise like, but then fine and mild as we got to vintage, which seems a pretty magic combination”.

At the end of harvest last year, Alex McKay (Collector Wines) said, “ [outstanding quality] is most obvious in the reds, though there’s a lot of good riesling. The best vintage to date has been 2013. But 2015 is up there and may be better”.

Winemaker Nick O’Leary explained how elements of the outstanding season translated into great wine. Healthy vine canopies, resulting from adequate ground moisture and mild temperatures, produced healthy, plump, juicy, properly ripened grapes with no signs of shrivel. In turn this meant generally trouble-free, complete ferments.

Those healthy, properly ripened red grapes delivered harmonious reds with vivid colours, vibrant varietal flavours, ripe tannins and fresh acidity.

While no vintage proves to be all good or all bad (though I’ve yet to see a dud 2015) benign seasons produce a high average quality as well as great highlights. The good years also mean that even the simpler, early release, drink-now reds offer richer fruit and superior all-round drinking satisfaction

A good example is the juicy, drink-now Yarrh Mr Natural Shiraz 2015 ($25). Winemaker Fiona Wholohan says, “Making a wine like this needs perfect fruit” and doubts she could make it at all in lesser seasons. She simply de-stemmed and crushed the grapes to tank, and then let nature takes its course. There were no additions (such as yeast nutrient, tannin or acid) other than sulphur dioxide, an essential preservative, at bottling. You cannot do that with such delicious results without perfect grapes.

Comparably juicy flavours and drink-now appeal were also part of Ravensworth’s now sold-out Sangiovese 2015 and Garnacha Tinto Y Cinq-Sao 2015 – wines capable also of some cellaring. Also sold out is Ravensworth Hilltops Nebbiolo 2015, an elegant, lovable, and probably long-lived expression of this Piedmont variety. We enjoyed a bottle recently at Temporada – indicating that some of the sold-out wines may still be in restaurants or bottle shops.

However, most of the 2015s are either in the market now or being held back by the makers for later release. Tastings in the winery and on the Chateau Shanahan bench left no doubt about their sizzling quality.

Style for any variety varies across the district, partly because of vineyard site and management, but also through winemaker inputs such as whether they include stems in the ferment or variations in oak-maturation regime.

But there is a vintage style – like a fine-tuning of the almost perfect 2013s. These remain some of the best wines made in the district, noted for ripe fruit, assertive tannin structure and potential for the best to age gracefully for many years.

The 2015s emphasise the ripe fruit flavours more, while retaining mouth-caressing ripe tannins, but not the assertiveness of the 2013s. The result is simply irresistible, satisfying drinking from wines destined to rise to the top wherever they show up in Australia’s wine show circuit.

Shiraz and shiraz-viognier blends, Canberra’s specialty, lead the way. But the vintage also produced notable tempranillo, sangiovese, merlot, pinot noir and nebbiolo among the wines tasted to date – and there are many more yet to come.

The 2015s provide a great buying opportunity for wine drinkers to explore the Canberra District’s deeply flavoured, medium bodied style at its best. Many of the wines are already in the market. Others are due for release either late this year in the first half of 2017. The wines reviewed below are all from the Canberra District, with the exception of Ravensworth nebbiolo, sourced from the neighbouring Hilltops region.

CURRENTLY AVAILABLE 2015 REDS

Shiraz and shiraz-viognier

Nick O’Leary Shiraz 2015 $25
Seductively fragrant and floral, with spice and soy-like savour.

Nick O’Leary Bolero Shiraz 2015 $55
Deep and savoury with concentrated fruit, power and elegance. Superior quality.

Yarrh Mr Natural Shiraz 2015 $25
Delicious and juicy. Drink it up – slurp, slurp.

McKellar Ridge Shiraz Viognier 2015
Round, plush and seductive, the palate ripples with vibrant, ripe-berry flavours. Gold medalist in the Royal Queensland and NSW Small Winemakers shows.

Four Winds Vineyard Shiraz 2015 $30
Typical Canberra red fruits and spice flavours, plush and lovely.

Lerida Estate Shiraz 2015 $26.50
Fragrant and fruity, with Canberra spice and slightly firmer tannic bite distinctive of this vineyard.

Lerida Estate Shiraz Viognier 2015 $85
More powerful and brooding that Lerida’s straight shiraz, backed by quite firm tannins. Should cellar well.

Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2015 $36
Buoyant, lively and exciting, combining fruit, savour and substantial though silky structure. One of the best.

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2015 $96
Sensational and still the district’s finest. Shows more stemmy character than usual (from inclusion of whole bunches in the ferment) but this is a positive both for flavour and smooth texture in a wine of this calibre.

Pinot Noir

Long Rail Gully Murrumbateman Pinot Noir 2015
A lovely pinot, showing fragrant fruit and the complexity of whole-bunch ferments. Great to drink now and over the next four or five years.

