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
$25 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
$34 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
$35 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.
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.
Like its namesake, Susan and Robert Bruce’s Wily Trout wines lived in the shadows – not of the river bank, but of the couple’s Poacher’s Pantry smokehouse.
But that’s all about to change, suddenly and dramatically. The 11 August release of Wily Trout Nanima Block Pinot Syrah 2016 marks a huge step up for the family’s wines, now grown and made by the Bruces’ son, Will.
Will Bruce says he “dabbled in the vineyards in 2013 and 2014, but by 2015 I was all over it”. He managed the vineyards to maximise fruit quality, changed from machine harvesting to hand harvesting in 2015 and took control of the winemaking.
While this week’s new release says much about innovation and fruit quality, the surest litmus of quality came in a recent tasting of Wily Trout shiraz from vintages 2012 to 2015.
And within that grouping nothing better illustrated the new standard than a comparison of the two great recent vintages, 2013 and 2015. The 2013 showed Canberra’s distinctive spicy character, but it lacked the power, depth and structure of the best wines from the vintage. In contrast the 2015 soared from the glass and delivered great fruit sweetness, savour and impressive structure. Wily Trout is suddenly a serious maker of Canberra’s signature red variety.
And the new release Nanima Block Pinot Syrah 2016 shows another emerging dimension of Canberra’s imaginative wine industry.
It combines pinot noir and shiraz from Wily Trout’s east-facing Nanima block in a fruity, medium-bodied drink-now style. Interesting winemaking flourishes add other dimensions beyond mere fruitiness.
The pinot noir ripened ahead of the shiraz, says Bruce, and after partial de-stemming (with about 20 per whole bunches), a spontaneous ferment began in small, open vessels. He later dropped the ripe shiraz onto the pinot and as the ferment took hold, transferred the juice, with a small amount of skins, to an egg-shaped ceramic fermenter.
The wine ticked over slowly inside this slightly air-permeable egg and remained there for about six weeks, before being bottled young, fresh and ready to drink.
The medium-hued red combines bright, fresh summer-berry flavours with a pleasant stemmy character, derived from the inclusion of whole bunches in the ferment. A juicy, medium-bodied, elegant palate comes with a chewy, silky texture and fine, drying tannins.
Wily Trout Nanima Block Pinot Syrah 2016 ($26) will be released on Thursday 11 August at Ainslie Cellars and will also be available at Bar Rochford (Civic), Urban Cellars (Curtin) and Prohibition (Kingston foreshore).
The “weird stuff” tab on Ravensworth’s website opens the magic wardrobe into Canberra’s Narnia of weird, whacky and new wines. This new world belongs to Ravensworth winemaker Bryan Martin and a handful of Canberra winemakers who, like Martin, step nimbly back and forth through the wardrobe, between mainstream winemaking and the new and weird stuff on the edges.
They’re all accomplished winemakers. And all but Sassafras Wines, which specialises in ancestral method bubblies, earn their living making and selling the traditional table wines we drink every day.
The weird stuff, as Martin calls it, sits on the fringes, supported by Sydney and Melbourne sommeliers, a handful of local restaurants and independent retailers, fellow winemakers and adventurous drinkers.
The weird wines come with their own language – including pet nat, ancestral method, orange wine, natural wine and ceramic egg – describing wine styles, production methods and equipment.
After decades enjoying limpid Australian whites and bubblies, the new wines can be confronting. What are we to make, for example, of bronze or even orange coloured whites, or of cloudy sparkling wines?
This new wave of bubblies – known as pet nats (from the French petillant naturel) or ancestral method – come to market very young and fresh, in the year of vintage, with various levels of cloudiness. The wines are cloudy as they are not disgorged or filtered following secondary fermentation.
Paul Starr of Sassafras Wines, introduced the style to Canberra in 2014 with a delicious ancestral method sparkling rosé, made from Tumbarumba gamay grapes. His fondness for the style, he says, came from drinking the traditional gamay-based sparkling wines of France’s Bugey-Cedon region.
The 2014 gamay started with standard fermentation, allowing just enough skin contact to extract the pink colour. When the ferment approached completion, and only a small amount of residual grape sugar remained, Starr refrigerated the wine to knock the yeast out, partially clarified it, then bottled it. The yeasts stirred to action again, creating the bubbles and a very fine haze as they consumed most of the remaining sugar.
