Four Winds Vineyard Canberra District Riesling 2016 $25 Four Winds Vineyard’s Sarah Collingwood, a finalist in the 2016 Women in Wine Awards, was in May selected for Wine Australia’s Future Leaders Program. News of Collingwood’s latest achievement coincided with a glass of Four Winds Riesling 2016 at the Tradies Canberra Wine House. I’d tasted and reviewed the wine last November. But like other Canberra rieslings, six months in bottle lifted it to another level. This is a classy riesling indeed, offering intense but delicate, lemon-like varietal flavours, amplified by fresh, drying acidity.
Collector Canberra District Rose Red City Sangiovese 2013 $32 Another local wine enjoyed at Tradies Canberra Wine House (see wine of the week) was Alex McKay’s sangiovese, grown, he says, “on a range of vineyards across both granite and shaley soil near Murrumbateman”. The wine also contains small amounts of four other Italian varieties, canaiolo nero, mammolo and colorino. McKay’s medium-bodied red separates itself from traditional Australian reds by putting sangiovese’s savoury, tannic character ahead of bright fruit flavour. The delicious fruit flavour remains, seeping its way through the savour and tannin with mouth-watering results.
Sassafras Canberra District Savagnin Ancestral 2016 $25 Sassafras Savagnin Ancestral offers a perky, tart, tasty take on sparkling wine. It’s made in a continuous but pernickety process: fermentation, refrigeration to arrest fermentation, maturation on yeast lees, light filtering into bottle (complete with residual grape sugar and surviving yeast), where fermentation resumes, consuming the sugar and creating the bubbles. The result is a light, fresh, pleasing sparkler with apple-like flavour and tartness – and a fine sediment resulting from the bottle fermentation. Fruit comes from the Quarry Hill Vineyard, Murrumbatemen. Available at sassafraswines.com.au.
Ravensworth Sangiovese 2016 $25 Bryan Martin’s sangiovese provides a tasty contrast to Alex McKay’s Collector reviewed today. McKay’s 2013 emphasises the savoury, tannic face of the variety, while Martin’s 2016, at this stage of its development, shows sangiovese’s gentler, fruitier side. Grape for Ravensworth came from five vineyards spread around Canberra, Hilltops and Gundagai. Gentle processing, including whole-berry ferments, extended skin contact and ageing in older barrels, produced a silk-smooth, medium bodied red with intense sour-cherry-like varietal flavour.
Mada Wines Canberra District Shiraz 2016 $35 Hamish Young’s new shiraz combines fruit from two vineyards: Yarrh, at the northern end of Murrumbateman, near the Yass River, and Wily Trout, in the Nanima Valley, Springrange, near the southern end of Murrumbateman. The wine captures the perfume, ripe-berry and spicy characters of Canberra Shiraz. The rich, supple, soft palate is, at present, all about ripe, concentrated fruit flavour – though there’s savour and tannin there to add interest.
McKellar Ridge Canberra District Shiraz Viognier 2016 $34 Winemaker Brian Johnston writes, “I changed the winemaking strategy in 2015 to accentuate the fruit flavour, holding the wine in newer French oak for a shorter period, and bottling in January rather than June. I used the same strategy in 2016”. The strategy worked sensationally in 2015, an exceptional vintage. Again in the 2016 the technique emphasises Canberra’s red-berry-and-spice flavours on a soft, very fresh palate that finishes with a pleasantly tart bite of spicy oak.
Sholto Canberra District Sangiovese 2015 $20 Like Mada’s Hamish Young, Sholto’s Jacob Carter buys grapes from local growers then makes wine for his own label. Carter says, “I only use local fruit from around the Canberra region and have decided to stick only with alternative varieties and wine styles”. His sangiovese, from Jirra Vineyard, provides light to medium bodied current drinking, with bright fresh fruit, smooth texture and savoury tannins typical of sangiovese.