Lerida Estate Lake George Pinot Noir 2015 $26.50
A world apart from the Long Rail Gully style, nice fruit underling the assertive tannin structure. Not your typical Australian pinot.


Lerida Estate Cullerin Lake George Pinot Noir 2015 $35
Like a concentrated version of the entry-level pinot, fruit and tannin multiplied. The tannin structure is reminiscent of Burgundy, not Australia.

Other varieties
Four Winds Vineyard Sangiovese 2015 $30
A lighter, juicy version of this Italian variety, with fine, savoury tannins.

Mount Majura Tempranillo 2015 $45
A wine of exceptional flavour depth, displaying tempranillo’s distinctive, pervasive tannins. Take a bow Frank van de Loo, this could be Canberra’s next red specialty after shiraz.

Mount Majura TSG 2015 $34
This blend of tempranillo, shiraz and graciano, thrills with its vivid purple colour, sweet, seductive aroma and vibrant, harmonious palate.

Lerida Estate Georgianus 2015 $16.50
A pot-pourri of leftovers blended to give affordable medium-bodied drinking with Lerida’s distinctive firm tannins.

Lerida Estate Merlot Cabernet Franc 2015 $26.50
Lerida’s local take on St Emillion’s classic blend shows the true power and tannic muscle of merlot in a good season. Needs time.

TASTED AND LOVED BUT NOT YET RELEASED

Mount Majura Shiraz 2015 $34 – for release November 2016
A winner of gold medals at the NSW Small Winemakers Show and Winewise Small Vignerons. Demonstrates the immense appeal of the vintage.

Collector Rose Red City 2015 $32 – for release April 2017
Alex McKay’s blend of sangiovese and other Italian varieties provides spice, savour and red-currant-like flavours with taut, drying tannins.

Collector Marked Tree Shiraz 2015 $28 – for release April 2017)
A less fleshy style, showing pepper, spice, and whole-bunch character, combined with red-berry flavour and grippy, savoury finish.

Collector Reserve Shiraz 2015 $58 – for release April 2017)
An impressive, multi-dimensional wine featuring ripe, dark-cherry like fruit, spice, and soy-like savour. Taut structure and chewy richness make this one of the best.

Wily Trout Shiraz 2015 $28 – for release early 2017
Irresistibly ripe, plush and lovely, this wine elevates Wily Trout from bronze-medal to gold-medal standard.

Four Winds Vineyard Tom’s Block Shiraz 2015 $75 – for release March 2017
Earth, spice, fruit and oak saturate the palate of an exceptional shiraz.

Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2015 $36 – for release late 2016 or early 2017
A fragrant wine offering berry, spice and a gentle, understated but gorgeous drinking.

Clonakilla Syrah 2015 barrel sample – for release April 2017
It’s not even bottled yet but shows an Hermitage-like rivalry for Clonakilla’s flagship shiraz–viognier blend. Extraordinary fruit flavours.

Gallagher Shiraz 2015 $30 – for release late 2016 or early 2017
A distinctive shiraz showing the juicy richness of the vintage with intense black-pepper like flavour of cool-grown shiraz. Seductive.

Gallagher Merlot 2015 $25 – for release late 2016 or early 2017
An earthy, densely flavoured wine with merlot’s persistent, grippy tannins.

TASTED AND LOVED, BUT SOLD OUT AT THE WINERY

Though sold out at the winery, these wines may be still be around in restaurants or retail shelves.

Ravensworth Hilltops Nebbiolo 2015 $28
Ravensworth Estate Sangiovese 2015 $36
Ravensworth Garnacha Tinto Y Cinq-Sao 2015 $32

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 11 October 2016 in the Canberra Times and CT app

Wine review – Ravensworth, Nick O’Leary, Long Rail Gully, Mount Majura

Ravensworth Charlie-Foxtrot Gamay Noir 2016
Johansen vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW
$36
In its second vintage, Charlie-Foxtrot gives us Bryan Martin’s Tumbarumba–Canberra interpretation of France’s Beaujolais style – a fresh, fruity, drink-now red made from the gamay grape. Of a light to medium hue with vivid crimson colour, the wine very cleverly combines bright fruit flavours and freshness with smooth texture, savoury earthy notes and a dry, pleasantly grippy finish.

Nick O’Leary Riesling 2016
Canberra District
$20–$22

Canberra winemaker Nick O’Leary made three rieslings in 2016 – this blend from four Canberra vineyards; White Rocks from Geoff Hood’s original Westering vineyard (now part of the Lake George Winery vineyard); and the third from Tumbarumba. The Canberra blend provides delicate, dry drinking with invigorating Granny-Smith like acidity and lime-like varietal flavour. It’s ready for spring and summer drinking but should evolve in bottle for a decade.

