Yearly Archives: 2009

Wine review — Brindabella Hills, Capital Wines and Kyeema

Brindabella Hills Canberra District

  • Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $18
  • Riesling 2009 $25
  • Shiraz 2007 $25

These are beautiful, reasonably priced new releases from Roger and Faye Harris at Brindabella Hills, Hall. The riesling is intensely aromatic, with lime and lemon-like varietal character; an intense, lime-like palate backs up the first impressions, finishing long and bone dry – a classy riesling, with good cellaring potential. The sauvy’s light and tangy, tending to herbal, and ready to drink. The shiraz, always one of Canberra’s best, comes in this vintage from Wayne and Jenny Fischer’s Nanima Vineyard, backed by a little viognier from Brindabella. It’s a dark, aromatic, more savoury than usual wine, with the characteristic firm tannins of the season. It’s atypical of the Brindabella Hills vineyard stye but outstanding in its own savoury way.

Capital Wines  Canberra District

  • The Frontbencher Shiraz 2008 $25
  • Kyeema Vineyard Reserve Shiraz 2008 $52

Andrew McEwin’s reds have a distinctive, firm structure and generally need a good airing, or a few years’ cellaring to show their class. Both wines will pass muster in 2008. The $25 Frontbencher is reassuringly deep and crimson rimmed with a good depth of sweet, spicy, red-berry varietal flavour and savoury, firm-but-fine tannins – a solid but fine-boned red to enjoy over the next four or five years. The reserve wine, from Andrew’s Kyeema vineyard (one of Canberra’s oldest shiraz plantings) reveals extra power and weight, backed by high-class savoury oak. The extra power and flavour concentration suggest long-term cellaring potential.

Capital Wines Canberra District

The Ambassador Tempranillo 2008 $27

Kyeema Vineyard Reserve Merlot 2008 $46

Judging by this and Frank van der Loo’s Mount Majura wine, Canberra suits Spain’s red tempranillo grape. The Ambassador has an appealing, juicy, spicy depth of fruit flavour and a unique, firm, verging on cabernet-like, tannin structure. Tempranillo could easily become a mainstream variety in Australia because, unlike so many other alternative varieties, it seems comparatively easy to grow, make and drink. Merlot, on the other hand, continues to polarise drinkers into lovers or haters. Merlot-loving ranks might grow if more were like Kyeema, a perennial award winner. This is serious, rich, earthy merlot with a solid, tannin bite but elegant structure.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Last edited by Chris Shanahan on 6 December 2009 at 8:08 am


A Christmas wine wish list

Taittinger Prelude Grand Crus Champagne $130
There’s a lovable elegance and creamy richness to the Taittinger Champagnes. And with the non-vintage Prelude blend comes 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. A gentle, creamy softness makes Prelude the ideal drought breaker at Christmas.


Stefano Lubiana Tasmania Chardonnay 2005 $39
Steve and Monique Lubiana’s cool vineyard site produces chardonnays with a high natural acidity that accentuates varietal flavour and gives the structure and intensity to match ultra-fresh oysters. A little bottle age makes the flavour so much more enticing. Amazingly this is the current release, with the 2006 due for release around March.


Main Ridge Mornington Estate Chardonnay 2007 $52
There’s a unique purity, delicacy and finesse to Rosalie and Nat White’s barrel-fermented-and-matured chardonnay – with the opulence and complexity to complement fresh, cold lobster.


Bream Creek Tasmania Pinot Noir 2008 $30
As soon as I tasted this recently in Tasmania, juicy, sweet Christmas ham came to mind. The wine comes from Fred Peacock’s Bream Creek vineyard on a high ridge overlooking Marion Bay, to the east of Hobart. The wine’s keynote is a pristine, mouth-watering, delicious pinot flavour. While this youthful fruitiness suits ham now, I suspect that if cellared the wine’s flavour will progress to a more complex, savoury, gamey state over the next five to 10 years.


Ruchottes Chambertin Clos des Ruchottes (Armand Rousseau) 2005 $350
Well, there’s pinot noir and there’s Burgundy. Perhaps it’s vinocide to quaff this illustrious, potentially long-lived classic so young. But surely we can indulge in absolute luxury once year. 2005 is a great year for Burgundy and Domaine Armand Rousseau is one of the great producers.