Ravensworth Canberra District The Tinderry 2016 $36 What do you get when you cross the red variety cabernet franc with white sauvignon blanc? Well, if it’s among the vines in 17th century Bordeaux, you get a torrid romance and an entirely new red variety, one of the greatest of all – cabernet sauvignon. But if its just grapes, and in Bryan Martin’s hands, you get a whacky red–white blend that works: fragrant, pungent, fruity, bity, savoury and strangely delicious. You’ll find it under the “weird stuff” tab at ravensworthwines.com.au. “We call it Flanc”, says Martin.
Canberra’s one and only blue-chip wine, Clonakilla Shiraz–Viognier, has a rival. And it’s from the same winery. This is its story.
In 2010, Canberra’s Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier joined the blue chips of Australian wine – alongside Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace. Clonakilla’s ranking in the “Exceptional” category of Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine – based on long-term auction demand and prices – confirmed its unique status among Australian cool-grown shiraz styles.
Four years earlier, however, winemaker Tim Kirk had created a rival to his own remarkable flagship. Clonakilla Syrah 2006, a comparatively robust style of Murrumbateman shiraz, immediately attracted quality comparisons with the revered shiraz–viognier blend.
Although sourced from a vineyard planted in 1999, the new wine originated in Tim Kirk’s mind decades earlier – with a fascination in wines from the Rhone Valley’s Cote-Rotie and Hermitage regions.
The Cote-Rotie connection, based on Kirk’s 1991 visit to leading winemaker Marcel Guigal, inspired Clonakilla’s first shiraz–viognier blend in 1992.
But Kirk’s mind had also drifted further south down the Rhone to the hill of Hermitage and, in particular, to Paul Jaboulet’s La Chapelle vineyard, located on terraced slopes below the tiny chapel of Saint-Christophe. He still regards Jaboulet’s La Chapelle 1990 as one of the greatest wines ever tasted.
Kirk drew inspiration, he recalls, from Jancis Robinson’s writing on Hermitage’s leading producers. She once described good Hermitage as “Always majestic. Slow to mature, deep in colour, magnificently and hauntingly savoury rather than sweet and flirtatious, the quintessential syrah”.
Robust, savoury shiraz from Hermitage contrasts strongly with the fragrant, fruity shiraz-viognier blends of Cote-Rotie. But the style differences derive largely from the comparative warmth of the two regions.
Even with Hermitage in mind, Kirk remained limited in the wine styles he could produce by the nature of the fruit coming from the vineyard. However, new plantings on a warmer site expanded the possibilities.
In 1999 Tim Kirk and wife Lara planted shiraz on land they’d bought adjoining Clonakilla’s existing Murrumbateman vineyards. Within a few years the highest, warmest point of the new T and L 1 vineyard produced intriguing shiraz, notably more powerful than wine from other parts of the estate.
For a time, Kirk made wine from the block separately for observation, but ultimately blended it into the flagship Shiraz–Viognier. However, from the 2006 vintage, wine from T and L 1 earned its separate identity, and instant acclaim, as Clonakilla Syrah.
Comparatively powerful, tannic fruit from the site – the warmest of Clonakilla’s vineyards – underpins the style of the Syrah. But Kirk also uses fruit handling, fermentation and maturation techniques that add to the differences between the two flagship wines.
Clonakilla Shiraz–viognier, modelled on the wines of Cote-Rotie, comprises shiraz fermented with the white variety, viognier (5–6 per cent of the blend); Clonakilla Syrah is 100 per-cent shiraz (“syrah” is simply the French spelling).
Kirk says the viognier component, “influences the wine in a subtle way, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It elevates, expands and amplifies the aroma and palate and gives a viscous character that rounds the palate”.
Fruit for the shiraz–viognier comes from Clonakilla’s original, Euroka Park and T and L vineyards; Syrah’s fruit comes only from the warmest part of T and L 1 block. The different fruit sourcing creates a vital difference between the two wines.
From 1993 the shiraz-viognier ferments include whole bunches (currently 20–30 per-cent of total fruit, depending on vintage). The stems and stalks add noticeably to the aroma, flavour and texture of the wine; Syrah ferments contain no whole bunches.