Starr attributes at least part of his skill in this tricky and imprecise process to long experience brewing beer. He followed the delicious 2014 gamay up in 2015 with Sassafras Savagnin Ancestral, using savagnin grapes from Quarry Hill vineyard, Murrumbateman – and couldn’t stop smiling when Copenhagen’s Noma Restaurant listed it during its tenure in Sydney.
Starr says he’ll offer two ancestral method wines in 2016: a white, made from Canberra savagnin and Tumbarumba chardonnay, and a red montepulciano, from Ricca Terra Farms, Riverland. See sassafraswines.com.au for an expected spring release.
Ravensworth’s Bryan Martin followed Sassafras down the pet-nat path, with a sparkling riesling in 2015. The wine sold out quickly, encouraging Martin to make red and white versions this year. He expects to release both in November, for around $30–$32.
And this is where we meet Martin’s ceramic egg – a 675-litre fermentation and maturation vessel. Flowform, the Bryon Bay manufacturer, spruiks the advantages of its “passive convection”. But Martin and fellow Canberra winemaker, Hamish Young, dismiss that idea.
Young says, “It’s like an oak barrel, without the wood flavour”. Like the oak barrel, the ceramic egg admits small amounts of air. This influences the flavour and texture of the wines in interesting and pleasant ways.
Martin owns three eggs and uses them for several wines, including the loveably weird, Seven Months white blend and his pet-nat riesling 2016. The latter underwent a spontaneous fermentation in the egg before heading off to bottle for its secondary fermentation.
At the winery, I tasted Ravensworth’s unfinished pet-nats – Canberra riesling 2016 and Tumbarumba gamay 2016. These are excellent, fresh, characterful wines and worth trying on release in October or November. The gamay revealed its full crimson glory as it exploded from the sample Martin opened (see picture).
Another wine from the egg, Ravensworth Seven Months 2015 is reviewed below. Note, fermentation of whites on their skins is unusual in Australia but can be used to good effect.
At Poachers Pantry’s Wily Trout, young Will Bruce took over the vineyards from his father a couple of years ago. His 2015 shiraz is sensational, in the traditional Canberra mould. But Bruce, too, owns a ceramic egg, and it hatched a supple, smooth, unfiltered pinot noir-shiraz blend from the 2016 vintage. It’ll be in the market when this is published, so watch for the full review.
The first Wily Trout pet nat, a 2016 vintage blend of pinot noir and chardonnay is due for release at around $25 a bottle in spring.
Perhaps weirdest of all, Bruce made a sauvignon blanc seeped and fermented with fresh hops flowers provided by brewer Richard Watkins. Expect to see this aromatic, intensely bitter hybrid on tap at the BentSpoke Brewery in the near future.
Hamish Young released his new Mada Wines last week. Three of the four wines passed through the ceramic egg. The riesling in particular appealed, thanks largely to Young’s unconventional winemaking approach. See the review below.
At Yarrh Wines, Murrumbateman, Neil McGregor tends the immaculate vineyards, while Fiona Wholohan makes the wines, including the two Mr Natural wines reviewed below – and the first components of a vin santo (Tuscan dessert wine) for release many years in the future.
Ravensworth Canberra District and Tumbarumba Seven Months 2015 $34–$35 Bound to shock drinkers of traditional whites, Seven Months gets it deep golden colour, hazy appearance, very rich flavours, and grippy, chewy finish from fermentation and maturation on skins inside the ceramic egg. Ravensworth website is sold out but at the time of writing Plonk (Fyshwick Markets) and Ainslie Cellars carry stock. The blend is pinot gris, sauvignon, roussanne, riesling and chardonnay. The 2016 vintage remains in the egg for a few more month.
Mada Wines Canberra District Riesling 2016 With Australian riesling, makers generally focus on aromatics and delicacy by gently removing juice from skin, conducting cool ferments in stainless steel tanks. Winemaker Hamish Young allowed his to ferment spontaneously, on skins, inside the ceramic egg. Together, the air-permeability of the egg and skin contact made the difference between Mada and your conventional riesling. “I wanted the skins to enhance some characters but not make it weird and whacky. It had to be delicious”, he says. And it is. The not-quite-clear wine emphasises riesling’s citrus rather than floral characters on a richly textured, racy, dry palate.
