Of the many beautiful Canberra shirazes produced in 2015, nothing equalled Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. But the coming release of Clonakilla Syrah 2015 on 27 April, throws down a mighty challenge to the district’s world-renowned benchmark.
Tim Kirk, son of Clonakilla founder John Kirk, made the first Syrah in 2006 as an alternative style to the shiraz–viognier blend. Made from Tim and Lara Kirk’s T and L vineyard, planted in 1999, the new shiraz-only wine, says Kirk, “… is the Hermitage to the Shiraz–Viognier’s Cote-Rotie”.
A 1991 visit to Rhone Valley Cote-Rotie producer Marcel Guigal inspired Kirk’s Shiraz–Viognier blend. But his Syrah’s salute to nearby Hermitage says more about shiraz (under the variety’s French name) as a solo act than it does about that region’s style. Indeed, a wine of this calibre requires no such comparison.
From the first vintage in 2006, critics and a comparatively small number of consumers compared it favourably with the flagship Shiraz–Viognier. However, the perfect 2015 vintage, together with a maturing vines and a decade of constant tweaks in the vineyard and winery, produced a wine of even greater dimension than the early vintages.
Tasted from barrel in September last year, the unfinished Syrah showed its characteristic ripe-berry and spice flavours and silky smooth tannins. At that stage it was all fruit, and simply irresistible.
Then in October 2016, the 2013 Syrah achieved the seemingly impossible by upstaging the 2015 Shiraz–Viognier at Ben Willis’s Aubergine Restaurant.
When the now-bottled 2015 sample arrived in February 2017, the question was whether it could equal the impressive 2013 (there was no 2014). Well, it did, and will probably surpass it with time.
Just as it did in the barrel tasting, the bottled 2015 leapt from the glass, all perfume and fruit – in Canberra’s distinctive ripe-berry and spice style, with Clonakilla’s great flavour concentration and silky, slippery texture. Tasted over three days, deeper, more savoury flavours emerged, suggesting a wine destined to grow in dimension over time.
Given the comparative youth of the vines and ongoing tweaks in the winery, Tim Kirk believes the best is yet to come. It’s hard to imagine a more harmonious, beautiful shiraz. But if there’s better to come, let’s all hope for a long life.
Clonakilla Canberra District Syrah 2015
$96 at cellar door
Release date 27 April 2017
Morgon Corcelette Vieilles Vignes (Daniel Bouland) 2015 $43.20–$48 Three years on from Bryan Martin’s insightful review, Canberra’s Temporada restaurant continues dishing up imaginative, satisfying food. Showing off the place to a Sydney friend on 11 February 2017, we took a punt on a Daniel Bouland Morgon – a red from the village of that name in France’s Beaujolais region. So much Beaujolais disappoints, but Bouland’s Morgon revealed the deep, rich flavour of the gamay grape, layered with soft, fine, savoury tannins. Medium bodied and thoroughly delicious, it suits the multiple flavours and textures of Temporada’s food.
Importer Bibendum Wine Co offers Bouland Morgon through its retail outlet International Fine Wines and says the retailers below have ‘bought this wine since its release’.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz 2013 $114–$120
Winemaker: Sue Hodder
Tasting: masked, with food
David Wynn made the first Michael shiraz in 1955 – a bottling of an outstanding parcel of shiraz memorialising his late son Michael. The one-off wine built a great reputation as it aged, and was one of the standouts in a 1997 tasting of all Wynns shirazes from 1953 to 1995.
Wynns made its second Michael Shiraz in 1990, albeit it in a more alcoholic, tannic style than the original. Production of this powerful style continued through the 1990s but was halted after the 1998 vintage.
Influenced by the beauty and longevity of those early low-oak, lower alcohol vintages in the 1997 tasting, winemaker Sue Hodder, with vineyard manager Allen Jenkins, began refining the Wynns’ red styles.
As part of this wider project, Michael reappeared with the 2003 vintage. And over the next decade as Jenkins transformed the vineyards and Hodder took control of a new small-batch winery, the style evolved further.
The 2013 vintage shows the spectacular result of that work. Pure, sweet, berry-and-spice varietal character combine with fine fruit and oak tannins in the most intense, harmonious way imaginable.
We can never know exactly how the 1955 tasted at the same age. But I recall the (in retrospect) too sturdy versions of the 1990s in their youth, and the beautiful, elegant wines of the 1950s at 40 years.
The 2013 stands somewhere between these two styles, drawing on the best of each. It’s a triumphant evolution, lifting Coonawarra shiraz from potential to greatness.
Tar and Roses Sangiovese 2015
Winemakers: Don Lewis and Narelle King
Tasting: over lunch, not masked
$21–$25 Hot summer day. Swimming. Lots of people. Kaleidoscope lunch flavours: bread, salads, oily and vinegary salad dressings, ham, prosciutto, salmon gravlax, chicken, olives, olive oil, butter, eggs, mettwurst, zucchini slice, hummus, hard cheese, soft cheese. Coupla fresh, clean wines of no character. Then Tar and Roses thrusts in, rises above the conversation, disrupts the food, then settles in as another distinct flavour: earth, savour, herbs, soy, grippy tannins, a juicy core of sour-cherry-like fruit flavour.
Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2015
Tiers Vineyard, Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Winemaker Brian Croser
Tasting: masked, with food
Australian chardonnays range in style from mouth-puckeringly mean to plump and juicy; from all fruit, to all ‘funk’ (industry jargon for sulphur compounds derived from maturation on dead yeast cells, or lees). In between the extremes lie some of the finest chardonnays in the world. Invariably fermented and matured in oak barrels, the very best seamlessly combine high quality fruit flavours, generally grown in a cool climate, with winemaker-induced characters associated with the barrels, yeast lees and the influence (or not) of a secondary fermentation that converts harsh malic acid to soft lactic acid.
Tiers sits at the full-flavoured, fruity end of this spectrum. Few chardonnays show such varietal intensity. But that’s only the first impression. Fermented and matured in French Vosges barriques (33% new), the wine’s rich texture, vibrant acidity, and subtle, spicy oak character reveal the unique power and elegance of the variety. It’s one of the purest and loveliest of Australia’s current crop of extraordinary chardonnays.
Champagne Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Millesime 2005 $320 Egliet-Ouriet Grand Cru 2005 shows the power of great pinot noir (70% of the blend) and chardonnay grown around Ambonnay, one of the most highly regarded Champagne villages.
The base wine was aged in barrels until the winter after vintage. The winemaker maintained a relatively high acidity in the wine by blocking malolactic conversion, a secondary fermentation widely used in Champagne to reduce total acidity.
After bottling and secondary fermentation, the wine was matured on yeast lees for nine years before being cleaned up and shipped to market with a mere two grams per litre of residual sugar. That’s a potentially mouth-searing brut. But it works for Egliet-Ouriet because other elements of its production (especially fruit quality) offset the acid. Indeed the acid accentuates the marvellous fruit flavour and adds to the wine’s power, elegance and structure (derived largely from pinot noir and the effects of prolonged ageing on lees).
We enjoyed two bottles over the silly season – the first served masked at a formal tasting; the second over Christmas lunch. This is superior Champagne to savour, a wine of beauty. It shames the studied mediocrity of so many non-vintage blends.
Jim Barry Clare Valley Assyrtiko 2016 $35–$39 Peter Barry discovered the white variety assyrtiko on its home turf, Greece. He planted it in Australia’s Clare Valley and in 2016 produced the first wine from the young vines much as he approaches riesling: gentle juice extraction, minimal skin contact, cool fermentation and exclusion of air. The result is a fresh, brisk, dry white with a lemony–tart edge and savoury, clean finish. It’s something new, different and worth trying.
Collector Shoreline Rosé 2016
Hall, Canberra District, NSW $24
Alex McKay makes his savoury, dry rosé from sangiovese grapes grown in the comparatively warm Hall sub-region. Even rosé sceptics like yours truly find much to like in this one. The pale pink, slightly bronze-edged colour suggests more than just fruit, though it has that in abundance. The aroma suggests Turkish delight and lemon peel. The vibrant palate reflects these characters and offers as well great freshness, a smooth texture and a tangy finish that combines acidity and tannin.
Long Rail Gully Riesling 2016 Long Rail Gully vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$19.80–$22 Sadly Long Rail Gully founder Garry Parker died in early December, so the tasting sample became a toast to a man I barely know but with whom I shared over the years several long conversations about wine and the Kimberly region. Parker’s son Richard makes the wine and in 2016 produced a succulent, dry riesling, laced with intense lime- and lemon-like varietal flavours. It’s the perfect summer refresher but should evolve to a honeyed richness with bottle age.
Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2015 Various vineyards, Canberra District, NSW $38–$40 At last year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show, judges awarded gold medals to seven Canberra District shirazes from the exceptional 2015 vintage. Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz and Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier topped this amazingly strong line up. Ravensworth ultimately inched ahead of Clonakilla to take the trophy. Conspicuously absent from the lineup, however, were Clonakilla’s top two shirazes, wines I regard as Canberra’s finest: the flagship Shiraz Viognier and the equally distinguished Syrah. Hopefully one day Tim Kirk might enter these wines so that judges see a comprehensive line up of Canberra’s signature red variety. Their continued absence leaves a question mark over the results. O’Riada shows similar flair to its upmarket siblings, offering supple, juicy flavours in the red-berry-and-spice mould of Canberra District shiraz, with distinctive Clonakilla elegance-with-strength.
Freeman Secco Rondinella Corvina 2012 Freeman vineyards, Hilltops region, NSW $40 Our tasting group recently compared Freeman’s 2012 with an Italian original of the style. Zonin Amarone della Valpolicella 2012 and Freeman’s version both included dehydrated rondinella and corvina grapes in the fermentation. The resulting wines are deeply coloured and powerfully flavoured with strong, grippy tannins. Freeman’s captures the deep raisiny flavours and power of the style, but remains bright, fresh, and well balanced. It comes into its own with rich food such as slow-cooked beef – as Janet Jeffs demonstrated deliciously at a winter dinner in the Arboretum.
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
Mount 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.
Gundog Estate Canberra District Shiraz 2015
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 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 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 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.
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
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2015
Clonakilla vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District
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 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.
McWilliams Appellation Series Chardonnay 2015
$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 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.