Yearly Archives: 2008

Wine review — Seppelt, Tim Adams, Knappstein, Shaw Vineyard Estate & Crittenden Estate

Seppelt Drumborg Riesling 2008 $29–32
Seppelt’s Drumborg Vineyard, located in the very cool Henty Region, near Portland in southwestern Victoria, was planted by Karl Seppelt way back in 1964. It was a prescient, if bold, move at the time, and one we can be grateful for now, almost half a century later. This rates amongst the finest of the 2008 rieslings. It has an exquisitely delicate flavour and fine structure more akin in its intensity to Champagne than mere table wine. It’s delicate enough to be enjoyable now. But the spine of bracing acid that helps fix the flavour also suggests good long-term cellaring.

Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2008 $22
Knappstein Clare Valley Hand Picked Riesling 2008 $22
Shaw Vineyard Estate Murrumbateman Premium Riesling 2008 $22

Many of the 2008 vintage rieslings offer terrific, drink-now fruit flavour and seem more advanced than usual in their ageing. These are three good, subtly different examples of that style – two from the Clare Valley and one from Canberra. Tim Adams’ wine is surprisingly soft and full-bodied for such a low-alcohol wine (11.5%), but it’s fresh, crisp and a pleasure to drink now. Knappstein is classically floral with a juicy, deliciously fresh palate. And Graeme Shaw’s wine pips the other two with its deep, super vibrant flavour.

Crittenden Estate Los Hermanos King Valley Albarino 2008 $28–30
Following the feast of Italian varieties of recent years we’re seeing a trickle of Australian produced wines from Spanish varieties – the red tempranillo and graciano and white albarino. And who better to go Spanish than the Crittenden family, one of the earliest and greatest Australian champions of Italian varieties. Second generation Zoe and Rollo Crittenden sourced this lovely drop from the King Valley. It’s a modest 12.5% alcohol but has a richly textured palate and, crunchy, pear-fresh flavour and pleasantly tart, dry finish. It’s a terrific summer drink. See for details.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008

Wine review — Stonier, Yering Station, Vintage Cellars, Grant Burge and Coffman & Lawson

Stonier Reserve Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2007 $50
Yering Station Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2007 $26

For Christmas luxury few wines match a top-notch pinot noir. The heady perfume, supple texture and luxurious flavour suit the Aussie summer and our traditional food, such as roast turkey and ham. Pinot also suits more robust seafood such as salmon and even crayfish for those who regard white wine as foreplay. Stonier’s is a superb example of this complex, subtle, supple luxurious style – one to savour and linger over. For a more taut and savoury expression of the variety, one that’s delicious but not opulent, Yering Station 2007 offers good value.

Vintage Cellars Toscana Sangiovese 2006 $13.50–$15
That regulations sometimes backfire is well illustrated in Italy where the so-called super Tuscans, like Sassicaia and Tignanello, rose to global prominence on sheer quality, eschewing Italy’s top ‘DOCG’ status because they used forbidden grape varieties.  Now Italy’s top winemakers face another, potentially more damaging regulation – that DOCG wines be sealed only with natural cork. It’s an old regulation but one that will hurt as the world embraces cork alternatives. A leading Italian producer (presumably the exclusive-to-Coles Rufino) recently illustrated the absurdity of the regulation by shipping Chianti Classico to Coles (owner of Vintage Cellars) under screw cap. To meet legal requirements it’s been downgraded on the label to ‘Toscana Sangiovese’. But in reality it’s a lovely, bright, savoury Chianti Classico.

Grant Burge Summers Eden Valley Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2007 $20–$25
Coffman & Lawson Eden Road Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2008 $22

These represent the bright and shining face of modern chardonnay. They’re both fermented in small oak barrels and matured on spent yeast cells – winemaking tricks that can backfire if the fruit or oak isn’t right. But done properly with the right fruit and oak, as it is in both of these wines, you get superbly rich, beautifully structured wines of great complexity. The funky, taut Burge wine comes from the Eden Valley and Adelaide Hills, neighbouring regions on South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges. The Coffman & Lawson wine, made at the old Kamberra winery, Watson, shows the exciting flavour and finesse of Tumbarumba chardonnay.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

Thanks so much for your letter. We’re really pleased that you can make the Chateau Shanahan Boxing Day lunch. And thanks, too, for offering to bring the wine. As promised, I’ve put the wine list together, including prices and where to buy.