Long Rail Gully Pinot Gris 2016
Long Rail Gully vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District
$19.80–22
Winemaker Richard Parker makes the Canberra specialties, shiraz and riesling, but also makes delicious versions of pinot noir and pinot gris, varieties generally associated with cooler growing than Canberra. His new vintage pinot gris provides fuller-bodied, grippier drinking than, say, riesling, with a round, rich palate, smooth texture and a fresh, pear-like aftertaste. The extra weight and texture comes from barrel-fermentation and ageing of a portion of the blend.

Mount Majura Tempranillo 2015
Mount Majura Vineyard, Canberra District
$45
When does a variety move from “alternative” to mainstream? If the answer is when it becomes widely grown, made and loved, then Spain’s tempranillo is now an Australian staple. Mount Majura made its first Tempranillo in 2003. Vine and winemaking maturity thereafter tweaked the style so much that it became the winery’s flagship. And in the great 2015 vintage, Frank van de Loo lifted the bar even higher, delivering a wine of intense ripe, black-cherry-like fruit flavour combined with a deep savouriness, reminiscent of soy. The variety’s distinctive, chewy tannins cut through the fruit, giving a long, satisfying finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 4 October 2016 in the Canberra Times

Wine review – Clonakilla, Ravensworth, Mount Majura, Nick O’Leary

Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling 2016
$30–$38

Mid-30s ripening temperatures generally drive down grape acidity levels. However, Tim Kirk believes 90mm of rain ahead of 2016’s February–March heat wave gave the vines resilience to produce intense riesling flavours and the lowest pH in Clonakilla’s history. Beautiful floral and citrus varietal aroma and flavour, a gentle, round palate and brisk finish mark this a special wine to enjoy over the next decade.

Ravensworth Canberra District Riesling 2016
$25
Like Clonakilla riesling, Bryan and Jocelyn Martin’s Ravensworth has the high acidity of the 2016 vintage. However, delicate fruit and a round, gentle palate offset the acidity to give a vibrant and dry drinking experience – sharp enough to serve as an aperitif now, but with the depth and structure to evolve nicely with bottle age. Mainly from Canberra, but contains a small amount of fruit from Tumbarumba.

Mount Majura Canberra District TSG 2015
$34
A blend of 49 per cent tempranillo, 36 per cent shiraz and 15 per cent graciano, TSG thrills with its vivid purple colour, sweet, seductive aroma and vibrant, harmonious palate. The absolutely delicious palate features the liveliest, freshest fruit flavour imaginable, all held together by savoury tannins that give the wine smooth texture and fine, drying finish.

Nick O’Leary Seven Gates Canberra District Tempranillo 2015
$35
Nick O’Leary’s first tempranillo comes from Wayne and Jenny Fischer’s Murrumbateman vineyard, source of some of Canberra’s best wine grapes. The wine shows the deep, dark, savoury side of tempranillo. A core of bright, sweet fruit on the palate quickly gives way to soy- and charcuterie-like savoury flavours and solid, drying tannins.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 30 August 2016 in the Canberra Times

Mount Majura pet nat to raise funds for youth care

NINO – nothing in, nothing out – Mount Majura's cheeky pinot gris pet nat
NINO – nothing in, nothing out – Mount Majura’s cheeky estate-grown pinot gris pet nat 

Canberra’s Mount Majura wine will join the exploding pet nat scene next week with the release of NINO (nothing in, nothing out) at a rugby charity dinner.

Winemaker Frank van der Loo says ‘100% of the proceeds from this wine will go to YouthCARE Canberra’. The organisation provides outreach services to young people facing homelessness and violence.

As the name suggests, the pinot-gris-based bubbly from the 2016 vintage comes about as completely free of winemaker inputs as it gets: no additives, no disgorgement, and a spontaneous fermentation.

Towards the end of its fermentation van der Loo chilled the wine to reduce the amount of sediment, then transferred it to bottles, where the remaining yeast consumed the residual grape sugar, producing carbon dioxide gas – the bubbles that escape when you open the bottle.

Van der Loo says this process ‘leaves a light sediment in the bottle, and this yeast takes the place of the preservative. We recommend chilling it upright and serving carefully. The last glass is for the Cooper’s drinker’.

The Chateau Shanahan bottle, chilled upright overnight, opened politely as we prised the crown seal away – no bang or spray. It poured a pale lemon colour, with a light haze, steady stream of bubbles and persistent white foam.

Fresh, lively and medium bodied, with a pleasantly tart, dry finish and modest 11% alcohol content, NINO offers good fun and pleasant drinking with or without food.

Release
Tuesday 30 August 2016, Hotel Realm, 18 National Circuit Barton ACT, at the Farewell to Stephen Moore Rugby Dinner.

Details and tickets

Stockists
Ainslie Cellars, Jim Murphy’s Market and Airport Cellars, Mount Majura cellar door.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016