The non-whole-bunch component of the shiraz–viognier is de-stemmed then pumped to open fermenting vats. The pump breaks the skin of many of the berries but also leaves many intact; the aim with Syrah, on the other hand, is to keep whole berries intact, so the bunches are de-stemmed into bins, then the berries are fork lifted, not pumped, into open fermenting vats.
Once in vat, both the Shiraz-Viognier and Syrah follow a similar trajectory for a week or two: the mix of berries, or berries and bunches, as the case may be, cold soak for several days until a spontaneous fermentation begins. In the case of whole berries, fermentation begins inside the berry.
As the ferments heat up, plunging machines break up the cap of skins and grapes three times a day; as the ferment slows down, the vats are plunged daily.
After fermentation, Shiraz-Viognier and Syrah, head down two different paths: both remain on skins for a time after fermentation. But the Shiraz–viognier spends a total of about 18 days on skins (three weeks in 2017); while the more robust Syrah remains on skins for 31 days (with a few one-ton batches of six weeks in 2016 and 2017).
Kirk says the extended maceration of the Syrah, “mollifies the potent tannins, but they’re still powerful”. The gentler tannins of the Shiraz–Viognier don’t require such long skin contact.
The many Shiraz-Viognier components are now pressed off skins into 225-litre French oak barriques, about one third of them new, for a 12-month maturation period; the Syrah components are pressed to 500-litre French oak puncheons, one-third new, for 20–22 months.
The size of the barrels and duration of maturation affects the aroma, flavour and tannin structure of each wine. Oak is not obvious in either, rather the two maturation methods complement the character of each wine: the floral, lusciously fruity, silky Shiraz–Viognier and the deeper, darker, more potent Syrah, with its latent, coiled depth.
Does Tim Kirk love one child more than the other? “That’s like asking whether you prefer your son or your daughter”, he laughs. “I love both. I celebrate them equally. They’re distinct personalities. I thrill in their complexity and I thinks it’s almost miraculous we can make these on this little landscape we farm”.
The almost miraculous, definitely remarkable Clonakilla Syrah 2015 costs $96 at cellar door – same price as the equally remarkable Clonakilla Shiraz-Viognier 2015.
Canberra’s grape vines slept in last spring, ending a run of early starts to the growing season. Cool spring weather, rain (and resulting cold soils) retarded budburst, flowering and fruit set, setting the scene for the latest harvest in years, though not late by historical standards.
At Murrumbateman on 22 March Ken Helm observed, “Picking times are back to the long-term average here after the earliest vintage on record in 2016”. He anticipated picking the last of his valley’s crop – late-ripening shiraz and cabernet sauvignon – at the end of the first week of April.
The first fruit he processed, gewürztraminer, came from his daughter and son-in-law’s nearby vineyard, The Vintner’s Daughter. It was the only non-riesling bubbling away in his big, new riesling cellar, completed just in time for vintage.
A week and several rain storms after that visit, Helm harvested healthy, ripe shiraz but thought cabernet sauvignon required another two weeks to ripen. Despite a prediction of more rain, “It’s bullet proof”, he believes.
By month’s end Helm rieslings from Canberra, Orange and Tumbarumba were through fermentation and “looking fantastic”, he says.
At Lerida Estate, Lake George, 10mm rain on 5 March couldn’t dampen owner Jim Lumbers’ outlook. As a welcome breeze dried out the grapes, Lumbers described the 2017 vintage as “Wonderful, with the biggest yield ever and quality almost perfect”.
He said, “We picked pinot noir for rosé last week and we’ll harvest an even bigger crop [for red wine] in three weeks. We’re picking pinot gris today and chardonnay next Friday”. He anticipated a shiraz harvest in three weeks, but with more rain predicted picking might be delayed.
By 27 March as the rain cleared after an extremely nervous wait, Lumbers believed he’d “Dodged a bullet, with rain damage and losses near zero. The worst we suffered was botrytis [botrytis cinerea, a fungus] affecting about 10 per cent of the remaining pinot noir. We picked it yesterday but left the affected fruit. It was a miracle we lost so little in such a big crop”.