Thanks, especially, for offering to visit those nice Krug people in Reims on your way south. But we won’t need their new $5,000-a-bottle, Clos d‘Ambonnay Champagne after all.

I’ve found a cheaper alternative that ought to be very close to it in quality. Like the Krug it’s also sourced from old pinot noir vines in Ambonnay – and it’s also barrel fermented and bottle aged for many years. But it costs only $140 – so we can get three-dozen bottles for the same budget. Perhaps you could stay for dinner, too?

The Champagne’s called Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes NV. Just call Bibendum Wine Company on 03 8415 0070 for the pick-up address in Melbourne.

I can’t think of a lovelier starter, Santa – just imagine all the freshness and delicacy of Champagne but with the amazing flavour and power of top-notch pinot noir.

It’ll be a hard act to follow. But we’ll try. We’re air freighting half a dozen live crayfish from Robe, South Australia. They’re firm fleshed and luxurious and a great match with fine-boned, equally luxurious chardonnay.

I thought originally of white Burgundy – a Corton Charlemagne or Le Montrachet. But since the Krug visit’s off, you might as well skip France and pick up a bottle of Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2005 here in Canberra.

It’s as good as any chardy I’ve tasted this year and has that nice bit of bottle age that the best wines need. It’ll cost about $150.

The duck and mushroom main course calls for a juicy, soft, earthy wine – something supple, smooth and elegant. Cool-climate shiraz is a possibility. But pinot’s the classic match and there’s a beauty down on the Mornington Peninsula.

If you visit Nat and Rosalie White at Main Ridge Estate, they should be able to fix you up with a few bottles of Half Acre Pinot Noir 2006 at $62 each. This is a beautiful Aussie pinot. And could you ask Nat to reserve a couple of 2007s for next year? There’s not much of it, but it’s sensational. Best to look at for the details.

After all that, Santa, I reckon we might enjoy summer pudding with a new round of Egly-Ouriet Champers.

Merry Christmas from all at Chateau Shanahan.

Copyright  © Chris Shanahan 2008

2008 a memorable wine year for Australia

Predictions are generally wrong, sometimes dramatically so, as 2008 proved for the wine industry. An expected end to the wine glut was stymied by two unrelated forces – a bumper grape crop and a dramatic decline in exports.

The bumper crop caught the industry by surprise, prompting a press release from the Winemakers Federation of Australia. The 1.83 million crop, they said, ‘was almost double some early predictions’.

Veteran commentator, James Halliday, attributed Foster’s write down in the value of its bulk wine stocks to the large harvest, adding that it had left ‘all the major companies floating in a sea of excess chardonnay’.

Meanwhile exports had been hammered by our strong dollar and a mood swing in our major markets as the credit crisis bit. After a decade and a half of steadily rising volumes, Australia’s year on year exports to August 2008 declined by 103 million litres.

At the same time domestic sales of Australian wine declined by about 21 million litres. And on the back of a strong dollar, imports reached an historic high of 53.3 million litres (representing 11.1 per cent of domestic sales) in the year to June 2008.

Presumably the collapse of our dollar in the second half of the year might restrain imports and boost exports – although there’s no sign of the latter in export approvals for the year to October. They were down by 113 million litres on the previous year.

However, there’s anecdotal evidence of a turnaround, albeit tempered by tough economic conditions in the UK and USA, our two biggest export markets. Word is that British supermarkets in particular are looking to squeeze extra profit from the situation while meeting local demand for ever lower wine prices.

Turmoil in our local industry, particularly in the actions of two of our biggest producers, Foster’s and Constellation Wines Australia (CWAU), seem to be driving a hurricane of rumours in 2008, including several predicting either the demise of wine casks or the exit of some major producers from the segment.

But, as they say, rumours of their death are greatly exaggerated. Wine casks are too important to die. In the year to June 2008, they accounted for 48 per cent of locally made wine consumed in Australia – 37 per cent of the red and rosé total and 54 per cent of whites.

