Category Archives: Wine

Wine review – Clonakilla, Summerhill Road, McWilliams Tumbarumba, Long Rail Gully

Clonakilla Shiraz ViognierClonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2015
Clonakilla vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District
$96

Even among all the sensational 2015 vintage Canberra shirazes, Clonakilla’s flagship shiraz viognier retains its number one position. Three times in the past four months it topped tastings I attended. Away from the austerity of the tasting bench, it seduced and thrilled recently at Aubergine Restaurant, Griffith, Canberra. Chef Ben Willis’s succulent lamb rump, broad beans, black garlic and celtuce heightened the wine’s fragrance and supple, juicy, depth. And the wine lifted the food in one of the most delicious wine–food combos imaginable.

Summerhill Roadl rieslingSummerhill Road Riesling 2016
Summerhill Road vineyard, Lake George Escarpment, Canberra District
$20
Twenty-three of 34 2016 dry rieslings won medals at the recent Canberra regional wine show. One of the silver medallists, Summerhill Road, comes from a vineyard on the Lake George Escarpment, about 11km north-west of Bungendore as the crow flies. The appealing young riesling combines floral and lemony varietal aroma. The soft but lively, fresh palate reflects the aroma. It finishes dry and pleasantly tart.

McWilliam's Appellation Tumbarumba ChardonnayMcWilliams Appellation Series Chardonnay 2015
Tumbarumba, NSW
$21.90–$25
In the 2016 Canberra regional wine show, the Tumbarumba region earned 14 of the 17 medals awarded in a class of 35 2015-vintage chardonnays. Little wonder Canberra winemakers line up to buy fruit from the region. McWilliams won seven of those medals, including a gold for this outstanding example of modern, barrel-fermented chardonnay. It’s bright, fresh with deliciously citrus- and nectarine-like varietal flavour, smooth texture and dry, zesty finish.

Long Rail Gully Pinot GrisLong Rail Gully Pinot Gris 2016
Long Rail Gully vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District
$19.80–22
Winemaker Richard Parker makes the Canberra specialties, shiraz and riesling, but also makes convincing pinot noir and pinot gris – varieties generally associated with cooler growing areas 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.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 8 November 2016 in the Canberra Times

Sensational 2012 Grange leads Penfolds 2016 releases

Winemaker Peter Gago in Penfolds Magill Cellars, Adelaide
Winemaker Peter Gago in Penfolds Magill Cellars, Adelaide

Led by a sensational Grange vintage, Penfolds will release its 2016 collection across Australia on Thursday 20 October.

The predictably impressive line up, includes many highlights: Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2015, Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2014, Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2014, Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2014, Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2014, RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2014, Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 and Grange 2012.

It also raised a couple of doubts. Will the leesy, lemony 2014 Yattarna Chardonnay flesh out and blossom with age? Will the fruit in Magill Estate Shiraz 2014 eventually absorb the wine’s abundant oak? Winemaker Peter Gago’s confidence in both gives hope. He’s a credible source. But should buyers shoulder the risk, or wait and come back to the secondary market a few years down the track?

I base my notes on the wines on a pre-release press tasting hosted by Penfolds in Melbourne on 20 September. As the wines haven’t been released yet, I’ve quoted Penfolds recommended retail prices. For most wines, prices should fall below these levels as retailers fight for your business.

Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling 2016
Woodbury vineyard, Eden Valley, South Australia
$30
Bin 51 shows the soft, round, easy drinkability of rieslings from the 2016 vintage. The aroma combines floral and citrus varietal characters which carry through to a round, juicy seductive palate. Keen acidity accentuates the citrus-like varietal flavour as it cleans up and dries out the mildly grippy finish.

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2015
Tumbarumba, NSW
$45
The lowest priced of Penfolds three chardonnays shows its cool origins with grapefruit- and white-peach-like varietal aromas and flavours. These form the heart of a delicious, pure, varietal dry white – though fermentation and maturation in older French oak barrels added significantly, if unobtrusively, to its elegant structure, texture and flavour.

