Category Archives: People

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

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

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

Capital Wines changes hands

Jennie Mooney described the Ministry series as "a playful dig at our location near the power house of Canberra
Departing owner Jennie Mooney created Capital Wines Ministry series as “a playful dig at our location near the power house of Canberra”

A recent change of ownership of Capital Wines saw the closure of its cellar door, the departure from the wine industry of two of Canberra’s noted tourism and hospitality entrepreneurs, and the planned opening of a new cellar door by a Hunter winery with a Canberra vineyard.

The two couples behind Capital Wines went their separate ways in July when Jennie and Mark Mooney sold out to Andrew and Marion McEwin. As so often happens in small businesses, an unworkable partnership forced the change.

The McEwins, previously responsible for winemaking and vineyard management, must now also take on the marketing and sales roles. Their many challenges include replacing Jennie Mooney’s formidable business skills and marketing talent, and finding a new home for their cellar door. Under the partnership, the outlet (now closed) operated out of renovated stables behind the Mooney’s highly successful Royal Mail Hotel and Grazing restaurant at Gundaroo.

However, winemaker Andrew McEwin remains confident of Capital Wines’ future. He says, “We’re keeping skilled cellar door staff and I’m looking for a new location, likely to be in Hall”. He says the business also includes a considerable volume of contract winemaking, which will continue.

Until they formed Capital Wines with the Mooneys in 2008, the McEwins owned a long-established winery and the Kyeema vineyard, Murrumbateman. They sold wine under the Kyeema label.

Jennie Mooney threw prodigious energy and flair into the new venture, creating Capital Wines as the overarching brand for both Kyeema Vineyard wines and the quirky new Ministry Series – billed at the time as “a playful dig at our location near the power house of Canberra”.

Speaking from Perisher Valley, where she and husband Mark manage the Man from Snowy River Hotel, Jennie Mooney, said, “Capital Wines was my baby. I created the brand and established the supply chain and logistics”.

Mooney says she’ll miss Capital Wines but has no immediate plans to return to the wine industry. Nor does she rule out the possibility. “What I like most”, she says is taking something run down and turning it into something”. The Mooneys successfully restored Gundaroo’s historic Royal Mail Hotel in 2003 at the same time creating Grazing, one of Canberra’s enduring restaurants and tourist attractions.

After establishing Capital Wines with the McEwins, the Mooneys restored an old stone stables on the Gundaroo site to serve as a cellar door outlet. The outlet closed after the Mooneys sold out of Capital Wines, but Jennie Mooney lost little time in securing a new tenant – Hunter-based Gundog Estate.

At first glance, a cellar door 400km from the Hunter might appear to have little connection with our region. But Gundog owners, the Burton family, own a Gundaroo vineyard (purchased in 2006) and make several Canberra wines.

Gundog’s website lists four Canberra wines (a cabernet rosé and three shirazes) and a shiraz from the neighbouring Hilltops region. Winemaker Matt Burton writes, “We are also looking to expand our range of whites to include one or more incarnations of Canberra District riesling”.

Jennie Mooney says, “With their vineyards just out of the village, Gundog complements Grazing really well”. The cellar door offering will include local cheeses and charcuterie. Mooney says she expects the Gundog cellar door to open in 2017.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 23 August 2016 in goodfood.com.au

Wily Trout emerges from the deep as a serious maker of Canberra’s signature red

Wily Trout's Will Bruce. Photo Chris Shanahan
Wily Trout’s Will Bruce. Photo Chris Shanahan

Like its namesake, Susan and Robert Bruce’s Wily Trout wines lived in the shadows – not of the river bank, but of the couple’s Poacher’s Pantry smokehouse.

But that’s all about to change, suddenly and dramatically. The 11 August release of Wily Trout Nanima Block Pinot Syrah 2016 marks a huge step up for the family’s wines, now grown and made by the Bruces’ son, Will.

Will Bruce says he “dabbled in the vineyards in 2013 and 2014, but by 2015 I was all over it”. He managed the vineyards to maximise fruit quality, changed from machine harvesting to hand harvesting in 2015 and took control of the winemaking.

While this week’s new release says much about innovation and fruit quality, the surest litmus of quality came in a recent tasting of Wily Trout shiraz from vintages 2012 to 2015.

And within that grouping nothing better illustrated the new standard than a comparison of the two great recent vintages, 2013 and 2015. The 2013 showed Canberra’s distinctive spicy character, but it lacked the power, depth and structure of the best wines from the vintage. In contrast the 2015 soared from the glass and delivered great fruit sweetness, savour and impressive structure. Wily Trout is suddenly a serious maker of Canberra’s signature red variety.

