Yearly Archives: 2009

Wine review — Bay of Fires, Winesave and Crittenden

Bay of Fires Tasmania

  • Pinot Noir 2008 $35–$38
  • Chardonnay 2008 $35–$38

Bay of Fires, part of Constellation Wines Australia (formerly BRL Hardy), is profoundly affecting Tasmania’s wine scene. It pays top dollar for the right grapes to growers the length and breadth of Tasmania. And the wines go into sparkling wines made by Ed Carr or table wines made by Fran Austin. These two delicious wines, from the warm 2008 vintage, give a terrific glimpse of the Tasmanian style. The chardonnay is brisk and fine boned – at once rich and restrained with intense grapefruit-like varietal flavour. The pinot is soft and fine with ripe varietal flavour and a unique savouriness – understated but complex and balanced.

Winesave $29.95
Winesave is a small cylinder of compressed, inert, heavier-than-air argon gas. Squirted into an open bottle, the gas blankets the wine, protecting it from air. We road tested Winesave on two bottles of Bay of Fires Pinot Noir, pouring equal amounts daily but protecting only one. At opening: wines identical. Plus one day: triple blind tasting (two glasses of one wine, one of the other) – slight degradation to the unprotected wine; the other bright and fresh. Plus two days: protected wine still fresher, but fading. Plus three days: unprotected wine barely drinkable; protected wine on its last legs. See

Crittenden Estate King Valley Los Hermanos Tributo a Galicia 2009 $27–$29
Earlier this year we learned that all of Australia’s albarino – sourced originally from Galicia, Spain – was savagnin and that in all likelihood even the Spanish had savagnin mixed in with their albarino. We also learned that even Spanish experts couldn’t separate the two vines or the wines made from them. But Australia’s savagnin makers adopted the name change in their stride. In Crittenden’s case they’ve simply removed ‘albarino’ from their Los Hermanos label, added ‘Tributo a Galicia’ and happily publicise the name confusion. The wine is attractively aromatic, tending floral, with a full, juicy, shimmering, dry finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Wine review — Dog Trap, De Bortoli and various beautiful Australian rieslings

Dog Trap Vineyard Canberra District

  • Shiraz 2008 $18
  • Tony Shiraz 2008 $27
  • Lyn Shiraz 2008 $27

Dog trap wines are grown by Denis Hart and Julian White at Yass and made by Roger Harris and Brian Sinclair at Brindabella Hills, Hall. The three wines come from the same batch of grapes but represent different oak maturation regimes: 12 months in old oak barrels for the standard wine; 15 months in a tank with inner French oak staves of for Tony; and 12 months in American oak barrels for Lynn. To my taste it’s an instance of less being more as the pure, cheaper wine really hits the spot. All three are at the very ripe end of the Canberra style spectrum, so the earlier picked 2009s should be even more vibrant and enjoyable.

De Bortoli

  • Windy Peak Victoria Shiraz Viognier 2008 $12–$15
  • Estate Grown Yarra Valley Syrah 2008 $24–$30
  • Reserve Yarra Valley Syrah 2007 $50

You can pluck a wine from any point in the De Bortoli range and be sure it’ll measure up to the best in its class – from the $7 Sacred Hill, to the $10 Montage to the $15 Windy Peak and up to the $30 Yarra Syrah and $50 Reserve Yarra Syrah.  These three shirazes are lovely examples of a distinctive, elegant, savoury style – contrasting, for example, to soft, round Barossa shiraz – made by Steve Webber in De Bortoli’s Dixon Creek Winery in the Yarra Valley. They offer steps up in flavour concentration, culminating in the fine, taut, tannic, complex Reserve.

Various beautiful Australian rieslings $14–$38
Australia’s beautiful, delicate dry rieslings offer some of the best value Christmas drinking possible. They cover a subtle spectrum of styles, represented in these much-loved examples, all recently savoured at Chateau Shanahan. Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2009 $14–$17. Poverty Hill Eden Valley Riesling 2009 $18–$22. Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2009 $20–$25. Knappstein Clare Valley Ackland Vineyard Watervale Riesling 2009 $29–$33. Pipers Brook Tasmania Riesling 2009 $24–$28. Mesh Eden Valley Riesling 2009 $26–$29. Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2009 $27–$30. Taylor’s St Andrews Riesling 2005 $33–$38 (just released, and a very fine example of bottle aged riesling).