Penfolds Reserve Bin A Chardonnay 2015
Adelaide Hills, South Australia
$100
Turn up the volume. After the subtle, pure, elegance of Bin 311 we arrive at a powerful chardonnay combining intense fruit with equally intense winemaking-derived flavours. However, the great fruit comfortably absorbs the influence of new, charry oak (40%), spontaneous fermentation and full malolactic conversion (a secondary fermentation converting malic acid to lactic acid). Lemon-butter-like varietal flavour and tang; charry, spicy oak; and nutty, lees-maturation flavours all come together in an impressive, elegant, fine-boned chardonnay.

Penfolds Bin Yattarna 2014
Derwent Valley and Central Highlands, Tasmania 73%;
Adelaide Hills, South Australia 27%
$150
Is the emperor naked? Winemaker Peter Gago urges patience and time for the 2014 flagship to show its best. Certainly it’s delicate, leesy, lemony, taut, and austere at this stage. Will the underlying nectarine-like flavour blossom with age, as Peter believes? Yattarna’s provenance supports his belief, but buying it remains an act of faith.

Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mataro 2014
McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek and Wrattonbully, South Australia
$35
Penfold­s blend of the Rhone’s shiraz (aka syrah) and mataro (aka mourvedre or monastrell) goes back more than half a century. The 2014 combo offers mouth-filling shiraz softness, tempered by spicy, savoury mataro. It starts soft and juicy,  ends with a pleasant acid-tannin bite

Penfolds Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz 2014
McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully, Padthaway and Coonawarra, South Australia
$45
­Lots of ripe, upfront fruit and soft tannins give drink-now appeal to this blend of cabernet sauvignon (52%) and shiraz (48%) – although a chewy, Penfolds richness suggests good drinking for some years yet. Cabernet contributes herbal and blackcurrant-like notes that punch through the generous shiraz and background sweet oak.

Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2014
Barossa Valley, South Australia
$45
Bin 138 takes us away from the multi-region blend to Penfolds’ heartland, the warm Barossa Valley. Deep with crimson rim, almost opaque. Earthy, beetroot- and black-cherry-like aromas, with the aromatic, musk-like lift of grenache. Mouth-filling, warm flavours reflect the aroma. Earthy, spicy, fruity finish with soft tannins.

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2014
­Coonawarra, South Australia
$45
Four hundred kilometres south of the Barossa, Coonawarra’s cool maritime climate produces the elegant, fine-boned Bin 128 shiraz that contrasts with the opulence of the warm-grown style of Bin 28. Finessing in the Coonawarra vineyards and winemaking in recent years saw a maturing of the style. Medium to deep, crimson-rimmed colour; fragrant and attractive aroma showing a cool-climate floral side of shiraz; sweet, red-berry and spice flavours; elegant, succulent palate with fine tannins giving backbone and satisfying dry finish.

Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz 2014
Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Wrattonbully, Port Lincoln and Clare Valley, South Australia
$45
Although originally from Penfolds’ Kalimna vineyard in the northern Barossa, Bin 28’s sourcing diversified as production increased. However, it retains its full-bodied warm-climate shiraz style – spectacularly so in 2014: Opaque red-black with crimson rim; aroma of black cherry with savoury soy- and black-olive like notes; big, generous palate of sweet, pervasive fruit, meshed in soft, mouth-coating tannins. Warm, rich, satisfying – and a litmus of Penfolds quality.