The rumours grew partly from a report by Citigroup Analysts predicting that two major producers, including CWAU, were giving up on casks. But on 13 November, John Grant, President of CWAU, issued a press release denying the report.

Grant said that casks were a ‘significant component’ of CWAU’s business and that his company had ‘no intention of withdrawing from the category’.

However, a source from one of our two major retail chains told me that CWAU was ‘not actively promoting casks’ and that this would lead inevitably to a decline in volumes.

This same source predicted that another major producer really would exit the market next year – but that privately owned De Bortoli, already a major soft-pack player, would probably seize the opportunity to expand. The cask will live.

The rumours about CWAU reflect its dramatic shift in focus from beverage wines, to regional specialisation, driven by its new boss John Grant and sanctioned, no doubt, by the American owners.

The strategy dovetails with Australia’s new official export thrust – moving from a simple ‘Brand Australia’ to a focus on our specialised wine regions. It’ll be a long haul, because the world seems barely aware of names like Coonawarra, Barossa or Margaret River.

But the regional push is where value lies for producers and where drinkers will find the best quality. Fortunately for Australia, the regional theme is no artifice. We have the regions. We have the specialties. And we have the quality. It’s a story that’s been told by our many small, regional producers but not so well by our larger makers.

2008 might therefore be remembered as the year when one of our largest producers, American owned, finally decided that its greatest Australian asset in the long run was the tremendous suite of regional vineyards and brands it owns in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia – and not its cheaper, cross-regional blends.

A growing regional focus by big makers can only help small makers. Small makers are invariably regional specialists and most of them focus on the Australian market. Their numbers more than doubled in the ten years to 2008, a period in which we’ve seen new quality heights achieved.

2008 goes down in my tasting notes as a year when quality peaked for small makers – a year of highlights, featuring wonderful bubblies, chardonnays, pinot noirs, shirazes, cabernets, semillons and many exotic, new-to-Australia varieties.

It’s also been a year where in mature regions, most notably the Barossa, restless, passionate makers subdivided regional boundaries to individual vineyards and to little plots within vineyards – much as Burgundy’s vignerons have done for a thousand years – to give us the most subtle expressions of shiraz, grenache and mourvedre.

This regional subdivision will be the future for fine wine in Australia. It can be glimpsed now in the better retail stores and it’s reflected even in multi-regional blends that draw on regional specialties to bolster blander components. But to savour all the shades of delight, you need to visit the makers, even virtually, and taste the uniqueness of Canberra shiraz, Mornington pinot noir, Macedon bubbly, Tasmanian chardonnay, Barossa shiraz grenache mourvedre blends, Hunter semillon, Clare riesling, Margaret River or Coonawarra cabernet and dozens of other very fine drops.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008

Beer review — James Squire Sundown Lager & Young’s Special London Ale

James Squire Sundown Lager 345ml $3.20
This one-off, limited-production brew combines pale and carapils malts and a mix of Galaxy, Summer Saaz and East Kent Goldings hops. A lovely, rich maltiness underpins the flavour. But a modest 4.4 per cent alcohol and delicious, herbal, grassy hops counter the maltiness, giving it a refreshing, brisk lightness.

Young’s Special London Ale 500ml $7.60
Young’s bottle-conditioned London ale features strong, sweet malt flavours and intense, spicy, assertively bitter hops – boosted by a potent, warming 6.4 per cent alcohol. It’s a burly but balanced combination designed for cool weather and hearty food. Should be served at around 10 degrees Celsius to allow full expression of the complex flavours.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008

Changing Aussie beer tastes

Per capita beer consumption in Australia is in decline according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. While the apparent total consumption of beer increased marginally from 1.748 billion litres to 1.790 billion litres between 2005 and 2007, per capita consumption declined by one litre, from 107.6 litres to 106.6 litres.

But increasing consumption of mid and full strength beer, at the expense of low-alcohol beer, meant that Australia’s per capita consumption of alcohol from beer remained steady at 4.7 litres. At the same time consumption of alcohol from all sources increased almost immeasurably from 9.85 litres to 9.88 litres.

Whether looked at in absolute litres (1.790 billion) or litres of alcohol (76.8 million), beer remains Australia’s number one alcoholic beverage by a country mile. Wine comes second on 490.3 million litres total and 51.3 million litres of alcohol. Spirits and ready-to-drinks run neck and neck for a distant third and fourth behind beer and wine.