Yarrh Vineyard Mr Natural Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Winemaker Fiona Wholohan says years of work building up the soils in the vineyard paid off, delivering perfect fruit in the outstanding 2015 vintage. This allowed her to make a white with very few inputs. She crushed and de-stemmed the grapes to a fermenter and let nature take its course, without the addition of yeast, acid, or yeast nutrients. What a delicious result. The skin ferment means a much deeper colour than we see in most young sauvignons . But the intensely varietal, savoury aroma leads to a juicy, plush, chewy, lively and dry palate.
Yarrh Vineyard Mr Natural Shiraz 2015 Like its white sibling, Mr Natural Shiraz went through a spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel tanks with very little winemaker intervention – apart from the addition of sulphur dioxide at bottling. Bottled young and fresh, with no oak maturation, the medium-bodied red shows the lovely ripe-berry and spice character of Canberra shiraz in a soft, juicy drink-now style.
Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – wine of the week
Moss Wood vineyard, Wilyabrup, Margaret River, Western Australia
$95–$125 Moss Wood cabernet rates among Australia’s greatest wines. It’s of a quality Hemingway surely had in mind when he wrote, “Wine is one of the most civilised things in the world and one of the most natural things that has been brought to the greatest perfection”. In its almost 50-year journey, Moss Wood’s cabernet reflects the best the best the vine and winemaker can do on a particular site at Wilyabrup, Margaret River. Lush and layered, fragrant, substantial and built for long cellaring, this is world-class, pure, cabernet.
Grove Estate The Italian Nebbiolo Sangiovese Barbera 2015
Grove Estate vineyard, Hilltops region, NSW $21.90–$25 “It’s one of the fruitiest things you’ve ever seen”, says winemaker Bryan Martin of barbera grown in the Hilltops region. The Italian red variety, the junior component of Grove Estate’s three-way Italian blend, stamps its character on the wine as soon as it’s poured. Fruit and more fruit mark the aroma and harmonious, delicious, medium-bodied palate. Acid gives freshness, too, and soft tannins support the fruit, while leaving it as the star act. Yum. Sophisticated, low-intervention winemaking gives the wine great purity, drinkability.
Lerida Estate Shiraz Viognier 2014
Lerida vineyard, Lake George, Canberra District, NSW $85 Lerida’s new release hits the market with solid credentials: two trophies from the NSW Small Winemakers Wine Show, and gold medals from the same wine show and the Winewise Small Vignerons Awards. However, showing the vagaries of wine judging, it missed out on a medal in the Canberra Regional Wine Show 2015, and I gave it a silver-medal score in a masked tasting in November 2015, where it was shaded by another Canberra wine from the stellar 2013 vintage. It’s a comparatively big, gorgeous expression of the regional style, with supple, mouth-filling, sweet fruit, supported by fine tannins.
Mr Riggs Riesling 2015
Kate’s block, Churinga vineyard, Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia $21.65–$24
Winemaker Mr Riggs – Ben to his friends – sources fruit for this wine from Watervale, the Clare Valley’s southernmost sub-region. It presents varietal, lemon- and lime-like citrus flavours on a delicate, bone-dry palate. The delicious fruit gives the wine a succulent mid-palate – and an impression of sweetness – before racy acidity cleans the palate, leaving a lingering, dry finish.
Mount Monster Shiraz 2014
Mount Monster vineyards, Padthaway, South Australia $13–$17
The Bryson family’s extensive vineyards at Padthaway (an hour’s drive north of Coonawarra on South Australia’s Limestone Coast), produce a number of wines under the Mount Monster, Morambro Creek and Jip Jip Rocks labels. The comparatively cool, maritime climate produces intensely flavoured, medium-bodied reds, like this appealing shiraz. Ripe and juicy, with cassis-like flavours, a touch of spice, and soft, easy tannins, it offers very good current drinking at a modest price.
Greywacke Pinot Gris 2014
Brancott Valley and Rapaura, Marlborough, New Zealand $28–$34 With David Hohnen, Greywacke’s Kevin Judd put Marlborough in drinkers’ minds in the eighties with the creation of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc. It wasn’t the first of the variety from the region, but it was the first to capture people’s attention. Judd later established Greywacke. He remains at the top of Marlborough’s quality pile with wines like this Alsacian-inspired pinot gris. An intentional whiff of sulphur in the aroma doesn’t appeal to me, but the thoroughly juicy, delicious palate forgives all. Delicate, intense, pear-like varietal flavours sits in a silky, plush texture of a sweetish but irresistible palate. High acidity offsets the sweetness in an harmonious expression of this wine style.