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2014
Marananga, Barossa Valley
$90
Kalimna in the northern Barossa remains the capital of what some call “Grange country”. However, the Grange mantle extends to Marananga in the western Barossa and, following extensive planting of the in the 1990s, volumes increased sufficiently to create a sub-regional expression in Bin 150. “Opaque red-black with crimson rim; intensely aromatic, combining, plums, earth, oak and that special, alluring Penfolds lift; gorgeous, seductively plush plate, juicy and lively, with sensuous fruit – aided and abetted by plush, pillow-soft tannin. A complete and unique red”.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Coonawarra and Clare Valley, South Australia
$90
Textbook cabernet sauvignon: “Deep red-black with crimson rim; varietal aroma of blackcurrant, herb and mint with subtle undertone of oak; lively, fresh palate reflecting the aroma, mouth-filling but elegantly structured with assertive though fine cabernet tannins”.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2014
Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra, South Australia
$90
Built for long-term cellaring, Bin 389 combines cabernet and shiraz from two warm regions – the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale – and two significantly cooler areas –Wrattonbully and Coonawarra. It’s an harmonious combination in the dense, powerful Penfolds style: “Opaque red-black colour with crimson rim; aroma of earth, soy, black olive and ripe black cherry; buoyant, dense palate, saturated with dark fruit and savoury character, reflective of the aroma; layered and deeply integrate tannins”.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2013
McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Padthaway and Port Lincoln, South Australia
$100
In the Penfolds red line-up, St Henri alone matures in 50+ year-old large oak vats rather than small barrels. However, the absence of obvious oak flavour doesn’t rule out other winemaker influences. Winemaker Peter Gago describes St Henri as “Cleverly propelled by just the right amount of formics and VA [Peter’s italics]” – jargon for compounds that develop naturally in the presence of air and in small amounts can give life and vivacity to wine. (Grange creator Max Schubert, at times criticised for the amount of VA [volatile acidity] in Grange, confessed to ruining a few batches). However, individual thresholds for detecting these compounds vary, meaning those with greater sensitivity may be distracted by them. “Deep red-black with crimson rim; a touch of VA lifts the subtle fruit aroma giving the wine another dimension; glorious palate – elegant and refined with intense, potent pure ripe-cherry-like fruit, bound with grippy but ripe and fine tannins. Beautiful wine, destined to evolve for decades”.

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2014
Magill Estate, Adelaide, South Australia
$130
In late 1982 Max Schubert’s hand-written proposal to the board of Adsteam (Penfolds owner at the time) resulted in the creation of Magill Estate Shiraz in the 1983 vintage. Schubert’s proposal, supported by Penfolds chief executive Ian Mackley and general manager Jim Williams, saved the inner-suburb vineyard from the bulldozer. The vineyard produces a medium-bodied style. In 2014, a substantial wine, with superb fruit, seems dominated by new oak. The fruit may absorb the oak over time, but only time will tell.

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2014
Barossa Valley, South Australia
$200
Where Grange shows the immense power of warm-grown shiraz matured in American oak barrels, RWT captures a more refined expression, matured in French oak. “Deep red-black with crimson rim; intensely floral, aromatic expression of shiraz with a spicy note and cedar-like perfume from the barrels; oh, so fine palate of ripe, buoyant shiraz fruit, layered with fine tannins and spice that could be derived from both the fruit and oak”.

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Barossa Valley, Padthaway and Port Lincoln, South Australia
$500
Bit by bit Bin 707 closes the price gap on Grange. An equivalent wine in quality, if not yet in reputation, 707 ages gracefully for decades. Chateau Shanahan occasionally marvels at the 1986, one of the greatest 707s of all and, I believe, a more complex wine than Grange of the same vintage. The 2014 reveals all the dark and brooding glory of Bin 707: impenetrable, crimson-rimmed, red–black colour; deep, succulent varietal blackcurrant flavours; additional savoury elements, reminiscent of soy and charcuterie; a distinctive, sweet oak character that permeates the fruit, but with time will disappear into it; and powerful but fine oak and fruit tannins to see the wine through decades of cellaring. This is a great wine.

Penfolds Grange 2012
Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, South Australia
$850
One of the great vintages. “Opaque red-black colour with vivid crimson rim; earth, sweet, ripe fruit, oak and black-olive flavours all swirl together into one deep, powerful whole of great vibrance, freshness and layered depth. This is Grange in all its idiosyncratic glory. Best drunk from about 15 years after vintage”.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

Canberra’s sensational 2015 reds

Canberra’s 2015 vintage produced sensational reds, perhaps the best in the district’s history. The quality – now in the glass for all to enjoy – justifies the superlatives sprinkled around like water at harvest time last year.