And the new release Nanima Block Pinot Syrah 2016 shows another emerging dimension of Canberra’s imaginative wine industry.

It combines pinot noir and shiraz from Wily Trout’s east-facing Nanima block in a fruity, medium-bodied drink-now style. Interesting winemaking flourishes add other dimensions beyond mere fruitiness.

The pinot noir ripened ahead of the shiraz, says Bruce, and after partial de-stemming (with about 20 per whole bunches), a spontaneous ferment began in small, open vessels. He later dropped the ripe shiraz onto the pinot and as the ferment took hold, transferred the juice, with a small amount of skins, to an egg-shaped ceramic fermenter.

The wine ticked over slowly inside this slightly air-permeable egg and remained there for about six weeks, before being bottled young, fresh and ready to drink.

Wily Trout Nanima BlockThe medium-hued red combines bright, fresh summer-berry flavours with a pleasant stemmy character, derived from the inclusion of whole bunches in the ferment. A juicy, medium-bodied, elegant palate comes with a chewy, silky texture and fine, drying tannins.

Wily Trout Nanima Block Pinot Syrah 2016 ($26) will be released on Thursday 11 August at Ainslie Cellars and will also be available at Bar Rochford (Civic), Urban Cellars (Curtin) and Prohibition (Kingston foreshore).

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 9 August 2016 in the Canberra Times Good Food

A guide to Canberra’s weird and wonderful wines

Bryan Martin unleashes Ravensworth pet-nat Tumbarumba gamay, due for a spring release
Bryan Martin unleashes Ravensworth pet-nat Tumbarumba gamay, due for a spring release. Photo: Chris Shanahan.

The “weird stuff” tab on Ravensworth’s website opens the magic wardrobe into Canberra’s Narnia of weird, whacky and new wines. This new world belongs to Ravensworth winemaker Bryan Martin and a handful of Canberra winemakers who, like Martin, step nimbly back and forth through the wardrobe, between mainstream winemaking and the new and weird stuff on the edges.

They’re all accomplished winemakers. And all but Sassafras Wines, which specialises in ancestral method bubblies, earn their living making and selling the traditional table wines we drink every day.

The weird stuff, as Martin calls it, sits on the fringes, supported by Sydney and Melbourne sommeliers, a handful of local restaurants and independent retailers, fellow winemakers and adventurous drinkers.

The weird wines come with their own language – including pet nat, ancestral method, orange wine, natural wine and ceramic egg – describing wine styles, production methods and equipment.

After decades enjoying limpid Australian whites and bubblies, the new wines can be confronting. What are we to make, for example, of bronze or even orange coloured whites, or of cloudy sparkling wines?

This new wave of bubblies – known as pet nats (from the French petillant naturel) or ancestral method – come to market very young and fresh, in the year of vintage, with various levels of cloudiness. The wines are cloudy as they are not disgorged or filtered following secondary fermentation.

Sassafras wines pioneered the ancestral method in Canberra
Sassafras wines pioneered the ancestral method in Canberra. Photo Rebecca Doyle

Paul Starr of Sassafras Wines, introduced the style to Canberra in 2014 with a delicious ancestral method sparkling rosé, made from Tumbarumba gamay grapes. His  fondness for  the style, he says, came from drinking the traditional gamay-based sparkling wines of France’s Bugey-Cedon region.

The 2014 gamay started with standard fermentation, allowing just enough skin contact to extract the pink colour. When the ferment approached completion, and only a small amount of residual grape sugar remained, Starr refrigerated the wine to knock the yeast out, partially clarified it, then bottled it. The yeasts stirred to action again, creating the bubbles and a very fine haze as they consumed most of the remaining sugar.

Starr attributes at least part of his skill in this tricky and imprecise process to long experience brewing beer. He followed the delicious 2014 gamay up in 2015 with Sassafras Savagnin Ancestral, using savagnin grapes from Quarry Hill vineyard, Murrumbateman – and couldn’t stop smiling when Copenhagen’s Noma Restaurant listed it during its tenure in Sydney.

Starr says he’ll offer two ancestral method wines in 2016: a white, made from Canberra savagnin and Tumbarumba chardonnay, and a red montepulciano, from Ricca Terra Farms, Riverland. See sassafraswines.com.au for an expected spring release.