Champagne Krug Brut 1996 $500
Best to finish on a high note. Good vintages of Krug, like 1985 and 1996, are the Bradmans of bubbly. They possess the finesse and elegance of Champagne but also the power and gravitas of truly great wine. Like the Chambertin of Armand Rousseau, above, Krug vintage is truly awe-inspiring.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Beer review — Moo Brew

Moo Brew Hefeweizen and Pilsner 330ml $5.50
The Hefeweizen, made in the Bavarian wheat-ale style, offers fruity, fermentation-derived esters and a light, tasty, delicious palate with refreshing acidity rather than the hops bitterness of barley beer. The Pilsner takes on this role. It’s based on pale crystal malt flavours, balanced by aromatic, bitter, firm Spalt hops.

Moo Brew Pale Ale and Dark Ale 330ml $5.50
These are based on the American pale and dark ale styles. The pale version is stunning – featuring high-toned hops aroma and opulently malty palate, offset by a lingering, bitter, dry hops finish. The dark version delivers caramel and chocolate malt flavours meshed with hops flavour and bitterness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Tasmania’s class brewing act

The late Max Lake wrote that taste begins with sight – and when you see the Moo Brew packaging, designed by John Kelly, you anticipate great beer. The expectation heightens when you visit the magnificent glass and steel Moorilla Estate building, fifteen minutes drive up the Derwent from Hobart.

In the ceiling above, as you ascend stairs to the restaurant and wine and beer tasting area, stretches the imposing, six-metre, John Olsen painting, The Source; while underfoot stands the beautifully preserved mummy case of Heryshefembat, circa 730–528BC.

These art works are precursors to the central attraction of the Moorilla complex – David Walsh’s museum of modern and ancient art, scheduled for opening in 2011.

In the two-story, elliptical glass and steel brewery, tacked on to the restaurant end of the building, Owen Johnston makes the Moo Brew beers.

The packaged versions have been consistently outstanding since their Canberra release in 2006. But if you’re in Hobart, you can savour absolutely fresh draft versions at a number of outlets, including the New Sydney Hotel and, of course, at Moorilla’s cellar door and restaurant.

The beers are complex but beautifully balanced and very, very drinkable.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Wine review — Craigow, Kelvedon and Spring Vale

Craigow Tasmania

  • Riesling 2005 $28
  • Sauvignon Blanc $25
  • Gewurztraminer 2005 $23
  • Dessert Riesling 2008 375ml $19

Today we’re taking a little stroll through Tasmania, beginning with this delightful, maturing, dry riesling discovered at the excellent Smolt restaurant of Salamanca Square, Hobart. We followed up with a visit to Craigow’s cellar door in the Coal River Valley, about half an hour’s drive from Hobart. Other classy wines from the estate, founded in 1989 by Dr Barry Edwards, are the light, fresh and zesty sauvignon blanc 2009, the purely-varietal, sweet Dessert Riesling 2008 with its bracing, fresh acidity and the most delicate gewürztraminer imaginable – its sweetness offset, again, by remarkably fresh acidity. See

Kelvedon Estate East Coast Tasmania

  • Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $22
  • Pinot Noir 2008 $28

In 1829 Jack Cotton’s great, great grandfather established a 200-hectare farm, just south of Swansea on Tasmania’s east coast. In 1998 Jack planted one hectare of pinot, within spitting distance of the sea, on the now 2,200-hectare sheep property. In 2006 he established 0.9 hectares of sauvignon blanc near the original vines; and in 2000 and 2001 planted a separate, slightly more elevated site, to 2.5 hectares each of chardonnay and pinot noir, contracted to Constellation Wine Estate’s Bay of Fires operation. And he’ll be adding another two-hectares this year. The wines are first rate: the pinot ripe and generous but finely structured; and the sauvignon, light, herbal zesty and mouth-wateringly fresh. Order through

Spring Vale Vineyard Freycinet Coast Tasmania

  • Melrose Pinot Noir Pinot Meunier 2009 $22
  • Pinot Noir 2007 $40,
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $24
  • Pinot Gris 2009 $28

William Lyne took up a land grant at Cranbrook, north Swansea, in 1826. Since 1986 Rodney and Lyn Lyne have planted 6.6 hectares of grapes on the property and 2007 purchased a neighbouring property ‘Melrose’ and its vines. The Lyne’s daughter Kirsten and her husband, David Cush, make the wines on site. The ‘ Melrose’ expresses a deliciously fresh, fleshy drink-now version of the two pinots; but the 2007 pinot is a far more serious wine – penetratingly varietal in aroma and flavour with a fine, taut acid and tannin structure. The richly textured, finely structured sauvignon offers ripe, tropical flavours. And the very dry pinot gris offers pear-like varietal flavour and savouriness

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Tasmania rolls Burgundy and Champagne into one

In the nineties as Australian wine regions agonised over their boundaries, Tasmania got smart. Its winemakers saw that as small, comparatively homogenous producers, their interests would be best served by promoting the island as a whole. In opting for ‘Tasmania’ as their only entry in the register of protected names they neatly avoided the distraction of formally defining the state’s widely spread wine producing areas.

