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.
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.
The 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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
Canberra 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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir 2014 – wine of the week
Eldridge Estate vineyard, Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
$60 David Lloyd’s wines demonstrate the power of growing grape varieties in the right climate, then mastering vineyard management and winemaking. His 3.8-hectare vineyard, at around 200-metres altitude and 38 degrees south, provides the cool growing and ripening conditions suited to pinot noir. Water on three sides (Port Phillip Bay, Bass Straight and Westernport Bay) further moderates the climate. Lloyd’s 2014, made from six pinot clones, gives us a pure yet savoury expression of the variety. Delicate perfume, vibrant varietal fruit flavours, savouriness and fine, grippy tannins make a complete pinot – one to savour and marvel at.
Bremerton Selkirk Shiraz 2013
Langhorne Creek, South Australia
$19–$22 Langhorne Creek lies to the south east of McLaren Vale. Its warm climate, moderated by cool breezes from nearby Lake Alexandrina, produces rich, fleshy, but not heavy crowd-pleasing reds. The region’s pleasing wine styles, comparatively high yields and water availability attracted massive, broad-acre investments during the nineties. Though much of the grape crop goes to anonymous multi-region blends, the locals continue to make a mark with rich, satisfying reds like Bremerton Selkirk shiraz, made by Rebecca Willson whose family owns 120-hectares of vines in the region.
Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV
Champagne, France $66.50–$80 A distinctive richness and delicacy sets Billecart-Salmon apart from the too many ho-hum non-vintage Champagnes. It always surprises because it’s so consistently outstanding. In our latest encounter, at Chairman and Yip, it accompanied some of the best oysters we’ve ever enjoyed: briny, juicy, plump and deliciously chewy. Billecart mingled happily with the tangy flavours, thanks in part to Champagne’s high acidity. But there’s more to it. A bit of pinot meunier in the pinot noir-chardonnay blend plumps out the palate and gives a fresh, fruity taste. Yet it remains delicate and dry, with the unique structure and harmony resulting from prolonged ageing on yeast lees.
Murrumbateman Winery Shiraz 2014
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW $30
Bobbie Makin and Jennifer Lawrence are the new young team running one of Canberra’s oldest wineries (established 1973). The brand’s been keeping a low profile for some years but we can expect to see more activity now as the pair make wine using grapes from their own and neighbouring vineyards. Then wine shows Canberra’s bright berry fruit flavours and medium body, albeit with a more than typical lick of tannin, some of it oak derived, drying out the finish.
Arrogant Frog Croak Rotie Shiraz 2014
Aude Valley, Languedoc, France $7.90–$13
French winemaker Jean-Claude Mas launched Arrogant Frog in 2005 and now claims global sales of five million bottles annually – with over million of those sold in Australia through its importer, Woolworths. The brand includes two whites, a rose and two reds in addition to Croak Rotie reviewed today. For a modest price you get a flawless, screw-cap sealed shiraz–viognier blend of medium body and fresh fruit flavour. It’s taut rather than fleshy and finishes dry with slightly tough tannins.
Sandalford Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2015
Sandalford vineyard, Margaret River, Western Australia $22–$35 You could pay much more for a chardonnay as good as this. And the quality’s explained by what’s gone into the wine: grapes from mature vines, free-run juice (the finest cut), and fermentation and maturation in a mix of new and older French oak barrels. A full-flavoured but fine-boned chardonnay, it shows juicy, nectarine-like varietal flavour, rich, barrel-derived texture and very fresh, zesty finish.
Mount Tumbarumba On the Fly Pinot Noir 2013 (wine of the week)
Mt Tumbarumba vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW $25 In the early 90s Richard Cottam and Elvie Yates planted chardonnay and pinot noir vines on Cottam family land in Tumbarumba. Though working full time in Canberra, they managed the vineyard and found buyers for the fruit over the next few decades. But as a Sunday night meal in the Tumbarumba Pub revealed, they recently created their own label – and had the very good sense to choose Canberra’s Alex McKay as winemaker. The barmaid obliged our request for a local pinot, and even the world’s biggest T-bone couldn’t distract from its delicate beauty. McKay’s winemaking captured the aromas and flavours of the lovely fruit. But it also contributed texture, tannin structure and delicious stemmy, savoury notes that held our interest to the last drop. See mounttumbarumba.com.au for stockists.
Wily Trout Shiraz 2014
Wily Trout vineyard, Spring Range, Canberra District, NSW
$30 The born-again Wily Trout wines reveal the enthusiasm of second generation grape grower Will Bruce, son of founder, Robert Bruce. Just as his father did, Will manages the vineyard, but takes a more hands-on approach to the wines, which are made under his supervision at Eden Road, Murrumbateman. This silver medal winner from the Canberra Regional Show has the medium colour and body typical of Canberra shiraz. Bright, fresh, ripe-berry fruit flavour, with a spicy note, and soft, fine tannins provide really appealing current drinking.