But botrytis has its noble side, too, concentrating flavour, sugar and acid in luscious white dessert wines. Given the humid conditions, Lumbers says, “We decided to leave nearly half the pinot gris to botrytis”.
He anticipated picking shiraz on 4 April – or earlier if it rained.
The cool, wet start to the season ameliorated January’s savage heat wave. At The Vintner’s Daughter, Murrumbateman, Stephanie Helm said spring rain meant good soil moisture and lush canopies. The healthy canopies protected fruit from sunburn and her vines skated through the heatwave without signs of stress.
With husband Ben Osborne, she harvested a good crop of healthy riesling on 14 March, gewürztraminer two weeks earlier, and anticipated picking merlot a week later and shiraz and viognier at the end of March.
On 6 March, before harvest started, Lark Hill’s Chris Carpenter held high hopes for the 2017 vintage. He said the family’s two biodynamic vineyards – Lark Hill and Dead Horse – held good quantities of disease-free, healthy fruit.
Two days later, the Carpenters harvested pinot noir and chardonnay for sparkling wine from Lark Hill vineyard. A particularly cool site at 860 metres, Lark Hill specialises in riesling, gruner veltliner, chardonnay and pinot noir.
By 25 March the sparkling ferments were complete, and Lark Hill vineyard chardonnay, picked 20 March, fermented vigorously in barrel. Rain had delayed ripening in the pinot noir, Carpenter said, and he expected to harvest it around 8 April. He anticipated ripening of riesling and gruner veltliner around 14 April.
Lark Hill’s lower, warmer Dark Horse vineyard at Murrumbateman grows the Rhone Valley varieties, shiraz, viognier, marsanne and roussanne plus Italy’s sangiovese. Carpenter expected to pick the Rhone whites on 3 April, the shiraz in two passes on 3 and 14 April, and the sangiovese on 18 April.
At Yarrh Wines, Murrumbateman, Neil McGregor and Fiona Wholohan harvested most of their crop before the rain arrived on 22 March. By 29 March only the late-ripening sangiovese remained on the vine. Wholohan expected to pick it on Sunday 2 April. The fruit remains disease-free, she said.
McGregor said the wet spring set Yarrh’s vines off to a late but vigorous start, “but they didn’t go nuts”, he said. Anticipating hot weather, he began irrigating before Christmas and “paid attention to fruit shading” through canopy management, especially on the western side.
A tiny amount of fruit “got zapped” by the sun, he said, but most came through the season in great condition. While shiraz ripened a week earlier than the long-term average (after being three weeks early in 2016), other varieties ripened at normal times.
Wholohan and McGregor expect to offer their first wine of the 2017 vintage – Yarrh Pet Nat Sangiovese Rosé – during Canberra Harvest Festival, 8–9 April.
Richard Parker, winemaker at Long Rail Gully, Murrumbateman, expected to process around 500 tons of grapes, the winery’s largest vintage to date. He said, “Quality is amazingly good”. In a “compressed vintage, riesling, pinot gris, shiraz, pinot noir and merlot all ripened within one week”.
A busy Clonakilla winery, Murrumbateman, expected to process around 350 tons of grapes from its own vineyard, other Canberra growers, and neighbouring Tumbarumba and Hilltops regions.
On 22 March, Winemaker Bryan Martin noted the slow, wet start to the season, followed by perfect flowering across all varieties simultaneously, as warm, dry conditions set in. The resulting big crop began to arrive, “In a fairly orderly fashion –pinot noir two weeks ago, then sauvignon blanc, then we picked the last block of riesling today”, he said.
Hilltops shiraz was already fermenting, though the majority of Clonakilla’s shiraz remained on the vine, along with cabernet varieties and other Rhone Valley red varieties.
Heavy rain later that afternoon switched on owner Tim Kirk’s anxiety meter. But interviewed in the vineyard on 27 March, he said, “It’s looking good. There are odd bits of botrytis on some bunches, but we can pick around them. We’ll pick it all before Thursday. They’re fully ripe, with gorgeous spice flavours but at lower Baume [a measure of sugar content] than last year”.