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Christmas wine gifts — regional vignettes

You don’t have to be a wine lover to love a bottle of wine for Christmas. And with Australian regions now offering such a diversity of styles, a gift of regional, varietal wine ticks so many boxes: it’s lovingly grown and made by people with a passion for what they’re doing; it can be shared and savoured with friends and family; it can be put aside as a memento for later enjoyment; and it can have a great story to tell.

My wine shopping lists looks not at individual makers but a tiny vignette of distinguished regions with world-class wines to offer.

Barossa Valley – shiraz, grenache and mourvedre (aka mataro)
An hour north of Adelaide, and home of big, warm, soft reds made from one, some, or all of shiraz, grenache and mourvedre, quite often from extremely old vines. Look in particular for wines from individual vineyards. Like sleuths, an army of enthusiastic winemakers now criss-crosses the Barossa sourcing outstanding material from venerable old vines that once contributed their fruit anonymously to regional or cross-regional blends. You can now taste the fascinating Barossa wine story from vines dating to first European settlement in the mid nineteenth century and from all of the little nooks and crannies of this fascinating area.

Clare Valley – riesling
Riesling is the signature blend. The best are dry, vibrant, delicate and fruity when young and age well in good cellars, particularly reliably now that we have the screw cap. The Clare has no official sub-regions, but there’s a considerable range of riesling styles attached to locally known names like Sevenhill, Clare (the town itself), Watervale and Polish Hill. Prices vary between $15 and $45 for very high quality wines.

Adelaide Hills – chardonnay
This region comprises a high, cool slice of the north-to-south running Mount Lofty Ranges, bordered by McLaren Vale to the south and the Eden Valley to the north (and Clare is further north on the same ranges).
It makes a number of varieties well, including delightful, fine-boned shiraz, and Stephen George’s beautiful Ashton Hills pinot noir. But to me its high achievement to date is opulent, fine, complex chardonnay, produced in the broader region as well as in its two official, and cooler, sub-regions, Lenswood and Piccadilly Valley.

McLaren Vale – shiraz
McLaren Vale, bordering Adelaide’s southern suburbs, makes a bit of everything, but nothing finer than its ripe but delightfully savoury shiraz. It’s another of our very old producing regions with many winemakers exploring its diverse sites.

Coonawarra – cabernet sauvignon
It’s about four hours’ drive south of Adelaide and one from the Robe, on the Southern Ocean. The cool maritime climate favours cabernet sauvignon, the clear champion of the area. But the warm northern end grows good shiraz, too, and historically some of Coonawarra’s best wines have been blends of shiraz and cabernet. Nevertheless, cabernet reigns and the best are powerful but elegant, long-lived examples of this noble variety.

Grampians – shiraz
This western Victorian region producers many wine styles, but none better than shiraz. We’re now considerably south of South Australia’s McLaren Vale and Barossa regions, meaning a significantly cooler climate. In turn, this means considerably different styles of shiraz – flavours lean to the peppery and savoury with a more elegant structure than we see in those from the warmer north.

Macedon Ranges  – pinot noir and chardonnay
The elevated, cool Macedon region, on the Great Divide, an hour’s drive north west of Melbourne, specialise in pinot noir and chardonnay. As the altitude, and therefore growing temperatures, vary considerably, Macedon makes outstanding table and sparkling wine from the two varieties – bubblies from the cooler sites and table wine from the warmer ones. The bubblies can be straight chardonnay, straight pinot noir or, more commonly, a blend of both. The best chardonnay and pinot noir table wines stand with the best in Australia.

Mornington Peninsula – pinot noir and chardonnay
This is another beautiful and unique Victorian region, a little south of Melbourne, with Port Phillip Bay to its west and Westernport Bay to its east. Pinot noir and chardonnay are the stars, although the region’s producers have pinned their star to the pinot noir banner. With the affluent Melbourne market nearby, thirty years’ of hard graft by the local growers, some very well funded, means very rich pickings. This is definitely one of Australia’s most exciting cool-climate growing regions.