What the ABS beer figures don’t reveal, however, is the steady chipping away at the old state-based tribal boundaries as national and international brands monopolise the fast-growing premium beer segment.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008

Wine review — McKellar Ridge & Zilzie

 McKellar Ridge Canberra District Chardonnay 2008 $18–20
McKellar Ridge would have to be one of Canberra’s smallest wineries with production of only 400–500 dozen a bottles annually. Brian and Janet Johnson own the brand and they source fruit from Martin Susan’s Point of View vineyard, Murrumbateman – home also of the winery and cellar door, now open on Sunday afternoon’s. Brian’s first chardonnay from the vineyard is deliciously taut and zesty with melon-like varietal flavour, overlaid harmoniously with distinctive aromas and flavours derived from fermentation and maturation in oak barrels. But it’s the fruit that leads the flavour from beginning to end.  Available at cellar door or through

Zilzie Selection 23 range $9–11
Chardonnay 2008, Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Moscato 2008

The Forbes family’s Zilzie Wines, established in 1999 and located at Karadoc, near Mildura, takes the value fight to the big producers. It’s not often you’ll find a trophy winning chardonnay under $10, but Selection 23 has won four of them recently – one at the Riverland Show and three at the Australian Inland Wine Show. It’s an appealing, fresh drop with bright, nectarine-like varietal flavour and tingly, dry finish. The lighter-bodied sauvignon blanc offers flavours more akin to passionfruit. And the grapey, spritzy, sweet Moscato, a terrific drop for fresh young palates, has little to do with that variety at all. It’s a blend of crouchen and muscat gordo blanco.

Zilzie Wines $14–16
Shiraz 2007, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Chardonnay 2008, Viognier 2007
Zilzie’s more upmarket wines offer big value, too, with a notable lift in flavour and complexity over the cheaper range. The sauvignon blanc is pristine, light and fresh with tropical fruit flavours. The barrel-fermented chardonnay is bolder, rounder and fuller with lovely ripe, peachy flavours and the complexities that come from time in oak – but it’s not overdone. The syrupy rich viognier is… well, viognier …a love-it or hate-it style for the adventurous. The reds are very good varietals at a fair price, both in the generous, warm-climate mould. The shiraz is ripe, full and soft with a little burst of toasty oak. And the cabernet shows leafy, clear varietal character, but it’s ripe and full with the variety’s firm tannins.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008

National Wine Show of Australia must fill gaps

There’s something missing from Canberra’s National Wine Show of Australia. It’s touted as the grand final of Australia’s wine show season. But if you look to it as a guide to the best of the best, then you’ll be disappointed. There are gaping holes across most varieties, but particularly in the ranks of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir.

Plugging those holes is a challenge for all wine shows and, to some extent, beyond their control. Shows can’t, for example, coerce a producer to exhibit. And when the maker of a definitive style choses not to, the absence diminishes the benchmarking value of the show – particularly if it’s a regional event. Canberra’s regional show would be enriched, for example, if its organisers could persuade Tim Kirk to enter Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Australia’s leading example of its style.

But if the National is to maintain its status, it really needs to entice some of Australia’s and New Zealand’s best small makers to join the fold – particularly those making sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. That’s where I see the biggest gaps among exhibitors and in the honours list.

Make no mistake, the honours list makes an overall exciting shopping list. Who can argue when judges tell us that Tyrrell’s Belford Semillon 2004 is about as good as Aussie semillon gets, or that riesling doesn’t get better than Peter Lehmann Reserve Eden Valley 2002.

These are credible results and gel with long-term experience. And with a few exceptions, the other wines taking awards this year are recognised regional specialties. Just look at this list of trophy winners, noting their varieties and origins (where known):

Leasingham Bin 7 Clare Valley Riesling 2008, Peter Lehmann Reserve Eden Valley Riesling 2002, Hunters Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Belford Semillon 2004, Penfolds Reserve Bin A Chardonnay 2007, McWilliams Limited Release Riverina Botrytis Semillon 2006, Hardys Sir James Tumbarumba Cuvee 2000, Goundrey Cabernet Tempranillo 2007, Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007, Langi Ghiran The Langi Grampians Shiraz 2005, Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Wyndham Estate George Wyndham Shiraz Grenache 2005, Oranje Tractor Wine Albany Riesling 2003, Morris Rutherglen Premium Liqueur Tokay, Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Stevens Semillon 2004, Brookland  Valley Margaret River Chardonnay 2005, Evans and Tate The Reserve Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and Balthazar Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005.