Canberra winemaker Hamish Young, formerly of Eden Road Wines, this week launched four wines under his new label, Mada Wines.
Young doesn’t own a vineyard or winery, but sourced grapes from local growers and made the wines alongside his old mate Nick O’Leary at Affleck Wines.
Word of the new wines scampered through the trade as soon as Young unscrewed the first samples. Pulp Kitchen, Monster Kitchen and Bar, XO Restaurant, and Bar Rochford all signed up, while Ainslie Cellars and Jim Murphy’s became the first retailers to support the new brand.
Taking the lead from Ravensworth Wines’ Bryan Martin, Young installed a ceramic egg-shaped fermenter ahead of the vintage. “I bought it especially for making riesling”, he says. But he also used it to great effect in Mada Syrah Nouveau 2016, a delicious red included in the first release.
Meet the new Mada wines
Mada Wines Murrumbateman Canberra District Riesling 2016
Fruit source: Four Winds vineyard, Murrumbateman, NSW
Grower John Collingwood $30
This is not your conventional Australian riesling, where makers focus on aromatics and delicacy by gently removing juice from skin, conducting cool ferments in stainless steel tanks and protecting the wine from air.
Young de-stemmed the bunches directly to the ceramic egg, but pressed a small amount of juice in to encourage the ferment. The fermentation took off spontaneously and after three weeks the now-dry wine was pressed off from the skins.
Together, the air-permeability of the egg and skin contact made the difference between Mada and your conventional riesling. “I wanted the skins to enhance some characters but not make it weird and whacky. It had to be delicious”, he says.
And it is. The colour appears slightly flat, without the burnished look we’re accustomed to. And the aroma emphasises Canberra riesling’s intense citrus character, without the floral layer. A touch of spice adds interest. Although the wine’s dry and just 11% alcohol, the palate continues the intense, varietal citrus theme of the aroma, with a great textural richness not normally seen in young riesling. The wine’s natural acidity gives a lovely, racy freshness to the finish.
Mada Wines Prunevale Hilltops Blanc 2016
(Gewurztraminer about 70%, pinot gris about 25%, the rest riesling)
Fruit source: Brian Freeman vineyard, Hilltops, NSW
$28 Young hales from Gisborne, New Zealand, home of sturdy gewürztraminer. He loves the variety and discovered a good patch of old vines on one of Brian Freeman’s vineyards. He says, “It’s a very phenolic variety and I decided to embrace the phenolics. I de-stemmed it, then a seven-day cold-soak in a fridge pulled out everything I wanted”. He then ran the juice to a stainless steel tank for fermentation. He fermented the other varieties separately and used them “to manage the phenolics”.
Gewurztraminer’s distinctive musk-like character drives the aroma and fresh, zippy flavour. The use of skin contact shows in the fleshy palate with its slightly grippy dry finish.
Mada Wines Wamboin Canberra District Pinot Gris 2016
Fruit source: Lambert family vineyard, Wamboin, NSW
Canberra’s vineyards vary in altitude from around 500 metres near Hall to over 800 metres on the Lake George Escarpment. The cooler conditions up here on the Lambert vineyard suit its old pinot gris vines. Young separated the fruit into three batches. He fermented half of it stainless steel tanks with minor grape solids; 35% of it in a combination of old and new oak barrels; and the rest on skins in an open fermenter.
Young’s picture above shows the dramatic difference in colour from batch to batch. He says the taste differences were just as dramatic. “How will this work?” he wondered, but in the end blended them all together.
The finished wine shows a slight bronze tint, typical of the variety (not surprising when you see the colour of the skin-ferment component). A pure, attractive, pear-like varietal aroma leads to a slick, juicy, lustrously textured palate, laden with pear-like flavours. The dry finishes comes with a mildly tannic tweak.
Mada Wine Syrah Nouveau Murrumbateman Canberra District 2016
(Includes 12% grenache)
Quarry Hill vineyard, Murrumbateman, NSW
$30 It seems the day of the fruity, fleshy, soft, drink-now current-vintage shiraz has finally come – and little wonder with wines of this calibre.