Shiraz was on Greg Gallagher’s mind too after the rain on 22 March. But grapes in his Murrumbateman vineyard were ripe and scheduled for picking the following day. “I decided to pick them this week”, he said, “as they have lovely plum flavours”. He’d already processed riesling and sauvignon blanc as well as pinot noir and chardonnay for sparkling wine.
At Capital Wines, Murrumbateman, owner Andrew McEwin says volumes are above normal, but not by much. He says, “It’s a successful vintage by the look of it. My shiraz is spectacular, the best rieslings are very fine and fragrant, but quality depends on vineyard management and varies from grower to grower”. He expects sangiovese to be the last variety harvested, in mid to late April.
On 23 March, climbing down from his tractor in Wily Trout’s pinot noir vineyard at Springrange, Will Bruce described harvest timing as normal after a run of early-ripening years. He said, “It can’t get any better than this. The pinot’s a larger crop than usual, around nine tonnes a hectare, and the whites are excellent”.
He’d already harvested chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot for rosé and was part way through picking pinot noir for red wine. He expected to pick shiraz the following week and saw no threat to quality or quantity. From this vintage Bruce will make his Wily Trout Wines at Nick O’Leary’s new Hall winery.
O’Leary’s winery, completed just before vintage on the former Lawson vineyard, sits on the eastern rim of the Murrumbidgee Valley, near Pankhurst, Wallaroo Vineyard, Surveyor’s Hill and Brindabella Hills Winery.
O’Leary rates vintage quality as very high, especially for whites. Rieslings have lower sugar levels with lots of flavour and good acidity. He says harvest is around two to three weeks behind last year, which is back to normal, and “Everything’s coming in together. There was no break after riesling – in fact, tempranillo and riesling came in together”.
Riesling is the district’s hot variety this year according to O’Leary. Everyone’s after it, he says, including out-of-district makers, and if you can find it, expect to pay $2000 a ton – the second highest price for the variety in Australia after Tasmania’s $2300 a ton.
Down the road from O’Leary, Brindabella Hills vineyard remains out of production as owners Roger and Faye Harris negotiate a sale. But winemaker Brian Sinclair uses the Brindabella Hills winery for his new Ironcutter label and also makes wine for neighbouring Surveyor’s Hill and Wallaroo vineyards, and Bermagui’s Rusty Fig vineyard.
At 24 March neighbouring Pankhurst Winery had harvested tempranillo and pinot noir, while cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, arneis, marsanne, roussanne and chardonnay remained on the vine. Allan Pankhurst described quality as “Superb to date, but we’re not half way yet”. He added the vines remained disease free after the first of the rain and anticipated a clean harvest, including his first substantial crop of Piedmontese white variety, arneis.
“Last year we blended it with marsanne and roussanne in our Box Tree White. This year we’ll have only a ton, but it’ll be enough to make a separate white”, said Pankhurst.
In the last of our vintage vignettes, Canberra’s inner city Mount Majura Vineyards reported on 24 March quantities generally slightly above estimates. Winemaker Fran van de Loo says, “We’re happy with quality so far”. However, much of the healthy-looking crop remained on the vine. Van de loo expects vintage to end with the harvest of graciano towards the end of April.
Provided all goes well in the last week or two of harvest, Canberra can expect another high quality vintage, with ample volumes and a greater diversity of varietals and wine styles than ever.
A season that was successively cool, wet, warm, dry, hot, cool, wet, then dry, ultimately produced excellent wine grapes. Wine made from those grapes will bear the season’s stamp. We can expect spicy reds, delicate whites and slightly lower alcohol in many of the wines – all subtle variations on a regional style. It’s really all about the weather and how our vignerons respond to it in vineyard and winery.