Yarra Valley – shiraz, pinot noir, chardonnay cabernet sauvignon
Because of its size and diversity, the Yarra hits the excitement button with a wider range of varieties than most. Few regions could say, “my best shiraz, best pinot, best chardonnay and best cabernet are all as good as the best in the country”. The Yarra can.

Tasmania – riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir
Surrounded by the Southern Ocean and with its southerly location, Tasmania produces small crops of high quality wine grapes – two thirds of them chardonnay and pinot noir — used in both table and sparkling wine production. More than eighty small makers now turn out exciting wines, and larger producers increasingly source Tasmanian fruit for top end bubbly and table wines. While the real excitement lies in chardonnay and pinot, riesling hits the high notes, too.

Rutherglen – fortified muscat and muscadelle (formerly known as tokay)
Rutherglen, in Victoria’s hot northeast makes robust table wines. But its greatest achievements are the complex, sometimes profound, barrel aged fortified wines, culminating in the very old ‘rare’ category. There’s the intensely grapey, luscious muscat and equally luscious, but less grapey, muscadelle. Until recently muscadelle was labelled as ‘tokay’. But when the Hungarians claimed the name, our makers coined ‘topaque’, used by some makers. Others prefer to call the wine by its varietal name, muscadelle.

Canberra – riesling and shiraz
While fine, spicy, elegant shiraz (sometimes with a splash of viognier) is our standout wine style, made successfully now by many local producers, our rieslings are increasingly on the money.

Hunter Valley – semillon, chardonnay and shiraz
It’s a perennially niche region but it makes graceful, long lived wines from semillon chardonnay and shiraz. The semillons begin life austere and lemony but, with age, they develop a delicious toasty and honeyed depth – a distinctive style that people either love or hate. The chardonnays are generous and round but finely textured, utterly delicious and age well. Hunter shiraz is medium bodied, beautifully soft, almost tender, and develops an earthy, gamey complexity over time. The Hunter is something of an enigma – a region this far north should be too warm to make such graceful wines.

Margaret River – cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay
With Coonawarra, Western Australia’s Margaret River is Australia’s cabernet capital – although quite often it’s at its best coupled with merlot. Surprising for a region where vines can shoot as early as June, Margaret Rivers makes some of our most complex, interesting chardonnay, although I suspect it’s not a region-wide success.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Scottish brewer claims world strongest beer

Scotland’s BrewDog brewery recently launched Tactical Nuclear Penguin – a 32-per-cent-alcohol beer it claims to be the world’s strongest. The limited production of 500 bottles sold out in a blaze of publicity. And the web site no longer takes advance orders for batch two, at 35 pounds a bottle.

But I suspect the beer’s almost certainly more collectible than drinkable. I’m attempting to buy a bottle for review, but still have strong memories of a 17 per-cent-alcohol triple bock produced in the late nineties by America’s Samuel Adams brewery.

With other judges at International Beer Awards, Ballarat, I didn’t know how to rate an amazing curio that smelled and tasted more like vegemite than beer.

But if brewing a beer to 17 per cent alcohol pushes yeast to its limits, how did the cunning Scots achieve 32 per cent? Not entirely by brewing. They brewed an imperial stout to 11 per cent, and after maturing it in oak for eighteen months, stuck it in a cool room at minus 20 degrees. As the water in the beer froze, they decanted what was now an uber imperial stout away from the ice crystals – voila.

To view the process, Google ‘tactical nuclear penguin’ and select the ‘vimeo’ link.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Bream Creek Tasmania

  • Riesling 2007 $22
  • Chardonnay 2007 $23
  • Pinot Noir 2008 $30

Visit a few Tasmanian wineries and you’ll soon hear the name Fred Peacock, owner of the beautiful Bream Creek Vineyard at Marion Bay, just to the east of Hobart, and one of the state’s most widely consulted vine experts. Fred grows his grapes for flavour then works closely with winemaker Julian Alcorso. On a recent visit we were deeply impressed by Fred’s wines. We loved the tasty, bracing, fresh riesling; the vibrant, intense, finely structured chardonnay; and the pristine, fleshy, mouth wateringly delicious pinot noir. These are classy wines from a vineyard planted back in 1973. See

