Yearly Archives: 2013

Wine review — Capital Wine, Kooyong and Brown Brothers

Capital Wine The Frontbencher Canberra District Shiraz 2011 $25
Cold, wet conditions greatly reduced Canberra’s 2011 grape crop and resulted in notably lighter red styles than usual. Capital Wine’s Jennie Mooney describes her Frontbencher 2011 as “just a lovely, easy-drinking, pretty shiraz”. That’s a fair summary. Its light-to-medium body, brisk acidity and soft, savoury tannins make fresh Christmas drinking –the flavour being notably more peppery and spicy than normal. Lightly chilled, it should make a particularly pleasant companion to cold cuts, game or fuller flavoured fish dishes.

Kooyong Beurrot Mornington Peninsula Pinot Gris 2012 $28–$31
More often than not pinot gris produces ordinary wines, often propped up by winemaking tricks or residual sugar. Beurrot, from two vineyards on the Kooyong property, certainly relies to some extent on winemaker add-ons. But an underlying, delicate, pear-like flavour tells what there is of the varietal story. The flavour weaves through the richly textured palate – and is joined by a struck-match character, a byproduct of fermentation and maturation for ten months on its yeast lees. A good level of acidity gives the palate refreshing vigour, followed by a pleasantly tart bite of tannin in the finish.

Brown Brothers Heathcote 18 Ninety Nine Shiraz 2012 $18.80
Fourth generation Katherine and Caroline Brown made their mark on this old Victorian family business with the release of the new 18 Ninety Nine range. The range includes pinot grigio, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and this shiraz from Heathcote, Victoria. A gold medal winner at the Great Australian Shiraz Challenge, the wine offers bright, ripe, plum-like varietal flavour with an earthy, savoury note. It’s fresh and lively with spikey, tart tannins offsetting the sweet fruit flavours. This would be another candidate for easy Christmas drinking at a modest price. The dutiful daughters got father, Ross Brown, to sign the back label.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 22 December 2013 in the Canberra Times

A feast of Christmas beers

The global explosion of craft brewing, aided by our strong dollar, gives us an amazing choice of Christmas beer styles – ranging from merely cold and wet, to complex, or even challenging.

Over the year I’ve tasted many outstanding beers. Some were seasonal offerings, now sold out. But the five-star brews recommended below should still be available at specialist outlets, like Plonk, Fyshwick markets.

For an irresistible American take on the classic, malty, bitter Czech Pilsen style, savour Samuel Adams Noble Pils (355ml $8.40). Also from America, and pole-vaulting to the hoppiest of hoppy heights, is Sierra Nevada Hoptimum Whole-cone IPA (355ml $7.70).

Fullers Golden Pride (500ml $8.40) offers sumptuous maltiness and satisfying bitterness, while fellow Englishman, Taddy Porter (550ml $7.40), provides robust, velvet smooth, sensuous drinking. And below, find one favourite each from Australia and New Zealand.

Coopers Thomas Cooper’s Selection Celebration Ale 355ml 6-pack $18–$20
The party goes on. The commemorative ale Tim and Glenn Cooper released last year to mark Cooper’s 150th anniversary has become a regular offering. The ale is reddish coloured, fruity, with citrusy hops high notes, generously flavoured and finishing hoppy and lingeringly bitter.

8 Wired Brew Co Saison Sauvin 500ml $10
This is a Kiwi take, from the heart of Marlborough sauvignon blanc country, on a traditional Belgian seasonal brew. Pungent, spicy sauvin hops from Nelson, to the west of Marlborough, permeates the rich, smooth, high-alcohol palate, leaving a lingeringly bitter, spicy, hoppy aftertaste. What a classy beer – big and assertive but well balanced.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 18 December 2013 in the Canberra Times

Wine review — Ten Minutes by Tractor, Topper’s Mountain, Grey Sands, Oakvale, Helm and Stefano Lubiana

Ten Minutes by Tractor Wallis Chardonnay 2011 $65
Wallis vineyard, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Wallis chardonnay appealed on the tasting bench then moved to the dinner table where we served it masked to wine-savvy visitors. It provoked an initial “Ah, Chablis” response – recognition of its high acidity and lean structure. But as the wine warmed, the cool-climate grapefruit and white-peach varietal flavour blossomed around the acidity. From a very cool and the latest vintage yet at Ten Minutes by Tractor, the delicate, refined Wallis chardonnay held our attention to the last drop. One bottle seemed not enough.