Ravensworth’s Bryan Martin followed Sassafras down the pet-nat path, with a sparkling riesling in 2015. The wine sold out quickly, encouraging Martin to make red and white versions this year. He expects to release both in November, for around $30–$32.

Bryan Martin sitting on a ceramic egg
Bryan Martin sitting on a ceramic egg. Photo: David Reist

And this is where we meet Martin’s ceramic egg – a 675-litre fermentation and maturation vessel. Flowform, the Bryon Bay manufacturer, spruiks the advantages of its “passive convection”. But  Martin and fellow Canberra winemaker, Hamish Young, dismiss that idea.

Hamish Young, Mada Wines. Photo: Chris Shanahan
Hamish Young

Young says, “It’s like an oak barrel, without the wood flavour”. Like the oak barrel, the ceramic egg admits small amounts of air. This influences the flavour and texture of the wines in interesting and pleasant ways.

Martin owns three eggs and uses them for several wines, including the loveably weird, Seven Months white blend and his pet-nat riesling 2016. The latter underwent a spontaneous fermentation in the egg before heading off to bottle for its secondary fermentation.

At the winery, I tasted Ravensworth’s unfinished pet-nats – Canberra riesling 2016 and Tumbarumba gamay 2016. These are excellent, fresh, characterful wines and worth trying on release in October or November. The gamay revealed its full crimson glory as it exploded from the sample Martin opened (see picture).

Another wine from the egg, Ravensworth Seven Months 2015 is reviewed below. Note, fermentation of whites on their skins is unusual in Australia but can be used to good effect.

At Poachers Pantry’s Wily Trout, young Will Bruce took over the vineyards from his father a couple of years ago. His 2015 shiraz is sensational, in the traditional Canberra mould. But Bruce, too, owns a ceramic egg, and it hatched a supple, smooth, unfiltered pinot noir-shiraz blend from the 2016 vintage. It’ll be in the market when this is published, so watch for the full review.

The first Wily Trout pet nat, a 2016 vintage blend of pinot noir and chardonnay is due for release at around $25 a bottle in spring.

Perhaps weirdest of all, Bruce made a sauvignon blanc seeped and fermented with fresh hops flowers provided by brewer Richard Watkins. Expect to see this aromatic, intensely bitter hybrid on tap at the BentSpoke Brewery in the near future.

Hamish Young released his new Mada Wines last week. Three of the four wines passed through the ceramic egg. The riesling in particular appealed, thanks largely to Young’s unconventional winemaking approach. See the review below.

At Yarrh Wines, Murrumbateman, Neil McGregor tends the immaculate vineyards, while Fiona Wholohan makes the wines, including the two Mr Natural wines reviewed below – and the first components of a vin santo (Tuscan dessert wine) for release many years in the future.

Ravensworth Seven Months whiteRavensworth Canberra District and Tumbarumba Seven Months 2015 $34–$35
Bound to shock drinkers of traditional whites, Seven Months gets it deep golden colour, hazy appearance, very rich flavours, and grippy, chewy finish from fermentation and maturation on skins inside the ceramic egg. Ravensworth website is sold out but at the time of writing Plonk (Fyshwick Markets) and Ainslie Cellars carry stock. The blend is pinot gris, sauvignon, roussanne, riesling and chardonnay. The 2016 vintage remains in the egg for a few more month.

Mada RieslingMada Wines Canberra District Riesling 2016
With Australian riesling, makers generally focus on aromatics and delicacy by gently removing juice from skin, conducting cool ferments in stainless steel tanks. Winemaker Hamish Young allowed his to ferment spontaneously, on skins, inside the ceramic egg. Together, the air-permeability of the egg and skin contact made the difference between Mada and your conventional riesling. “I wanted the skins to enhance some characters but not make it weird and whacky. It had to be delicious”, he says. And it is. The not-quite-clear wine emphasises riesling’s citrus rather than floral characters on a richly textured, racy, dry palate.

Yarrh Wines Mr Natural Sauvignon BlancYarrh Vineyard Mr Natural Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Winemaker Fiona Wholohan says years of work building up the soils in the vineyard paid off, delivering perfect fruit in the outstanding 2015 vintage. This allowed her to make a white with very few inputs. She crushed and de-stemmed the grapes to a fermenter and let nature take its course, without the addition of yeast, acid, or yeast nutrients. What a delicious result. The skin ferment means a much deeper colour than we see in most young sauvignons . But the intensely varietal, savoury aroma leads to a juicy, plush, chewy, lively and dry palate.