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Cuis 1er Cru Champagne Brut $40–$50
Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale NV Brut Champagne  $45.90–$50
Taittinger Prelude Grand Crus Champagne $130

With a starting price of around $50 real Champagne ought to be good. But, alas, much of it’s rubbish at this cheaper end. Two that offer real value are Coles and Woolworths direct imports. Pierre Gimonnet, available at 1st Choice and Vintage Cellars, is a delicate, all-chardonnay blend from the highly rated village of Cuis. The slightly fuller Joseph Perrier, shows the attractive brioche-like flavour and round, soft texture of pinot meunier. And he non-vintage Prelude blend brings the extra flavour dimension from some of the most highly rated pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards of the Montagne de Reims and Cotes des Blancs sub regions respectively.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

A Christmas drink list

Seppeltsfield Flora Fino DP 117 375ml $22
Until recently this sensationally fresh, zesty, tangy, aromatic wine was labelled as ‘sherry’,  a name now reclaimed by the Spanish. It’s an overlooked gem on the Australian wine scene and a treat to sip, lightly chilled, during hot weather. It’s bone dry savouriness make it a great match to tapas and other savoury foods.

Mt Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2009 $30
Stephanie Toole’s Mount Horrocks, from the Clare Valley’s Watervale sub-region, shows young riesling’s amazing lime-like briskness. It’s rich, purely varietal, bone dry, light and delicate. It’s a wonderfully refreshing style that can be enjoyed on its own, with delicate food as an aperitif or, thanks to its fruitiness and zesty acidity, with spicy Asian food.

Stefano Lubiana Tasmania Chardonnay 2005 $39
Steve and Monique Lubiana’s vineyard, on the Derwent River, is in one of Australia’s great chardonnay-growing hot spots. The climate, combined with attention to detail in the vineyard and winery, produces wines of extraordinary intensity and finesse. The natural, fresh acid, intense flavour and a few years bottle age make this one of the most complex and enjoyable chardonnays on the market. And the price is modest given the TLC behind it. See

Clonakilla O’Riada Canberra District Shiraz 2008 $35
This delicious, fine-boned shiraz viognier is an offshoot of Clonakilla’s $75 flagship shiraz viognier. The wine comprises about 40 per cent of components ‘declassified’ from the flagship blend plus material from three local growers favoured by winemaker Tim Kirk: Phil Williams of Hall and Long Rail Gully and Quarry Hill Vineyard of Murrumbateman. At a few dinners where it was served alongside other Canberra wines the O’Riada glass was the one that I returned to again and again. It’s outstanding and a great joy to drink.

Curly Flat Macedon Ranges Pinot Noir 2006 $46
Each vintage Phillip and Jenny Moraghan produce numerous barrels of pinot from their estate-grown fruit. Over time they separate the barrels into ‘Curly Flat’ and ‘Williams Crossing’ components. At $24 Williams Crossing is to my taste the best value pinot in Australia. But Curly Flat is the flagship – a pinot of real substance and dimension with the ability to develop beautifully for years in the bottle. I’ve consistently awarded the 2006 gold medal scores in the Macedon regional show and have confirmed those impressions over several bottles at Chateau Shanahan.

Hewitson Barossa Old Garden Mourvedre 2007 $70
The international language of top-quality wine focuses on vineyard location. It’s a concept inherent in every estate-grown wine and, increasingly, in offerings like this highly distinctive Dean-Hewitson-made red. Back in 1853 Friedrich Koch planted mourvedre vines on a sandy site at what we now call Rowland Flat, in the southern Barossa Valley. Koch’s descendents still hand prune and harvest those venerable old vines (each an individual bush) and the fruit goes to ‘Old Garden’. It’s a magnificent, powerful-but-elegant red that’s seamlessly absorbed its maturation in new French oak barrels. This is a national treasure.