In the ensuing decade, as other states with vastly more varied wine styles defined zones, regions within zones and even sub-regions within regions, Tasmania stuck to its guns and still has ‘Tasmania’ as its only official appellation. But this hasn’t hindered the emergence of regional identities within the state.

Indeed, as soon as you set foot in a Tassie winery you’ll be given a copy of the excellent Tasmania’s wine routes 2009–10 and see on the map four regions: North-West, Tamar Valley, East Coast and Southern. And if you happen to be Hobart based, you’ll see the Southern region further sub-divided into the Derwent Valley, Coal River Valley and Huon Valley/d’Entrecasteaux.

But the location of Bream Creek Vineyard in the East Coast region, for example, demonstrates the difficulty of formally defining boundaries. It’s just a spit from Coal River Valley or Hobart but more than two hours’ drive from the northern end of the East Coast.

With vineyards located between 41 and 43 degrees south, and surrounded by the Southern Ocean, Tasmania enjoys a moderate climate with an extended, cool ripening period. This suits the production of delicate wine styles, dominated by pinot noir and chardonnay, used in both sparkling and table wine making The two varieties accounted for 71 per cent of production in 2008.

While the split between sparkling and table wine production is anybody’s guess, it could be as high as fifty-fifty given increased Tasmanian sourcing from mainland sparkling-wine producers and a growing number of home-grown brands.

Talking to grape growers across Tasmania it becomes clear that Constellation Wines (formerly BRL Hardy) is a major buyer of grapes for both still and sparkling wine. And Foster’s, Australia’s largest winemaker, is on the scout, too, snapping up top quality fruit for its Heemskerk brand and multi-regional icon blends, including Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay.

In the latter, Foster’s has simply discovered, as Hardy’s did a decade earlier, that some of our greatest chardonnay grapes come from Tasmania. For example, Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, Constellation’s flagship white wine, has been predominantly Tasmanian for around ten years.

While the big producers, especially Constellation, exert a profound and positive impact on the Tasmanian wine scene, the view from the ground is of tens of small and medium sized independent makers sprinkled around the island.

The Australian Wine Industry Database lists 84 Tasmanian vignerons. But I suspect the number might have grown since it was compiled a year ago.

Tasmanian makers, focused at the top end of the bottled wine market, account for half a per cent of Australia’s wine grape output, contributing just 9,628 tonnes of the 1,827,647 tonnes crushed in 2008.

Pinot noir, at 4,355 tonnes, is the state’s most widely grown variety, accounting for 45 per cent of the crush in 2008 – highlighting the vast difference between this cool little Island and the mainland, where pinot accounts for only about two per cent of the harvest.

In 2008 Tasmanians harvested 2,501 tonnes of chardonnay, its second most important variety; 992 tonnes of sauvignon blanc; 732 tonnes of riesling; 452 tonnes of pinot gris and tiny quantities of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, gewürztraminer, shiraz and other niche varieties.

In effect, given the dominance of pinot noir and chardonnay, Tasmania is the equivalent of France’s Champagne and Burgundy regions rolled into one, albeit on a far smaller scale.

Tasmania’s first modern vineyards appeared near Launceston in 1956 (Jean Miguet’s La Provence, now Providence and owned by Stuart Bryce) and on the Derwent in 1958 (Claudio Alcorso’s Moorilla Estate, now owned by David Walsh and partners).

But growth was slow. Thirty years after Miguet planted his first vines, Tasmania had only 47 hectares of bearing vines, producing 154 tonnes of grapes – equivalent to about 11 thousand dozen bottles.

By 1999 the area under vine had grown almost tenfold to 463 hectares, producing 3,199 tonnes (224 thousand dozen bottles). And by 2008 vines covered 1,315 hectares, yielding 9,628 tonnes (674 thousand dozen bottles).

As we’ve seen, this accounts for only half a per cent of Australia’s wine production. But it’s all pitched at the top end of the market. While some of it may disappear anonymously into mainstream sparkling wine blends, the majority come to market under Tasmanian labels.