At Lerida Estate, Lake George, Malcolm Burdett says, “It’s the best ever. Better than the 2013”. Greg Gallagher, Gallagher Wines, Murrumbateman, agrees. At harvest last year he said, “I think this is the best vintage I’ve done in this district”. A year on, with his 2015 reds bottled (but not released) he’s calling them “perfect”, a result of ripening conditions from mid-January to late March being “fantastic”.

At Hall, Alan Pankhurst rated it “a bit better than 2013”, while at Murrumbateman Ken Helm declared, “It has outdone even 2013. It ticked every box and is the best across all varieties. If we get a better vintage than this, I’ll be very, very surprised. It’s a cracker”.

More expansively, but in a similar vein, Mount Majura’s Frank van de Loo writes, “[2015] probably was my best vintage ever, certainly exceptionally good – we had fairly mild conditions through summer, a bit more humid and cloudy than we otherwise like, but then fine and mild as we got to vintage, which seems a pretty magic combination”.

At the end of harvest last year, Alex McKay (Collector Wines) said, “ [outstanding quality] is most obvious in the reds, though there’s a lot of good riesling. The best vintage to date has been 2013. But 2015 is up there and may be better”.

Winemaker Nick O’Leary explained how elements of the outstanding season translated into great wine. Healthy vine canopies, resulting from adequate ground moisture and mild temperatures, produced healthy, plump, juicy, properly ripened grapes with no signs of shrivel. In turn this meant generally trouble-free, complete ferments.

Those healthy, properly ripened red grapes delivered harmonious reds with vivid colours, vibrant varietal flavours, ripe tannins and fresh acidity.

While no vintage proves to be all good or all bad (though I’ve yet to see a dud 2015) benign seasons produce a high average quality as well as great highlights. The good years also mean that even the simpler, early release, drink-now reds offer richer fruit and superior all-round drinking satisfaction

A good example is the juicy, drink-now Yarrh Mr Natural Shiraz 2015 ($25). Winemaker Fiona Wholohan says, “Making a wine like this needs perfect fruit” and doubts she could make it at all in lesser seasons. She simply de-stemmed and crushed the grapes to tank, and then let nature takes its course. There were no additions (such as yeast nutrient, tannin or acid) other than sulphur dioxide, an essential preservative, at bottling. You cannot do that with such delicious results without perfect grapes.

Comparably juicy flavours and drink-now appeal were also part of Ravensworth’s now sold-out Sangiovese 2015 and Garnacha Tinto Y Cinq-Sao 2015 – wines capable also of some cellaring. Also sold out is Ravensworth Hilltops Nebbiolo 2015, an elegant, lovable, and probably long-lived expression of this Piedmont variety. We enjoyed a bottle recently at Temporada – indicating that some of the sold-out wines may still be in restaurants or bottle shops.

However, most of the 2015s are either in the market now or being held back by the makers for later release. Tastings in the winery and on the Chateau Shanahan bench left no doubt about their sizzling quality.

Style for any variety varies across the district, partly because of vineyard site and management, but also through winemaker inputs such as whether they include stems in the ferment or variations in oak-maturation regime.

But there is a vintage style – like a fine-tuning of the almost perfect 2013s. These remain some of the best wines made in the district, noted for ripe fruit, assertive tannin structure and potential for the best to age gracefully for many years.

The 2015s emphasise the ripe fruit flavours more, while retaining mouth-caressing ripe tannins, but not the assertiveness of the 2013s. The result is simply irresistible, satisfying drinking from wines destined to rise to the top wherever they show up in Australia’s wine show circuit.

Shiraz and shiraz-viognier blends, Canberra’s specialty, lead the way. But the vintage also produced notable tempranillo, sangiovese, merlot, pinot noir and nebbiolo among the wines tasted to date – and there are many more yet to come.