Yarrh Wines Mr Natural ShirazYarrh Vineyard Mr Natural Shiraz 2015
Like its white sibling, Mr Natural Shiraz went through a spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel tanks with very little winemaker intervention – apart from the addition of sulphur dioxide at bottling. Bottled young and fresh, with no oak maturation, the medium-bodied red shows the lovely ripe-berry and spice character of Canberra shiraz in a soft, juicy drink-now style.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 20 July 2016 in the Canberra Times Good Food
CT 
app and goodfood.com.au

New from Canberra – Mada Wines

Hamish YoungCanberra winemaker Hamish Young, formerly of Eden Road Wines, this week launched four wines under his new label, Mada Wines.

Young doesn’t own a vineyard or winery, but sourced grapes from local growers and made the wines alongside his old mate Nick O’Leary at Affleck Wines.

Word of the new wines scampered through the trade as soon as Young unscrewed the first samples. Pulp Kitchen, Monster Kitchen and Bar, XO Restaurant, and Bar Rochford all signed up, while Ainslie Cellars and Jim Murphy’s became the first retailers to support the new brand.

Taking the lead from Ravensworth Wines’ Bryan Martin, Young installed a ceramic egg-shaped fermenter ahead of the vintage. “I bought it especially for making riesling”, he says. But he also used it to great effect in Mada Syrah Nouveau 2016, a delicious red included in the first release.

Meet the new Mada wines

Mada Wines

Mada Wines Murrumbateman Canberra District Riesling 2016
Fruit source: Four Winds vineyard, Murrumbateman, NSW
Grower John Collingwood

$30
This is not your conventional Australian riesling, where makers focus on aromatics and delicacy by gently removing juice from skin, conducting cool ferments in stainless steel tanks and protecting the wine from air.

Young de-stemmed the bunches directly to the ceramic egg, but pressed a small amount of juice in to encourage the ferment. The fermentation took off spontaneously and after three weeks the now-dry wine was pressed off from the skins.

Together, the air-permeability of the egg and skin contact made the difference between Mada and your conventional riesling. “I wanted the skins to enhance some characters but not make it weird and whacky. It had to be delicious”, he says.

And it is. The colour appears slightly flat, without the burnished look we’re accustomed to. And the aroma emphasises Canberra riesling’s intense citrus character, without the floral layer. A touch of spice adds interest. Although the wine’s dry and just 11% alcohol, the palate continues the intense, varietal citrus theme of the aroma, with a great textural richness not normally seen in young riesling. The wine’s natural acidity gives a lovely, racy freshness to the finish.

Mada Wines Prunevale Hilltops Blanc 2016
(Gewurztraminer about 70%, pinot gris about 25%, the rest riesling)
Fruit source: Brian Freeman vineyard, Hilltops, NSW
$28
Young hales from Gisborne, New Zealand, home of sturdy gewürztraminer. He loves the variety and discovered a good patch of old vines on one of Brian Freeman’s vineyards. He says, “It’s a very phenolic variety and I decided to embrace the phenolics. I de-stemmed it, then a seven-day cold-soak in a fridge pulled out everything I wanted”. He then ran the juice to a stainless steel tank for fermentation. He fermented the other varieties separately and used them “to manage the phenolics”.

Gewurztraminer’s distinctive musk-like character drives the aroma and fresh, zippy flavour. The use of skin contact shows in the fleshy palate with its slightly grippy dry finish.

Mada Wines Wamboin Canberra District Pinot Gris 2016
Fruit source: Lambert family vineyard, Wamboin, NSW
$28

Tank, barrel and skin fermented pinot gris
Tank, barrel and skin-fermented pinot gris. Photo Hamish Young.

Canberra’s vineyards vary in altitude from around 500 metres near Hall to over 800 metres on the Lake George Escarpment. The cooler conditions up here on the Lambert vineyard suit its old pinot gris vines. Young separated the fruit into three batches. He fermented half of it stainless steel tanks with minor grape solids; 35% of it in a combination of old and new oak barrels; and the rest on skins in an open fermenter.

Young’s picture above shows the dramatic difference in colour from batch to batch. He says the taste differences were just as dramatic. “How will this work?” he wondered, but in the end blended them all together.

The finished wine shows a slight bronze tint, typical of the variety (not surprising when you see the colour of the skin-ferment component). A pure, attractive, pear-like varietal aroma leads to a slick, juicy, lustrously textured palate, laden with pear-like flavours. The dry finishes comes with a mildly tannic tweak.