Mt William Winery Macedon Ranges Blanc de Blancs 2001  $35
This ultra-fine, elegant, marvellously fresh all-chardonnay wine earned gold medals at the last three annual Macedon regional wine shows. Macedon’s extremely cool growing conditions delivers a delicate flavour and structure found in very few Australian regions. It’s a delightful aperitif style and now beginning to show some pleasant bottle aged character. See

Red Hill Estate Mornington Peninsula Blanc de Noirs 2006 $35
Made entirely of red grapes, Red Hill’s Blanc de Noirs shows the slightest stain of colour in its otherwise lemon-gold hue. There’s a touch of strawberry in the aroma and flavour of this gentle, very fine, dry bubbly. It’s fuller bodied than the Mt William, and has the backbone and savouriness of the red varieties, albeit in a fine and delicate way. See

Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier 2004 $56
Patricia comes from the cold Whitlands vineyard on a plateau above the southern end of Victoria’s King Valley. It’s cold enough to produce the intense but delicate flavours essential for top-end bubbly. This is juicy and fresh but very delicate, with a special textural richness and roundness probably attributable to the use of pinot meunier, a relative of pinot noir.

Bay of Fires Tasmania Arras Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2002 $50–$65
Made by Ed Carr, this is as fine, flavoursome and delicate a bubbly as Australia makes. Ed’s quest for bubbly perfection took him from the mainland to Tasmania, where fruit sourcing is drifting from the north to the cooler southern regions. The wine is to be rebadged as ‘House of Arras’ in the new year. The Bay of Fires and Arras brands belong to Constellation Wine Estates, formerly BRL Hardy.

Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne NV $85
Louis Roederer, still in family hands, shows why real Champagne remains the benchmark. It has the assertive pinot flavour and structure more typical of a vintage Champagne, with a unique and lovely elegance, freshness and lightness – courtesy of the chardonnay component. There’s nothing hit and miss about this. It gets back to great grapes from the company’s highly rated vineyards, skilled winemaking and blending – including the use of two-to-five-year-old reserve wines – and a minimum three years’ maturation in bottle.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Brilliant regional wines emerging from Oz wine wreck

Australian winemaking 2009 – it’s a tale of two industries: mature, vibrant, small and medium producers with their strong regional identities; and the headline-grabbing wreckage of the ‘brand Australia’ juggernaut.

A recent Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) report, Wine industry must confront the reality of oversupply, detailed the horror behind the chilling headlines.

The report concluded “at least 20% of bearing vines in Australia are surplus to requirement, with few long-term prospects. On cost of production alone, at least 17% of vineyard capacity is uneconomic. The problems are national – although some regions are more adversely affected – and are not restricted to specific varieties or price points”.

The quiet panic behind a decline in exports and domestic sales of Australian wine manifested itself most obviously in the sell off of vineyards and wineries by two of our largest wine producers, Constellation Wines Australia (formerly BRL Hardy) and Foster’s.

Constellation simply continued the dumping of assets that began with their departure from Canberra, announced late in 2006. But the asset dumping increased in scale towards the end of 2008 as they put three wineries up for sale – Goundrey, in Western Australia, the historic Leasingham Winery in Clare and the Stonehaven Winery at Padthaway. Only the Goundrey winery sold. The other two were mothballed in the absence of buyers.

Earlier this year, borrowing a well-worn political phrase, Foster’s said it would sell 36 ‘non-core’ vineyards and close three wineries. This came on top off widespread value destruction following their acquisition of Southcorp Wines for $2.5 billion in 2005.

While many of the problems facing Foster’s may have been self-inflicted, the larger backdrop of the global financial crisis and a rising Australian dollar exaggerated the effects of incipient oversupply – and sucked the industry along with it.

Australian exports peaked in October 2007, says the WFA, and have since declined by eight million cases and 21 per cent in value. This coincided with a decline in domestic sales of Australian wine and an even larger rise in the volume of imports, spurred by the rising dollar.

The combination of rising supply and falling demand leaves Australia with a surplus of more than 100 million cases. And this is set to double over the next two years because we’re producing 20–40 million cases a year more than we sell.

This, of course, explains the amazing range of wine bargains being thrown at us from all directions – the big, direct-importing retailers; wine club operators, including the Wine Society, Cellarmasters and Wine Selectors; the more aggressive independent retailers, including cleanskin specialists; and even the auction houses, notably

While Coles and Woolworths continue to dominate liquor retailing, the wine surplus encourages to the growth of alternative channels as the wine clubs and clean skin specialist boost sales of labels totally under their control.