The 2015s provide a great buying opportunity for wine drinkers to explore the Canberra District’s deeply flavoured, medium bodied style at its best. Many of the wines are already in the market. Others are due for release either late this year in the first half of 2017. The wines reviewed below are all from the Canberra District, with the exception of Ravensworth nebbiolo, sourced from the neighbouring Hilltops region.

CURRENTLY AVAILABLE 2015 REDS

Shiraz and shiraz-viognier

Nick O’Leary Shiraz 2015 $25
Seductively fragrant and floral, with spice and soy-like savour.

Nick O’Leary Bolero Shiraz 2015 $55
Deep and savoury with concentrated fruit, power and elegance. Superior quality.

Yarrh Mr Natural Shiraz 2015 $25
Delicious and juicy. Drink it up – slurp, slurp.

McKellar Ridge Shiraz Viognier 2015
Round, plush and seductive, the palate ripples with vibrant, ripe-berry flavours. Gold medalist in the Royal Queensland and NSW Small Winemakers shows.

Four Winds Vineyard Shiraz 2015 $30
Typical Canberra red fruits and spice flavours, plush and lovely.

Lerida Estate Shiraz 2015 $26.50
Fragrant and fruity, with Canberra spice and slightly firmer tannic bite distinctive of this vineyard.

Lerida Estate Shiraz Viognier 2015 $85
More powerful and brooding that Lerida’s straight shiraz, backed by quite firm tannins. Should cellar well.

Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2015 $36
Buoyant, lively and exciting, combining fruit, savour and substantial though silky structure. One of the best.

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2015 $96
Sensational and still the district’s finest. Shows more stemmy character than usual (from inclusion of whole bunches in the ferment) but this is a positive both for flavour and smooth texture in a wine of this calibre.

Pinot Noir

Long Rail Gully Murrumbateman Pinot Noir 2015
A lovely pinot, showing fragrant fruit and the complexity of whole-bunch ferments. Great to drink now and over the next four or five years.

Lerida Estate Lake George Pinot Noir 2015 $26.50
A world apart from the Long Rail Gully style, nice fruit underling the assertive tannin structure. Not your typical Australian pinot.


Lerida Estate Cullerin Lake George Pinot Noir 2015 $35
Like a concentrated version of the entry-level pinot, fruit and tannin multiplied. The tannin structure is reminiscent of Burgundy, not Australia.

Other varieties
Four Winds Vineyard Sangiovese 2015 $30
A lighter, juicy version of this Italian variety, with fine, savoury tannins.

Mount Majura Tempranillo 2015 $45
A wine of exceptional flavour depth, displaying tempranillo’s distinctive, pervasive tannins. Take a bow Frank van de Loo, this could be Canberra’s next red specialty after shiraz.

Mount Majura TSG 2015 $34
This blend of tempranillo, shiraz and graciano, thrills with its vivid purple colour, sweet, seductive aroma and vibrant, harmonious palate.

Lerida Estate Georgianus 2015 $16.50
A pot-pourri of leftovers blended to give affordable medium-bodied drinking with Lerida’s distinctive firm tannins.

Lerida Estate Merlot Cabernet Franc 2015 $26.50
Lerida’s local take on St Emillion’s classic blend shows the true power and tannic muscle of merlot in a good season. Needs time.

TASTED AND LOVED BUT NOT YET RELEASED

Mount Majura Shiraz 2015 $34 – for release November 2016
A winner of gold medals at the NSW Small Winemakers Show and Winewise Small Vignerons. Demonstrates the immense appeal of the vintage.

Collector Rose Red City 2015 $32 – for release April 2017
Alex McKay’s blend of sangiovese and other Italian varieties provides spice, savour and red-currant-like flavours with taut, drying tannins.

Collector Marked Tree Shiraz 2015 $28 – for release April 2017)
A less fleshy style, showing pepper, spice, and whole-bunch character, combined with red-berry flavour and grippy, savoury finish.

Collector Reserve Shiraz 2015 $58 – for release April 2017)
An impressive, multi-dimensional wine featuring ripe, dark-cherry like fruit, spice, and soy-like savour. Taut structure and chewy richness make this one of the best.