Wily Trout Chardonnay 2014
Wily Trout vineyard, Spring Range, Canberra District, NSW $25 Canberra makes decent chardonnay but, with occasional exceptions such as Lark Hill, long ago surrendered the high ground to cooler districts. Indeed, several Canberra makers acknowledge this by sourcing chardonnay from higher, cooler, Tumbarumba. Wily Trout continues with the variety, making an oak-fermented version. The wine offers ripe, stone-fruit-like varietal flavours on a soft and slightly spicy palate, with a touch of oak flavour apparent in the finish.
McKellar Ridge Pinot Noir 2014
Pankhurst and Quarry Hill vineyards, Canberra District, NSW and ACT $28–$30 Pinot noir’s growing popularity in Australia rests mainly on the cool Australian and New Zealand regions making the cutting edge stuff and, in the volume market, on Marlborough New Zealand. Canberra winemakers love the variety, too. Some grow it locally, while others prefer to bring grapes in from cooler Tumbarumba to our south. Brian and Janet Johnston’s version comes from the Pankhurst vineyard, Hall, and Quarry Hill, Murrumbateman. The wine offers ripe varietal aromas and flavours on a medium-bodied palate, with drink-now soft tannins and smooth texture.
Oakridge 864 Single Block Pinot Noir 2014
B-block, Lusatia Park vineyard, Yarra Valley, Victoria $78
Most leading pinot noir makers include greater or lesser amounts of whole bunches in their ferments, thus bringing stems into the picture. Stems provide tannins, which can add to a wine’s silky texture (provided they’re ripe), and introduce subtle stalky aromas and flavours that add complexity to the basic grape character. In 864, winemaker David Bicknell opts to sort bunches for quality, then de-stem them to open fermenters where fermentation begins inside the whole berries. The result is a multi-dimensional pinot, with intense, pure varietal flavours at its heart, but complemented by deeper savoury character. Quite strong though fine tannins give grip and smooth texture to a complete, highly individual pinot noir.
West Cape Howe Riesling 2015
Block 6, Langton vineyard, Mount Barker, Western Australia $15–$20
Time and again riesling proves its appeal and value to wine drinkers. In this Western Australian version, made by Gavin Berry, we find instant gratification in juicy, slurpy citrus-like varietal flavours. A lemony, acid tang completes this beautifully refreshing, fine, dry white. Berry attributes the wine’s intense flavour and finesse to high-quality grapes, careful juice extraction and a cool, protective fermentation – all aimed at fruit preservation. Riesling of this calibre drinks well from release through another five or six years of bottle age.
Andrew Thomas Déjà Vu Hunter Valley Shiraz 2014 $30
Hunter winemakers rate the warm, dry 2014 vintage as one of the best in living memory – some compare it to the now legendary 1965 season. Andrew Thomas reckons it’s the best of his 30 vintages in the area. The season produced notably fuller bodied wines than usual, but they still smell and taste like earthy, medium-bodied Hunter shiraz. Thomas tightens up Déjà Vu by co-fermenting shiraz with a splash of semillon verjuice. The wine leads with bright, ripe fruit aromas. But the semillon makes its presence felt in the taut, finely grippy structure that restrains the delicious underlying fruit flavour.
Sandalford Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2014 $16.15–$20 Sandalford, one of the west’s largest privately owned wine companies, makes red wines at a range of prices, starting with the $8 Element label, and finishing with the superb $90 Prendiville Cabernet Sauvignon. Between these two, Sandalford Margaret River cabernet merlot blend enjoys the trickle-down effect we see in large wineries with outstanding top-end wines and significant vineyard resources. The brilliantly coloured wine shows the distinctive, appealing, berry-and-cedar aroma of Margaret River cabernet-merlot blends and remarkably juicy, sweet mid palate. Firm tannins cut through the lovely fruit in textbook cabernet style.
Oakridge Over the Shoulder Yarra Valley Pinot Grigio 2015 $18.10–$23 Highly aromatic varieties like riesling yield lovely fruit flavours with nothing more than a protective, cool ferment, followed by early, hygienic bottling. With these wines, we taste the stark and naked beauty of the grape. Pinot gris, on the other hand, requires a winemaker’s help. David Bicknell’s new release weaves the variety’s apple-pear-spice flavours in with complementary, funky flavours and a rich texture, derived from deliberate winemaking techniques. Spontaneous fermentation, partly in old oak barrels, and nine-months maturation on spent yeast cells, give this delicious wine a dimension that goes well beyond naked fruit.