Indeed, this aspect of wine selling (and it includes the big retailers with their direct imports and private domestic wine labels) concerns winemakers deeply. WFA points the finger at supermarkets, declaring “excess supplies have allowed supermarkets to move from customers to competitors by launching their own low-price products, without the need to invest in capital infrastructure or long-term health of the industry. This clutters the market place and eats into margins”.

But if the retailers exploit the surplus (and we all benefit from lower prices while it lasts) they didn’t create it.

Unquestionably, the strong Australian dollar makes many producers internationally uncompetitive through no fault of their own. But the WFA says that producers in many regions bear production costs that are simply too high for the quality of fruit they produce.

While this means bargains galore as producers seek to offload surplus wine, ultimately it isn’t unsustainable, meaning that many enterprises will go bust. Thankfully, the WFA calls on the industry to sort out its own problems. It doesn’t seek government subsidies other than exit packages for small growers and wineries along the lines of those for small block irrigators – in other words, one-off help to get out of the industry, not a subsidy to perpetuate oversupply.

While the low margins forced by massive oversupply affects the profitability of most makers, there’s a multi-faceted, energetic and mature industry that’s not oversupplied and has a pretty clear vision of where it’s headed.

We have only to drive up the Barton or Federal Highways to see this regionally based industry on our doorstep. It’s been hard yakka, sustained over decades, but producers like Brindabella Hills, Jeir Creek, Helm, Shaw Vineyard Estate, Clonakilla, Lark Hill and Lerida Estate have successfully built brands and customer bases – some in overseas markets.

The same story unfolds across Australia from east to west, and from the high country in Queensland in the north to the coolest reaches of Tasmania. Down there a few weeks back, Steve and Monique Lubiana told me they continued to export successfully despite the rising dollar – a benefit of selling a strongly branding, high quality luxury product. Of course, not all makers can be up there.

But if we sniff around, we see not just regional specialties, but minute subdivision of these regions. A good example is the small army of small, mostly young makers criss-crossing the Barossa Valley making tiny quantities of beautiful shiraz, grenache and mourvedre from ancient vines whose fruit no longer goes to the anonymous blending vats of large companies.

Ironically, given the pain they’ve felt, both Foster’s and Constellation continue to make cutting edge wines like Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay and the magnificent Tasmanian based House of Arras bubblies made by Constellation’s Ed Carr.

As overproduction winds back, it’s possible to see for Australia a new industry based on what various regions do best. That may mean our exit, domestically and internationally, from very low price points and that much of our cheaper quaffing wine could come from better-watered countries – a future where we drink Chilean cask wine but bottles of Cowra chardonnay, Yarra Valley Pinot and Barossa shiraz.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

National Show shouldn’t ignore gaps in its ranks

Canberra’s National Wine Show bills itself as the grand final of the Australian circuit. But to deserve the mantle it needs to re-invent itself. In reality, it’s just another capital city show, more notable for what’s not in the tasting line up than what is.

Its strength is the high standard of judging and the probity of its results, meaning that as drinkers we can rely generally rely on the award winners to put a smile on our faces. This is partly driven by stringent entry conditions, restricting entry in many classes to medal winners from other shows.

But the problem I see as I flick through the catalogue (you can view it at is the absence of so many leading, generally small, producers from most classes. In certain cases, such as the semillon and tokay and muscat classes this leads to the dominance of just one or two producers.

For example, in this year’s class 18 for 2008 vintage and older semillons, Tyrrell’s and McWilliams fielded 13 of the 22 entries. Good on them for putting forward so many extraordinary Hunter wines. But where were the dozens of other wonderful Hunter semillon producers? And in the tokay and muscat classes, Morris of Rutherglen once again dominated, but in the absence of other distinguished Rutherglen producers.

While single companies don’t dominate classes less regionally specific than semillon or fortifieds, the list of notable absentees expands. For example, in class 1 for 2009 vintage dry rieslings, one of Australia’s great specialties, 11 companies entered 19 wines – barely touching the diversity this variety offers across Australia.