Wily Trout Shiraz 2015 $28 – for release early 2017
Irresistibly ripe, plush and lovely, this wine elevates Wily Trout from bronze-medal to gold-medal standard.

Four Winds Vineyard Tom’s Block Shiraz 2015 $75 – for release March 2017
Earth, spice, fruit and oak saturate the palate of an exceptional shiraz.

Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2015 $36 – for release late 2016 or early 2017
A fragrant wine offering berry, spice and a gentle, understated but gorgeous drinking.

Clonakilla Syrah 2015 barrel sample – for release April 2017
It’s not even bottled yet but shows an Hermitage-like rivalry for Clonakilla’s flagship shiraz–viognier blend. Extraordinary fruit flavours.

Gallagher Shiraz 2015 $30 – for release late 2016 or early 2017
A distinctive shiraz showing the juicy richness of the vintage with intense black-pepper like flavour of cool-grown shiraz. Seductive.

Gallagher Merlot 2015 $25 – for release late 2016 or early 2017
An earthy, densely flavoured wine with merlot’s persistent, grippy tannins.

TASTED AND LOVED, BUT SOLD OUT AT THE WINERY

Though sold out at the winery, these wines may be still be around in restaurants or retail shelves.

Ravensworth Hilltops Nebbiolo 2015 $28
Ravensworth Estate Sangiovese 2015 $36
Ravensworth Garnacha Tinto Y Cinq-Sao 2015 $32

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 11 October 2016 in the Canberra Times and CT app

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

Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling 2016
$30–$38

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.

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.

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

Details and tickets

Stockists
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 goodfood.com.au

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 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.

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
CT 
app and goodfood.com.au

Wine review – Moss Wood, Grove Estate, Lerida Estate, Mr Riggs, Mount Monster, Greywacke

Moss Wood Cabernet SauvignonMoss 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 ItalianGrove 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 Lake George Shiraz Viognier 2014Lerida 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 Watervale RieslingMr 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 ShirazMount 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 GrisGreywacke 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.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 13 July 2016 in the Canberra Times  and CT app

Are you ready for sauvignon beer?

Will Bruce, winemaker at Wily Trout Wines, Canberra
Will Bruce, winemaker at Wily Trout Wines, Canberra

Grape and grain have been mixed before – for example in Saltram Pepperjack Ale, where Barossa shiraz juice provides a sugar boost for the fermentation. But it came as a complete surprise in March when BentSpoke brewer Richard Watkins and Wily Trout winemaker Will Bruce fomented the idea of combining hops with sauvignon blanc.

Watkins was to provide fresh hop flowers (from Rostrevor Farm, Ovens River) while Bruce was to allocate a ton of sauvignon blanc. As the de-stemmed grapes stirred into a natural ferment, Watkins committed his rare and precious hops.

For four months, skins, wine and hops fermented then slept together, begetting the quirkiest, most pungent fusion imaginable. Due for release in the next few months, most likely on tap at BentSpoke, the (as-yet-unfinished, un-named) sauvy-beer tastes delicious and dry, with whiffs of passionfruit and a grapefruit-like, tartness and bitterness.

Watch the Wily Trout and Bentspoke websites for the release date and visit again for my tasting note .

Cider and beer reviews

Napoleone Apple Cider (Yarra Valley, Victoria) 330ml $3.65
The Napoleone family grow grapes and fruit for their Punt Road and Airlie Bank wines and Napoleone ciders. They make beer too. Their basic apple cider – a delicate, dry style – shows the crunchy freshness the real real apples it was made from. The family makes several other pear and apple ciders.

Halvouston IPA (Scotland) 330ml $5.30
Halvouston claims to have used American hops since the 1980s, long before the hegemony of the USA west coast’s uber-hoppy IPAs. And an impressive wee drop it is, too: opulently malty, with strong citrus-like hops flavours (from four west coast varieties) and potent, lingering hops bitterness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 13 July 2016 in the Canberra Times