When you look into the catalogue of results (you can download it from you’ll notice that many of the big names are missing from every category. That’s partly understandable. Obviously no single show is likely to feature every notable name in every wine style.

But where the representation was good enough in the National to ensure that top-notch examples won in the riesling and semillon classes, gaps are more apparent in the shiraz, cabernet and sauvignon blanc classes and even more so for chardonnay and pinot noir.

The award winning wines in these classes are extremely good. But what struck me when I looked through, say, the list of pinot noirs was the absence, or under representation, of top regions and top makers.

And their absence raised doubts. Would Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough have won the pinot noir trophy had the judges been able to compare it with the best from Yarra, Mornington, Tasmania, Macedon, Martinborough and Central Otago?

It’s such an important variety that the organisers of the National, known for its innovations, need to address the dearth of top pinots. They might also look at the gaps in other varieties at the same time.

Copyright  © Chris Shanahan 2008

Beer review — Hoegaarden and Weienstephaner

Hoegaarden Witbier 330ml $4.29
With so many Oz versions around it’s reassuring occasionally to taste the Belgian original, from one of the worlds’ biggest brewers. In a word it’s still the benchmark – its sumptuous head, high-toned, clove-like, fruity aroma and rich but brisk, clovey palate put it ahead of the pack.

Weihenstephaner Pilsner 500ml $5.99
This is a classic German Pilsen style from the ancient (founded 1040) Weihenstaphan brewery. It has a pale lemon colour with a fine, white head; zesty, harmonious aroma; and beautifully refreshing palate – in its unique, herbal, zesty, delicately bitter style. One bottle won’t be enough.

Copyright © Chris  Shanahan 2008

Wine review — Peter Lehmann

Peter Lehmann Barossa Riesling 2008 $11–14, Eden Valley Riesling $17–20
The cheaper Lehmann wines sometimes make the retail scrum, so watch for fighting prices on these, and the wines below, then leap in for terrific drinking. The Barossa riesling is beautifully floral with a zingy fresh, juicy, fruity, off-dry palate – the sort of fruitiness that sits so well with Asian food. The Eden Valley to the east of the Barossa floor, provides a cooler growing environment and tends to produce more acidic, taut intense rieslings. This one shows distinctive lime-like varietal aroma and flavour. It’s an intense but fine-boned, dry aperitif style – and just 11 per cent alcohol.

Peter Lehmann Barossa Semillon 2006 $11–14, Margaret Semillon 2003 $40
You wouldn’t know it from looking at wine labels, but semillon is Australia’s second most widely grown white variety behind chardonnay.  In 2008 we harvested 444 thousand and 100 thousand tonnes respectively of the two varieties. If semillon’s fate lies mainly as a blender (either anonymously, but commonly in tandem with sauvignon blanc) it reaches great heights on its own in the Hunter and Barossa Valleys. In the Barossa, Lehmann is, to me, the leading producer of unoaked versions.  The standard blend is modest in alcohol with an appealing, light, fresh, savoury lemony tang. And ‘Margaret’, the aged release, rates among the best and most interesting of Australian white wines.

Peter Lehmann Barossa Shiraz 2006 $16–19, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 $16–19
Shiraz originated in France. But during the last decade Australia seized ownership of the variety that does so well in so many of our growing areas. It leads our red grape crush by a country mile (435 thousand tonnes versus second-placed cabernet’s 254 thousand tonnes in 2008). And it’s become our signature variety in export markets – principally through the generous, soft warm-grown styles that, arguably, the Barossa makes better than any other region. Just try the opulent, ripe, soft Lehmann 2006 to see how loveable the style is and what value it offers. Cabernet doesn’t perform as consistently well there, but the 2006 offers a generous, firm expression of the variety.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008