Young says the shiraz ripened earlier than the grenache, so he cold soaked it for a week to retard fermentation. When the grenache finally ripened he de-stemmed it onto the shiraz and let the ferment rip, on skins of course, for eight or nine days.
By now, he’d taken the riesling from the ceramic egg. He filled the egg with the red but had enough to fill an old oak puncheon, too. A few months later the egg and oak components looked very different.
The palate of the egg component had integrated quickly, giving a very clean, aromatic, expressive wine; while the barrel portion showed darker more brooding, savoury character.
The finished blend appeals immediately for its crimson colour, sweet, musk-like aroma, juicy, fruity, mouth-filling flavour and soft tannins.
Still in barrel, to be reviewed after bottling
Mada Wines Shiraz 2016 – from Yarrh vineyard, Murrumbateman
Mada Wines Shiraz 2016 – from Wily Trout vineyard, Spring Range
Pizzini King Valley Nona Gisella Sangiovese 2015 $21.50 Fred Pizzini released his first sangiovese in 1996. Twenty years later, the family a range of wines from the variety along with many other Italian-inspired wines. Winemaking includes cold maceration ahead of a hot fermentation – a combination that captures rich, bright fruit flavours and introduces more savoury characters to the wine. The wine has a light to medium colour and a mouth-watering, medium-bodied palate suggestive of plums, with a light dusting of herbs and fine tannins drying out the finish.
Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014 $28.50–$30 Variations in growing season temperatures largely account for the diversity of Australian shiraz styles. The big influences on temperature (including intra-day variations) are latitude, altitude and proximity (or not) to large bodies of water, especially the sea. Broadly, cooler areas produce more fragrant, spicy, lighter bodied wines than warmer ones. On that spectrum, McLaren Vale occupies its own special place, reflecting its warm climate, tempered by the cooling influence of St Vincent’s Gulf on its western boundary. The 2014 provides ripe, full drinking, with cherry-like fruit flavour and the Vale’s distinctive savoury tannins.
Bit o’ Heaven Think Outside the Circle Chardonnay 2016 $20
This wine comes from Brian Mullany’s Bit o’ Heaven vineyard in the Hilltops district, near Young, NSW. Mullany tends the vineyard, but sends the grapes to Cumulus Wines, Orange, for winemaking. The blend comprises 90 per-cent chardonnay and five per-cent each of viognier and muscadelle. The viognier component, though small, plays a big role in the wine’s texture and flavour. What would otherwise be a good, full-bodied, fresh young chardonnay, gains exotic apricot-like viognier varietal flavour and a slippery, smooth texture.
Helm Wines Premium Riesling 2016 – wine of the week
Helm 1832 vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$52 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 Wines Classic Dry Riesling 2016 Helm, Rawling and Lustenberger vineyards, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
$38 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 Shiraz Viognier 2014
Grove Estate vineyard, Hilltops region, NSW $31.45–$37 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 Garganega 2015 Dal Zotto vineyards, King Valley, Victoria $24 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 $64 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 Tempranillo 2013 Chrismont vineyards, King Valley, Victoria $23-40–$26 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.
Dal Zotto King Valley Rosato 2016 $17.35–$18
At Dal Zotto cellar door recently Christian and Michael Dal Zotto noted the rising popularity of rosé. Their Rosato 2016, a dry style made from barbera (with a splash of sangiovese), reflects the family’s specialisation in Italian varieties. The glowing pale pink colour evoked warm summer days, though we tasted it on a miserably cold, wet one. The aroma and palate suggest red fruits like raspberry, strawberry and cherry – flavours that seem held together and invigorated by the variety’s high natural acidity, which also completes the dry, utterly refreshing finish. It’ll never be better than it is now in the full blush of youth.
Dal Zotto King Valley Pinot Grigio 2016 $19 So fresh and crisp is Dal Zotto pinot grigio it crunches tart and juicy in the mouth like a new season Granny Smith apple. A delicate flavour explosion combines apple and pear, on a light, softly textured palate that finishes ultra fresh and dry with a pleasant apple-like aftertaste. Winemaker Michael Dal Zotto says picking time is crucial for flavour in this sometimes-bland variety. Gentle, protective winemaking accounts for the wine’s delicacy, while four-months’ maturation on yeast lees, which are stirred periodically, adds subtly to the wine’s body and texture.
