Category Archives: Vineyard

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

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

Nick O’Leary Riesling 2016
Canberra District

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

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

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

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

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

Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Majura pet nat to raise funds for youth care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Details and tickets

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

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 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
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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

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
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

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
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 reviews – Helm, Grove Estate, Dal Zotto, Chrismont

Helm Premium Riesling 2015Helm Wines Premium Riesling 2016 – wine of the week
Helm 1832 vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Although not released until October, Ken Helm’s 2016 Premium Riesling deserves a great blare of publicity. The wine marks Helm’s fortieth vintage and, largely through his tireless efforts, the rise of riesling to become Canberra’s signature white variety. The flagship of five Helm rieslings, Premium comes this year from a vineyard planted in 2008 from vines believed to be direct descendants of the James Busby collection of 1832. Helm says the Lustenberger vineyard, usual source of Premium, produced too little fruit this year and went to his Classic Dry blend. What a delicate, racy, thrilling riesling it is, with intense, citric varietal flavours, gripped by taut, refreshing acidity. The extra time in bottle between now and the October release should really bring out its beautiful fruit flavour.

Helm Classic Dry RieslingHelm Wines Classic Dry Riesling 2016
Helm, Rawling and Lustenberger vineyards, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

From the bumper 2016 riesling crop, Helm Classic Dry reveals more floral aromatics than the comparatively shy Premium version. The floral character flows through to a lively palate, where it combines with more lemon-like varietal flavour. The upfront fruit flavour gives drink-now appeal. But keen acidity cuts through from beginning to end, intensifying the flavour, refreshing the palate and ensuring the wine will evolve, as previous vintages have, for many years.

Grove Estate Cellar Block Shiraz ViognierGrove Estate Shiraz Viognier 2014
Grove Estate vineyard, Hilltops region, NSW

Awards won at a variety of wine shows generally indicate high quality. Grove Estate’s four bronze, one silver, four gold medals and a trophy therefore caught our attention. And the wine in our glass earned our own silver-medal score. This is highly aromatic, fruity-musky shiraz with juicy, mouth-filling, fruity-spicy flavours, supported by loads of soft, gentle tannins, with a slight astringency in the finish.

Dal Zotto GarganegaDal Zotto Garganega 2015
Dal Zotto vineyards, King Valley, Victoria
The white variety garganega is widely planted in Italy, from Sicily to the Veneto region, where it plays the starring role in Soave (the name of a town as well as the wine). The Dal Zotto’s family’s version easily bears comparison with the best of Soave, albeit in a bright and fruity Australian style. At the cellar door in June, winemaker Michael Dal Zotto described the fruit flavour as mandarin-like. And indeed it was, in a delicate kind of way. This delicious fruit character cut through a smooth textured palate, with a savoury, tangy, dry finish – completing a distinctive and loveable dry white.

Dal Zotto Nebbiolo 2012
Dal Zotto vineyard, King Valley, Victoria
For a time, Michael Dal Zotto made wine in Piedmont’s Barolo region, home of the mighty but difficult nebbiolo grape. There he learned much about taming the variety’s fierce tannins. The key, he found, was a prolonged period of skin contact for the wine. He brought this practice back to the King Valley and in 2012 left the wine on skins for three weeks. The resulting wine shows nebbiolo’s pale colour and unique floral–savoury aroma. Similar flavours flow through to a taut and delicious palate, reminiscent in the tension between fruit and tannin of some of the very best pinots. However, the flavour is all nebbiolo and the tannins are more mouth gripping than in the firmest of pinots. You could call it a pinot for grown ups.

Chrismont La Zona TempranilloChrismont La Zona Tempranillo 2013
Chrismont vineyards, King Valley, Victoria
Two branches of the Pizzini family run distinctly different vineyards and wineries in Victoria’s King Valley. Fred Pizzini operates Pizzini wines, while his cousin Arnie Pizzini owns Chrismont. Chrismont’s La Zona label embraces the so-called Mediterranean varieties, chiefly Italian, but including Spain’s tempranillo. The wine combines sour cherry and -blueberry-like fruit flavours with earthy–savoury characters on a smooth, surprisingly soft palate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 6 July 2016 in the Canberra Times and CT app

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

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


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

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

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

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
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

Wine review – Eldridge Estate, Bremerton, Billecart-Salmon, Murrumbateman Winery, Arrogant Frog, Sandalford

Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir 2014 – wine of the week
Eldridge Estate vineyard, Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria


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

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

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

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

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
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.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 25 May 2016 in the Canberra Times