Mada Wine Syrah Nouveau Murrumbateman Canberra District 2016
(Includes 12% grenache)
Quarry Hill vineyard, Murrumbateman, NSW
$30
It seems the day of the fruity, fleshy, soft, drink-now current-vintage shiraz has finally come – and little wonder with wines of this calibre.

Young says the shiraz ripened earlier than the grenache, so he cold soaked it for a week to retard fermentation. When the grenache finally ripened he de-stemmed it onto the shiraz and let the ferment rip, on skins of course, for eight or nine days.

By now, he’d taken the riesling from the ceramic egg. He filled the egg with the red but had enough to fill an old oak puncheon, too. A few months later the egg and oak components looked very different.

The palate of the egg component had integrated quickly, giving a very clean, aromatic, expressive wine; while the barrel portion showed darker more brooding, savoury character.

The finished blend appeals immediately for its crimson colour, sweet, musk-like aroma, juicy, fruity, mouth-filling flavour and soft tannins.

Still in barrel, to be reviewed after bottling

  • Mada Wines Shiraz 2016 – from Yarrh vineyard, Murrumbateman
  • Mada Wines Shiraz 2016 – from Wily Trout vineyard, Spring Range

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

Wine review – Best’s, Clonakilla, Ross Hill, Rymill, Ad Hoc

Viv Thomson made this magnificent shiraz in 1967 from vines planted by Henry Best in 1866.
Viv Thomson made Bin 0 Claret in 1967 from shiraz vines planted by Henry Best in 1866. Generic labelling as ‘Claret’ was OK back then. So was the use of ‘Hermitage’ as a synonym for shiraz. The magnificent old red was a highlight of Best’s 150th anniversary tasting at Jimmy Watson’s bar, Melbourne, on 8 May 2016. My reviews of two Best’s wines today are based on that tasting. Photo: Chris Shanahan.

Best’s Great Western Foudre Riesling 2015
Best’s Concongella Vineyard, Great Western, Grampians, Victoria
$35

In 2012 as Adam Wadewitz handed over winemaking to Justin Purser, a 2500-litre oak vat showed up in Best’s winery, to the surprise of owner Viv Thomson. As best they could, the winemakers scoured the new, woody flavour from the foudre before filling it with riesling juice for a spontaneous fermentation. The resulting wine put a smile on Thomson’s face, removing any trace of scepticism about the new vessel, and became the first of a new riesling style from Best’s historic Concongella vineyard. Skin contact, spontaneous fermentation, and the use of oak rather than stainless steel adds textural richness and subtle flavours to the riesling, which remains lemony, fresh and delicate. It’s a delicious drink, reminiscent of Alsace riesling in flavour and texture, albeit in a more delicate style.

Best’s Great Western PSV 141 Pinot Noir 2014
Best’s Concongella vineyard 1868 block, Great Western, Grampians, Victoria

$150

In 1866, Henry Best bought Concongella, a Great Western property, and established vines from 1867. In 1920, seven years after Best’s death, William Thomson bought the business, which is today owned by fourth generation Viv Thomson and his wife Chris. Marking Best’s 150th anniversary in May, Thomson released four remarkable reds including two from a vineyard Best planted in 1868. Within that vineyard, lies a plot of gnarled old pinot meunier vines. And sprinkled among the meunier, are 141 pinot noir vines, believed to be the world’s oldest. Bunches from those vines were sealed and fermented in a vessel for three months before being pressed to barrel for maturation. The result is stunning and potentially long lived – a limpid pinot of great flavour concentration, combining fruit, savour and a firm, fine tannin backbone.

Clonakilla Viognier Nouveau 2016
Clonakilla V and L 2 Block, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

$25–$28
Clonakilla goes against the trend with its popular, fresh, easy drinking viognier – a variety given to heaviness on the palate and slow sales. Winemaker Tim Kirk says to keep Nouveau light and fresh he makes it as he does riesling – gently separating the juice from the skins, using a whole-bunch press and fermenting it cool in stainless steel tanks. The process keeps the wine fresh and bright and captures the variety’s distinctive ginger- and apricot-like flavours. The rich texture and grippy finish add to the wine’s distinctive character. It’s a style to drink fresh each vintage.

