Visionary Kirk sees new Rhone in Oz Capital

Gourmet Traveller Wine recently confirmed what the local wine show and every critic in the land have been telling us for years – that shiraz is Canberra’s number one variety by a country mile.

Seizing the publicity opportunity, Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk, local shiraz trailblazer, took ten of our best on a road trip to Sydney’s Marque Restaurant, Jan Gundlach’s Senso, at Fyshwick Markets, and Attica Restaurant, Melbourne.

At the Canberra event Tim turned on his hot-gospel best. “Canberra is one of the world’s great shiraz regions”, he declared. “Shiraz is a collection of the savoury; a symphony of spice. Pinot, at its best, can be pure seduction, but shiraz [of the style made in Canberra] is like embracing someone you love”.

Turning from hot gospel to the inner Jesuit, Tim drew parallels between Canberra and France’s northern Rhone Valley, home of the shiraz grape. In both places the granite soils, altitude and continental climate (warm days, cool nights) produce medium bodied, elegant shiraz. The wines feature red currant, spice, pepper and herb flavours, soft, silky tannins and high natural acidity.

Jesuits, of course, frown on heretics. So Tim sunk the slipper (gently) into shiraz not grown in the one true climate. For example, the Barossa’s hot days and warm nights don’t preserve acids, don’t produce red currant flavours and don’t produce elegant, silky shiraz in the Canberra mould; these conditions produce altogether bigger, bolder wines.

Then the visionary hot gospeller returned. In fifty years time people around the world will talk about Canberra and its sub-regions as they do now of the Rhone. We’re their equals. We have a similar ancient landscape. They have only a few hundred years start on us and we’re catching up. Canberra is already among the world’s greatest shiraz producing regions.

In Tim’s case that’s a fair enough claim. Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier stands tall around the planet. But we’ve seen other fine examples emerge in the last decade. Magnanimously, since this was a Clonakilla event, Tim included some of these at the dinner – five pairs of shiraz, each pair matched with a sensational dish.

This was a confident, polished act – the real showcase of Canberra’s best, something the local vignerons had attempted, and failed at, just a few weeks earlier at Old Parliament House.

The wines we enjoyed were: Lerida Estate Shiraz Viognier 2008 and Long Rail Gully Shiraz 2008; Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2007 and Kyeema Reserve Shiraz 2007; Nick O’Leary Shiraz 2008 and Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2008; Collector Reserve Shiraz 2008 and Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2008; Clonakilla Syrah 2006 and Clonakilla Syrah 2008 barrel sample.

I’ll be reviewing those that are still available in my Sunday column. But if you’ve not yet discovered Canberra shiraz, now is the time. The 2008s now coming onto the market are just delightful.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009