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.
Quarry Hill Two Places Tumbarumba-Canberra Pinot Gris 2016 $24
Like other Canberra wineries, Quarry Hill uses grapes from higher, cooler Tumbarumba for some wine styles. In this instance Tumbarumba pinot gris (94 per-cent of the blend) joins grenache from Quarry Hill’s Murrumbateman vineyard in a fresh, zesty, light pink dry wine. The savoury palate offers a subtle pear-like flavour, with a dry, gentle grip and a warm alcoholic aftertaste.
Helm Canberra District Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $42 As I gathered stories for the Canberra vintage report, several winemakers reported grafting cabernet vines over to other varieties they considered more suited to the climate. Ken Helm, however, remains committed to the variety and in the outstanding 2015 vintage produced a pleasing result. The switch from mainly American oak to mainly French oak, adds to the wine’s appeal. The oak lifts the floral varietal aroma and better complements the slightly leafy varietal flavour of the firm, tannic palate.
Ravensworth Outlandish Claims Bitter Tonic $45 Winemaker Bryan Martin writes, “vermouths and aromatised wines emerged when a wine had issues – ploughing various bitters and botanicals covered up the problem and a bit of sweetness pulled it all together”. Martin makes white and red versions of his tonic, both infused, via fortifying spirit, with the herbal aromas and flavours and intense bitterness of exotic and indigenous herbs, spices, roots and leaves. Among its many outlandish claims, the tonic reputedly “prevents double chins” (if not double vision). Delicious.
Clonakilla Murrumbateman Ceoltoiri 2016 $36 It’s light coloured, medium bodied, fruity, juicy, silk textured and completely irresistible. A blend of the Rhone varieties mourvedre, grenache, shiraz, cinsault, counoise and roussanne from an 0.4-hectare Clonakilla vineyard, Ceoltoiri (Irish for musician) occupies yet another spot on the Rhone-style red spectrum produced by Tim Kirk. This is the lightest coloured and bodied of the styles, offering a delicious depth of pure berry flavours combined with silky tannin. To be released. 27 April.
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
Morgon Corcelette Vieilles Vignes (Daniel Bouland) 2015 $43.20–$48 Three years on from Bryan Martin’s insightful review, Canberra’s Temporada restaurant continues dishing up imaginative, satisfying food. Showing off the place to a Sydney friend on 11 February 2017, we took a punt on a Daniel Bouland Morgon – a red from the village of that name in France’s Beaujolais region. So much Beaujolais disappoints, but Bouland’s Morgon revealed the deep, rich flavour of the gamay grape, layered with soft, fine, savoury tannins. Medium bodied and thoroughly delicious, it suits the multiple flavours and textures of Temporada’s food.
Importer Bibendum Wine Co offers Bouland Morgon through its retail outlet International Fine Wines and says the retailers below have ‘bought this wine since its release’.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz 2013 $114–$120
Winemaker: Sue Hodder
Tasting: masked, with food
David Wynn made the first Michael shiraz in 1955 – a bottling of an outstanding parcel of shiraz memorialising his late son Michael. The one-off wine built a great reputation as it aged, and was one of the standouts in a 1997 tasting of all Wynns shirazes from 1953 to 1995.
Wynns made its second Michael Shiraz in 1990, albeit it in a more alcoholic, tannic style than the original. Production of this powerful style continued through the 1990s but was halted after the 1998 vintage.
Influenced by the beauty and longevity of those early low-oak, lower alcohol vintages in the 1997 tasting, winemaker Sue Hodder, with vineyard manager Allen Jenkins, began refining the Wynns’ red styles.
As part of this wider project, Michael reappeared with the 2003 vintage. And over the next decade as Jenkins transformed the vineyards and Hodder took control of a new small-batch winery, the style evolved further.
The 2013 vintage shows the spectacular result of that work. Pure, sweet, berry-and-spice varietal character combine with fine fruit and oak tannins in the most intense, harmonious way imaginable.
We can never know exactly how the 1955 tasted at the same age. But I recall the (in retrospect) too sturdy versions of the 1990s in their youth, and the beautiful, elegant wines of the 1950s at 40 years.
The 2013 stands somewhere between these two styles, drawing on the best of each. It’s a triumphant evolution, lifting Coonawarra shiraz from potential to greatness.
Tar and Roses Sangiovese 2015
Winemakers: Don Lewis and Narelle King
Tasting: over lunch, not masked
$21–$25 Hot summer day. Swimming. Lots of people. Kaleidoscope lunch flavours: bread, salads, oily and vinegary salad dressings, ham, prosciutto, salmon gravlax, chicken, olives, olive oil, butter, eggs, mettwurst, zucchini slice, hummus, hard cheese, soft cheese. Coupla fresh, clean wines of no character. Then Tar and Roses thrusts in, rises above the conversation, disrupts the food, then settles in as another distinct flavour: earth, savour, herbs, soy, grippy tannins, a juicy core of sour-cherry-like fruit flavour.
Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2015
Tiers Vineyard, Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Winemaker Brian Croser
Tasting: masked, with food
Australian chardonnays range in style from mouth-puckeringly mean to plump and juicy; from all fruit, to all ‘funk’ (industry jargon for sulphur compounds derived from maturation on dead yeast cells, or lees). In between the extremes lie some of the finest chardonnays in the world. Invariably fermented and matured in oak barrels, the very best seamlessly combine high quality fruit flavours, generally grown in a cool climate, with winemaker-induced characters associated with the barrels, yeast lees and the influence (or not) of a secondary fermentation that converts harsh malic acid to soft lactic acid.
Tiers sits at the full-flavoured, fruity end of this spectrum. Few chardonnays show such varietal intensity. But that’s only the first impression. Fermented and matured in French Vosges barriques (33% new), the wine’s rich texture, vibrant acidity, and subtle, spicy oak character reveal the unique power and elegance of the variety. It’s one of the purest and loveliest of Australia’s current crop of extraordinary chardonnays.