Ross Hill Maya and Max Chardonnay 2015
Orange, NSW

$20
Oak barrels are in indispensable part of chardonnay making. But using oak barrels adds to the expense – not just in the cost of oak, but also in the extra labour required. Winemaker Phil Kerney builds a complex chardonnay and contains price by using a combination of oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. Maya and Max combines bright fresh, nectarine-like varietal flavour with smooth texture and a funky note from the barrel-fermented material.

Rymill The Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Coonawarra, South Australia

$17–$23
From the Rymill family’s extensive Coonawarra holdings, winemaker Sandrine Gimon makes a range of cabernet styles, including the fresh, fruity, drink-now Dark Horse. The aroma and palate show great vitality in Coonawarra’s distinctive ripe, red-berry varietal style. The elegant palate appeals for its juicy, fresh fruit flavour, which is offset by fine, grippy cabernet tannins.

Ad Hoc Avant Gardening Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2014
Riversdale vineyard, Frankland River, Western Australia
$17.95–$21
Though comparable in price, Larry Cherubino’s Avant Gardening heads down an entirely different path to Sandrine Gimon’s Rymill Dark Horse cabernet reviewed today. The wines share some of the bright, fresh, aromatic berry character of young cabernet. But there the similarities end. Gimon’s wine remains on the fresh, fruity path, while Cherubino’s goes to darker, grittier places. Malbec no doubt plays its part in Avant Gardening’s deeper colour and firmer tannins. But the different origins – South Australia’s Coonawarra versus the West’s Frankland River – also influence the wines.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 1 June 2016 in the Canberra Times Food & Wine Magazine and ct app

AIBA gongs for Woolworths and Boston Beer Co

326 brewers go head to head

Sixty-three judges at this year’s Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) tasted 1793 beers from 326 brewers in 36 countries. They dispensed hundreds of gold, silver and bronze medals. In taste-offs of gold-medal winners, they awarded trophies to category winners. And grand taste-offs elected a champion Australian beer and champion international beer.

Woolworths execs smiled all the way to the presentation ceremony, as their part-owned Gage Roads Brewing Co topped all Australian beers with the draught version of its Little Dove. US brewer Boston Beer Company led the international field with its beautifully named Samuel Adams Kosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru.

The real excitement though can be found in the full results at rasv.com.au/beer. For beer nerds, the Catalogue of Results, details the scores of all entrants in every category. But of more interest to the general consumer, the Trophy Guides offers judge profiles, tasting notes, medal winners and lists of category taste-off contenders.

Reviews – 2016 AIBA award winners

BentSpoke Brewing Co Barley Griffin 560ml glass $11
One of six beers created for BentSpoke’s opening in 2014, the easy-drinking Barley Griffin Canberra Pale Ale won a gold medal in the 2016 Australian International Beer Awards. Brewer Richard Watkins won three other medals, silver for Big Nut, and bronzes for Dick Tracy and Pedal Pale.

Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier (Bavaria) 500ml $4.60–$6.50
No surprises seeing Weihenstephan conquering the Beer Awards’ wheat category. It’s a Bavarian specialty, and imagine the tut-tutting in Munich had  a new-world upstart stolen the mantle. It’s a textbook example of the style, with luxurious white head, delicate, banana-like aroma, and light, lively palate, combining subtle, smooth malt with wheat beer’s zesty, fresh finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 26 May and 1 June 2015 in goodfood.com.au  and the Canberra Times

A thoroughbred, not a camel

Saison a trois

Saison a Trois – collaborative brew by 4 Pines, Boatrocker and Thunder Road

Ask a committee for a horse and you get a camel. But what happens when a committee makes beer?

The delicious answer is Saison a Trois, a one-off variant on the French farmhouse ale style. Released for the Australian International Beer Awards in May, it was brewed collaboratively by the winners of the small, medium and large brewery categories of the 2015 competition.

Chris Willcock (4 Pines Brewing Co), Matt Houghton (Boatrocker Brewing Co) and Marcus Cox (Thunder Road Brewing Company) set to work on 29 February to create the dark, malty, 6.5-per-cent-alcohol ale.

Despite the dark colour and high alcohol content, it remains light and refreshing, with a very clean, fresh aftertaste. Alas, it’s no longer available, but here’s a tasting note for the record.

Saison a Trois
Brewed collaboratively by 4 Pines, Boatrocker and Thunder Road, Saison a Trois appeals for its deep amber-brown colour and persistent white head. The aroma and flavour combine a core of sweet malt with alcoholic warmth, an exotic touch of spice and tingly, refresing citrus character on a buoyant, refreshing palate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016