It’s far more than the Tasmanians themselves can drink, so producers look to the mainland, tourists and exports for sales in an increasingly competitive market.

Fortunately for them, they have something unique and delightful to offer, as we’ll see over the next few weeks.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Beer review — Red Duck and Lord Nelson

Red Duck Overland Bright Ale 330ml $4.90
From the Purrumbete Brewing Company, Victoria, Red Duck is a lightly hazy, pale-coloured, easy-drinking ale. It’s moderately alcoholic at 4.2 per cent, with an emphasis on zesty freshness and refreshing hops bitterness rather than overt malt flavour. Strangely, Overland doesn’t rate a mention on the Red Duck website.

Lord Nelson Old Admiral 330ml $3.80
Sydney’s Lord Nelson, opened in 1842, claims to be Australia’s oldest continuously licensed pub. In 1987 it began brewing on site and has become one of the Rocks area’s must-visit sites. The opulent, malty, high-alcohol and generously hopped Old Admiral ale is best on tap, but the bottled version slips down easily enough.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Hobart’s beer oasis

For a cold brew on a hot day there are few nicer spots than the Old Sydney Hotel in Bathurst Street, Hobart, if you happen to be down that way. The front bar has the cosiness of an English pub – a watering hole where people of all ages sip and chat comfortably against the background of live acoustic music.

On a recent visit, the bar offered sixteen beers on tap, ranging in style from wheat ale to stout, with selections from several microbrewers as well as Australia’s brewing giants Lion Nathan and Foster’s, owners, respectively, of Hobart’s Boag’s and Cascade breweries.

The local selection included the hearty, malty Winter Willie Warmer Dark Ale from Willie Simpson’s new Seven Sheds Brewery, located at Railton, near Devonport on the state’s north coast; and its pale and delicately fruity counterpart, Moo Brew Wheat Ale, from just up the Derwent River at David Walsh’s extraordinary Moorilla Estate complex.

What a pleasant surprise, too, to find delicious, fresh draught beers from distant Stone and Wood Brewery, Byron Bay – the exuberantly, fragrantly hoppy Draft Ale and zesty, light but complex Pale Lager.

Judging by the Saturday afternoon crowd and range of beers being pulled, the drift to interesting beers is alive and well.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009

Wine review — Lock and Key, Moppity Vineyards and Gallagher

Lock and Key Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $10–$15
Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $16–$20

In 2004 Jason and Alecia Brown bought the 78-hectare Moppity Vineyard from the receivers. Established in 1973, and the second oldest in Hilltops, the vineyard was mature but run down. After much TLC it’s now showing just how good the fruit is as the Browns turn all their efforts to production for their two labels – Lock and Key and Moppity Vineyards. The cabernets are rich but elegant –Lock and Key, on the lighter, leafy side but still with delicious berry fruit flavours and firm tannins offers tremendous value; Moppity is riper, with more body and depth.

Lock and Key Hilltops Shiraz 2008 $10–$15
Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Shiraz 2008 $16–$20
Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Reserve Shiraz 2007 $45–$50

Shiraz is unquestionably the signature variety for the Hilltops region as it makes juicy, soft, medium bodied wines that are easy to love. The wines are transforming perceptions of who does what best in Australia. And the Browns, with their significant plantings, are showing that a regional specialty can offer sensational value as well as distinctive qualities. The medium bodied Lock and Key is as good a red as you’ll ever find for the money; Moppity Vineyards ramps up the fruit concentration, but is still refined and elegant; and the Reserve shows the greater power, savouriness and firm tannins of the 2007 vintage.

Gallagher Brut Rose 2008 $25 and Duet Sparkling 2008 $25
Winemaker Greg Gallagher brought to Canberra a couple of decades’ sparkling-winemaking experience – valuable know-how extending from vineyard management to making and maturing base wines, blending the components before bottling and then getting the bottle fermentation and maturation right. Greg’s know-how shows in these two very appealing bottle fermented sparklers – a delicate, blushing rose, blended from 65 per cent pinot and 35 per cent chardonnay, with its fresh tease of red fruits and fine, dry finish; and Duet, an aperitif style pinot chardonnay blend, sourced from Greg’s Murrumbateman vineyard.