Pizzini King Valley Merlot 2013 $22 If you’re driving south to Melbourne, the Gateway Hotel, Wangaratta, offers delicious food and a decent wine list, including several good local wines by the glass. The Pizzini family’s merlot, from the nearby King Valley, provided sturdy drinking on a cold, wet winter’s night. This was real merlot – deeply coloured, with rich, ripe plummy fruit flavours and strong, mouth-gripping tannins. At three years’ age the fruit and tannin combine to give a unified flavour and textural experience, in a pleasing earthy, savoury, rustic style.
Moppity Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2015 – Wine of the week Moppity vineyards, Tumbarumba, NSW $29–$32 Where chardonnay makes decent but not exciting wines at Moppity’s Hilltops vineyard, in higher, cooler Tumbarumba it’s a happier story. Up here, the grapes ripen fully with intense flavours and high natural acidity. Varietal flavours of grapefruit and nectarine reflect the cool climate, while high acidity gives the wine a brisk, vigorous character and accentuates its flavours. Fermentation and maturation in oak casks adds texture and subtle background flavours to an exciting, full-flavoured, amazingly fresh, zesty chardonnay capable of cellaring.
Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Reserve Tempranillo 2015 Moppity vineyards, Hilltops, NSW $24–$27 With little demand for Hilltops semillon and chardonnay, Moppity vineyard owners Jason and Alicia Brown grafted the vines over to three clones of the Spanish red variety tempranillo. A couple of vintages on we can already see the variety suits the elevated Hilltops region. The brilliantly crimson-rimmed 2015 vintage combines vibrant fruit characters, reminiscent of blueberry and blackcurrant, with deeper black-olive-like savoury characters. On the medium-bodied palate, vivid fruit mixes with tempranillo’s assertive tannins to give a pleasing fruity–savoury flavour and firm, dry finish.
Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2015 Lower and upper Yarra Valley, Victoria $26.60–$35 Well-known author James Halliday founded Coldstream Hills in the 1980s. Though the winery now belongs to Treasury Wine Estates, Halliday lives next door and maintains a keen interest in the wines, made by Andrew Fleming. In a vertical tasting of pinots at the winery last year, older Coldstream wines, especially the reserve bottlings, proved their ageing ability, while the younger wines showed the continuation of a sophisticated style. The 2015 shows the fruit depth of mature vineyards, clear varietal flavour definition and an overall harmony and complexity, partly based on winemaking techniques, including the inclusion of whole bunches in the fermentation.
Tellurian Nero d’Avola 2015
Heathcote, Victoria $27 Jancis Robinson says Sicily’s most widely planted red variety, nero d’Avola, is most likely a native of the island and was first described there in 1696 by a local botanist. The heat loving variety generally produces dark-coloured, tannic reds, once widely used to bolster paler wines. Several Australian vignerons now grow nero d’Avola. Tellurian’s version shows us a lighter coloured, medium-bodied version of the variety. The palate combines black-cherry and savoury flavours, bound up in the variety’s assertive tannins that give a burly grip and dryness to the finish.
Chapel Hill The Parson Shiraz 2015
McLaren Vale, South Australia $15.20–$18
Indicative of the competitive wine market, the price of Chapel Hill’s excellent shiraz still specials for the same $15.20 a bottle it did last year. For that modest price you get a terrific McLaren Vale shiraz – ripe and full-flavoured, with the Vale’s fruity-spicy-savoury character. Clever winemaking tamed the wine’s tannins so that they give texture, grip and finish without any hard edges.
Tyrrell’s Lost Block Semillon 2015
Lower Hunter Valley, NSW $16–$18
Tyrrell’s offers a range of Hunter semillons from the austere Vat 1 to this approachable Lost Block. Vat 1 and similar Hunter semillon styles, gather richer texture and deeper flavour with bottle age – sometimes for decades. But Lost Block, although low in alcohol (11 per cent), drinks well on release because it’s softer, with juicy, upfront fruit flavours. It’s smooth-textured, and light and fresh on the palate, with the region’s delicious lemongrass- and citrus-like flavours. As one of Australia’s distinctive regional specialties it offers tremendous value for money. The 2016 (not yet tasted) is now also in the market.