The gold medallists, Knappstein Enterprise Clare Valley Handpicked Riesling and 2009 and its cellar mate from the Lion Nathan group, Knappstein Clare Valley Ackland Vineyard Riesling 2009, are beautiful wines and readily available. But given their victory in such a narrow, unrepresentative field, forgive me for not accepting the hype that they’re champs from a grand final. They’re not. And the pattern repeated itself throughout the show.

At the trophy presentation dinner, Jeremy Stockman, representing the major sponsor, Vintage Cellars (part of the Wesfarmers-owned Coles Liquor Group), called on the show organisers to rethink their approach and find ways to attract more entries from small makers.

As the Australian industry reels from the effects of overproduction and the wreckage of the ‘brand Australia’ juggernaut (we now have a surplus of about 100 million cases and growing), it’s shifting its marketing focus to regional specialisation – trying to sell our extraordinary, diverse winemaking achievements locally and in export markets.

In this environment, it’s perhaps logical for our look-alike capital city shows, run by conservative agricultural societies, to adopt a regional focus, too. This is not a call to bar medium and large companies from exhibiting, but to encourage participation from small producers as well.

It’s a difficult task, partly because many of our very best small makers happily develop their wine styles and markets independently of the show system. Winemakers like Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk and Tapanappa’s Brian Croser, for example, see no need for independent benchmarking or show awards. For various reasons, those that do see benefits in shows are more likely to enter in the growing number of regional shows (limited to wines produced in a single region or zone) or perhaps events like Canberra’s Winewise Small Vignerons Awards.

A solution might be a more structured show system that streams winners from regional shows to state shows to a truly national show. But given the independent, competitive and national focus of our capital city shows, this will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to achieve.

It might be more practicable, therefore, for the National to seize the initiative by opening its doors to award winners from a greater range of regional shows and high-quality independent competitions like Winewise Small Vignerons and the Sydney International 100. However, if Canberra’s National simply ignores the gaps in its entry ranks, it will become increasingly irrelevant. The organisers have an opportunity now to re-invent the show and make it the truly innovative event that it was in the eighties.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Beer review — Premium Clean Skin and Great Divide

Premium Clean Skin Beer 330ml $2.99
To borrow Michael Luscombe’s term, frugal is the operative word here – so, in my view, it’s a brew for the desperate, destitute or mean and penny pinching. My sample, purchased at 1st Choice, tasted  flat, dull and tired, albeit recognisably beer. It earns a grudging star for being cheap, wet and alcoholic.

Great Divide Brewing Company Belgica IPA 355ml $8.50
What a contrast – from a beer confronting in its ordinariness to one that stuns with tasty idiosyncrasy.  It’s an American brew, built on a British colonial style, India Pale Ale, but including Belgian (the malt) and American (hops in overdrive) influences. It’s a luxuriously malty, hoppy, alcoholic brew – but for sipping only.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Naked beer

It may seem unconnected to beer, but Australia’s gigantic wine surplus, currently running at around 100 million cases and growing by 20-40 million cases a year, led, indirectly, to what I believe may be the first cleanskin beer in the market.

1st Choice, the big-box liquor-retailing arm of Wesfarmer-owned Coles Liquor Group, recently introduced a beer clean skin, billed on the slip label as ‘imported’ and ‘no preservative’.

Having tasted it, I’m tempted to say they might also add ‘flavour free’ and ‘not as fresh as it could be’. But $29.99 for a slab of 330ml bottle is very cheap – the equivalent of $33.75 a slab for 375ml bottles (VB 375ml was $39.99 the day I shopped.)

A spokesman for Coles Liquor Group said the runaway success of wine cleanskins prompted them to test the concept on beer. Which must’ve made the rep selling this South Korean import smile like he couldn’t believe his own luck.

Only time will tell whether beer drinkers embrace naked bottles. The concept confronts the safe, tribal boundaries represented by major beer brands. But only recently Woolworths’ boss, Michael Luscombe, declared “Frugalism is a defining feature of the Australian consumer right now.”

Premium Clean Skin Beer 330ml $2.99
To borrow Michael Luscombe’s term, frugal is the operative word here – so it’s a brew for the desperate, destitute or mean and penny pinching. My sample, purchased at 1st Choice, tasted  flat, dull and tired, albeit recognisably beer. It earns a grudging star for being cheap, wet and alcoholic.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009