Ballinaclash Sub Tuum Hilltops Shiraz 2014
Sub Tuum Shiraz comes from Peter and Cathy Mullany’s 16-hectare Ballinaclash vineyard near Young. The wine – made by Chris Derrez and Lucy Madox of Madrez Wine Services, Orange – won gold at last year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show. Medium bodied, vibrant and fresh it shows the region’s delicious cherry-like varietal flavour and spice, with soft, juicy tannins. It’s available from ballinaclash.com.au and jugiongcellars.com.
Grove Estate Sommita Hilltops Nebbiolo 2013
$47 Brian Mullany holds interests in and manages several Hilltops vineyards totalling around 100 hectares. The largest, Grove Estate (49-hectares) sells fruit to leading Australian wineries, including components for Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz. Mullany trusts his nebbiolo grapes (a Piedmontese red variety) to Canberra winemaker Bryan Martin. The 2013, tasted alongside the 2014 and 2015, showed a delicious core of bright fresh fruit, tightly held by savoury tannins.
Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Reserve Hilltops Tempranillo 2015
$27 Jason Brown recently hosted a tasting at his 70-hectare Moppity Vineyards, covering wines from his Moppity and Tumbarumba vineyards. The Moppity wines (Hilltops region) showed class across a range of red varieties, including shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, nebbiolo and tempranillo – released under various Moppity, Lock and Key and Cato labels. His just-released tempranillo presents vivid, crimson colour, alluring perfume and matching vibrant fruit, wrapped in assertive but soft tannins.
Vintner’s Daughter Canberra District Riesling 2016
$30 In 2014 Stephanie Helm and viticulturist husband Ben Osborne bought Yass Valley Wines, changed the name to Vintner’s Daughter, and quickly grabbed attention, initially for their outstanding 2015 riesling. While the 2016 vintage hasn’t achieved as much wine-show success as the 2015, it’s in a similar style. Lemon-like varietal aroma and flavour give the wine great vitality. Bracing, fresh acidity gives a pleasantly tart grip to the dry finish.
McWilliams Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2014
Rob Parke’s Glenburnie vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW
$40 At last year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show, Tumbarumba region bagged 14 of the 17 medals awarded to chardonnays from the 2015 and earlier vintages. This silver medallist from the show, made by Andrew Higgins, captures the intense varietal flavour of cool-grown chardonnay fermented and matured in French oak barrels. The delicious chardonnay flavour harmonises with the barrel-derived characters, creating an opulent, silk-textured wine of great elegance and character.
Shaw Vineyard Estate Riesling 2016
Shaw vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Graeme Shaw grows riesling at his Murrumbateman vineyard but trucks the grapes to Calabria Family Wines, Griffith, for winemaking. This is a bigger, stronger style than the average Canberra riesling, thanks largely to the influence of botrytis cinerea, a fungus growing on the grape skins. Shaw riesling gives Canberra’s typically bracing, fresh acidity and citrus-like varietal flavour. And the botrytis influence shows as an orange-rind-like aroma and flavour, accompanied by a subtle sweetness and grippy, mildly tannic finish.
The Vintner’s Daughter Shiraz Viognier 2015
Vintner’s Daughter vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$40 While her father Ken Helm continues to champion Canberra cabernet, Stephanie Helm opts for the regional specialty – shiraz–viognier – grown and made in conjunction with her husband Ben Osborne. In 2014 the couple bought and renamed Yass Valley Wines and from the vineyard produced this impressive red in the outstanding 2015 vintage. Medium bodied, in the Canberra mould, it offers juicy, sweet fruity, spicy varietal flavour and soft tannins. It may cellar well, but the seductive, sweet fruit and caressing tannins make it irresistible now.
McKellar Ridge Riesling 2016
Briar Hill vineyard, Canberra District, NSW
$22 Brian Johnston’s silver medallist from the regional wine show reveals a leaner, high-acid side of Canberra riesling, with lemon-like varietal flavour and an exotic touch of passionfruit. The natural acidity intensifies the flavour and contributes to the lively, fresh, dry finish. Johnston writes, “The grapes are all hand picked, de-stemmed and pressed into a stainless steel vat”. This gentle processing and a cool fermentation account for the wine’s purity and delicacy.
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
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.
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.