Zork SPK closures unimpressive

Both of the Gallagher sparklers are sealed with Zork’s new SPK plastic closure and can be resealed after opening. However, we were unimpressed by the new ‘award winning’ seal: we found the plastic security strip difficult to remove; we were thoroughly drenched after one seal refused to budge then came away explosively, spurting half the contents over our tasting bench (and us)t; and it’s inelegant, looking more suited to cheap bubbly than high quality wines like Greg Gallaghers.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 209

Big value in niche rieslings

The International Riesling Challenge, held in Canberra in October, reminds us that riesling remains our best value-for-money white wine variety. The results catalogue is packed with delicious, potentially long-lived wines available at modest prices. However, riesling remains a niche variety, ignored by the vast majority of drinkers, despite the decades of praise heaped on it.

In a recent presentation, James Halliday said that before the mid eighties “more bottles of (true) riesling sold than all other major white varieties combined”. Between 1976 and 1986 Australia’s riesling production grew rapidly, then dipped slightly over the next decade and half, before growing modestly over the last few years to reach 36,900 tonnes in 2009. However, viewed on a graph, the riesling-production story looks near enough to a 20-year straight line – under a soaring rocket called chardonnay, that peaked at around 400 thousand tonnes.

But as we saw last week, that rocket ran out of thrust in 2004 and finally lost its number one position earlier this year to sauvignon blanc, led by the New Zealanders with seventy per cent of the still rapidly growing sauv blanc market.

But even in decline, chardonnay still accounts for a quarter of all bottled white wine sales in Australia by value. While riesling might appear to be holding its own in absolute volume, its dramatic loss of market share since the burgeoning of chardonnay in the eighties and sauvignon blanc this decade remains something of a mystery.

Dramatising riesling’s niche status is the rapid rise this decade of pinot gris (aka pinot grigio) in our production figures. In 2009 Australian vignerons harvested 40,500 tonnes of it – a little ahead of riesling’s 36,900 tonnes. This is probably fashion driven as from my experience the ratio of mediocre to good pinot gris runs at about ten to one – the opposite of what you’d expect of riesling.

But riesling’s stubborn refusal to become popular, galling as that might be to its spruikers, is surely one of the reasons we pay comparatively little for often stellar quality.

For example, among the Riesling Challenge’s gold medallists in the Australian dry categories, prices range from as little as $15 (probably $10 on special) to around $45, with the majority somewhere in between.

The judges awarded nineteen gold medals in these classes, the majority of them to currently available wines and with a sprinkling of harder-to-find back vintages.  The latter simply prove riesling’s durability – and the rewards that come from cellaring.

If the results don’t fully reflect the diversity of styles we make across the continent, the judges nevertheless spread their favours reasonably widely. Not surprisingly, the classic Clare and Eden Valleys (neighbours on South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges) dominated with fourteen gold medals. But Canberra scored two golds, Tasmania one, Coonawarra one and Mansfield, in Victoria’s Upper Goulburn region, one.

The full honours roll makes a great shopping list. The prices given below are either cellar door or current retail prices found online. Some of the wines may not be released yet; and older ones may no longer be available, although it’s worth Googling the wineries and asking.

Canberra gold medallists
Helm Premium Riesling 2009 $45
Shaw Vineyard Estate Winemaker Selection 2008 $22

Coonawarra gold medallist
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Riesling 2008 $17–$20

Upper Goulburn gold medallist
Delatite Riesling 2008 $23

Tasmania gold medallist
The Wine Society Tasmania Riesling 2007 (2009 currently selling at $16.99)

Clare Valley gold medallists
Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2009 $14–$17
Knappstein Ackland Vineyard Watervale Riesling 2009 $32.95
Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2009 $20–$25
Sevenhill Clare INIGO Riesling 2008 price not available
Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 2008 $14–$20
Cardinham Estate Clare Valley Riesling 2003 (2008 currently selling at $18)
Leo Buring Leonay Clare Valley Riesling 2005 (probably high thirties)

Eden Valley gold medallists
Poverty Hill Eden Valley Riesling 2009 $18–$22
St Hallett Eden Valley Riesling 2008 $16–$20
St Hallett Eden Valley Riesling 2005 (hard to find, go for the current release)
Peter Lehmann Wigan Eden Valley Riesling 2004 ($40 at cellar door)
Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2007 $28–$32 (officially ‘Barossa’ but sourced from elevated, cool, southern Barossa sites skirting the Eden Valley).

Multi-region gold medallist
Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling 2009 $15–$18 (region not given but generally a blend of very good predominantly Clare and Eden Valley material).

Copyright © Chris Shanahan