Topper’s Mountain Nebbiolo 2010 $38
Topper’s Mountain vineyard, New England, NSW
Piedmont’s nebbiolo was first mentioned in 1266, making it one of the oldest continuously cultivated grape varieties on the planet. At its best, the wines it makes can be among the world’s finest – pale coloured but highly aromatic, intensely flavoured and very firmly structured. Too often, however, the wines smell lovely, then descend into palate-wrenching toughness. Topper’s Mountain, however, make a most approachable version from their 900-metre vineyard on the western slopes of the New England Ranges, near Inverell. It’s pale coloured, with a warm, inviting, earthy–floral aroma. The medium-bodied palate reflects the aroma and fine but firm, savoury tannins give a unique, taut structure. (See

Grey Sands The Mattock 2012 $30
Glengarry, Tamar Valley, Tasmania
Pinot noir’s the dominant red variety in cool Tasmania and likely to remain so. But other red varieties can ripen there, too, given the right sites and attention. Grey Sands provides a good example of what’s possible in this elegant merlot-malbec-cabernet franc blend. It combines sweet, cool-climate berry character with a leafy note (probably from the cabernet franc) on a deeply flavoured, medium-bodied palate, cut with fine, firm tannins. (See

Oakvale L’Oeuf Semillon 2012 $40
Ablington vineyard, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, NSW
After several trial attempts in recent years, winemaker James Becker made Oakvale’s first “amphora” semillon in 2012. He pressed early-picked Hunter semillon to egg-shape concrete fermenters for a spontaneous fermentation, with no additions of yeast, acid or enzymes. Becker claims the shape of the vessels “tends to produce a gentle fermentation” and the concrete’s porosity admits tiny amounts of oxygen into the wine. He bottled the wine without fining or filtration. The result is a low-alcohol (8.2 per cent), bone-dry white that’s recognisably Hunter semillon in its lemony zestiness and light body. The affect of the fermentation technique becomes apparent in the texture and gently funky character of the palate. This is an idiosyncratic variation on a classic (and idiosyncratic) Australian regional–varietal combination.

Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2013 $30
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Ken Helm’s Classic Dry won a gold medal at the regional wine show in September. Three months on, it’s probably even fruitier and lovelier than what the judges tasted – a transformation Canberra’s riesling seem to undergo during late spring and early summer. The wine’s highly aromatic, showing both floral and citrus character. These flavours come through on the delicate but intense, bone-dry palate. Its delicacy, flavour intensity and dryness make Helm Classic an exceptional aperitif style for Christmas and New Year. Put six bottles aside, though, and enjoy the wine’s evolution over the next decade or so.

Stefano Lubiana Brut Reserve NV $38–$40
Lubiana Granton Vineyard, Derwent Valley, Tasmania

I’d drink this in preference to most of the cheaper real Champagnes. Why? Because of the appealing depth of flavour, derived from outstanding fruit, and the unique structure, resulting from a 20-month maturation on yeast lees. Chardonnay, comprising four fifths of the chardonnay–pinot noir blend, gives the wine a lightness and grace. But there’s enough pinot to give backbone and an extra flavour depth. The blend is principally from the 2010 vintage, with about one fifth of the total from 2009 and 2008. The wine could easily handle more time on yeast lees – a good indicator of fruit quality.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 18 December 2013 in the Canberra Times and

Wine review — Robert Oatley, Waipara and Bream Creek

Robert Oatley McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011 $17.09–$22
We paid just under $22 for Bob Oatley’s shiraz down the south coast, and it’s on special in Canberra at present for $17.09 each in a six-bottle buy. But even at full price, the wine represents outstanding value. It’s made for Oatley by Larry Cherubino, one of Australia’s very talented winemakers. Cherubino’s talent lies largely in letting very good fruit do its thing. In this case McLaren Vale shiraz from the very cool 2011 vintage offers, ripe, spicy, savoury flavours, cut through with soft, drink-now tannins. The just-released 2012 should offer slightly fuller, riper flavours, but in the same general style. I’ll review this soon.

Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2012 $18.05–$22
New Zealand’s Waipara region sits between Christchurch and Marlborough, in northern Canterbury. At latitude of 43 degrees south (the same as Hobart’s), the area’s climate is ideal for growing flavoursome, well defined pinot noir, like this reasonably priced version. It’s on the lighter side of pinot, but offers pure varietal aroma and flavour and adequate depth and tannin structure to be a real red. The style suits Australia’s warm climate extremely well as it’s not heavy – and offers its brightest, best fruit flavours at around 16–18 degrees, a temperature easily achieved with a short stay in the fridge or ice bucket.

Bream Creek Vineyard Tasmania Riesling 2010 $25
Cool-grown rieslings begin life lean and acidic. But over time their delicious fruit flavours emerge. The time required depends on the individual wine and can be as little as nine months from vintage – as the wine warms up during its first spring and summer. Other wines may take years. Break Creek vigneron, Fred Peacock, therefore holds his rieslings back for a few years. He’s about to move to the 2011 vintage, but the delicious 2010 is still in the marketplace. It offers delicate, Germanic, apple-like flavours, carried refreshingly across the palate by its high natural acidity.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 15 December 2013 in the Canberra Times

Wines for Christmas drinking

While an unrelentingly strong Australian dollar retards exports and drives record levels of wine imports, Australian vignerons respond by making better wines than ever – across an amazing range of styles.

At Chateau Shanahan we enjoy the diversity exports bring. But we’re also content contemplating an all-Australian Christmas wine menu.

This year’s selections include an extraordinary Tasmanian sparkler – mature but fresh after 12 years in bottle; a delicate dry newcomer to the Canberra riesling scene; an opulent, refined Yarra Valley chardonnay; a range of vivid, earthy, Mornington Peninsula pinot noirs; a sublime and elegant Grampians shiraz; and a luscious, unique old fortified from historic Seppeltsfield.

Arras Methode Traditionelle Blanc de Blancs 2001 $57–$80
Pipers River and Upper Derwent, Tasmania
A top gold medal and special chair-of-judges trophy at the recent National Wine Show emphasise the remarkable qualities of Ed Carr’s 12-year-old sparkling chardonnay – a superb Christmas tipple. For Champagne buffs the name Salon-sur-Oger conjures images of delicate but powerful and complete sparkling wines made from chardonnay alone – unaided by pinot noir or pinot meunier, the majority varieties in most Champagnes. In good years chardonnay from the Salon sub-region stands alone, creating sublime wines personified in the rare and expensive Krug Clos du Mesnil and Salon le Mesnil. Australian sparkling maker Ed Carr says, “I have always been a fan of this style and to have a 2001 Tasmanian wine for the first release is as close to perfect as one could wish”. Many people, including me, share Carr’s excitement. His subtle and powerful Arras Blanc de Blanc 2001, matured on yeast lees for about a decade, is stunning – and so fresh at 12 years.

Capital Wines Gundaroo Riesling 2013 $28
Lambert Tallagandra Lane vineyard, Gundaroo, Canberra District, NSWIn 1998, Mark and Jennie Moonie planted Geisenheim clones of riesling on a north-facing, protected slope at Gundaroo. They sold the vineyard to Ruth and Steve Lambert in 2004 but in 2013 bought grapes from the vineyard for Capital Wines’ first single-vineyard riesling. Judges listed the wine among the top 100 in the recent NSW Wine Awards. And though the judges awarded the riesling trophy to its softer cellar mate, Capital Wines The Whip Riesling 2013 ($20), there’s a special intensity and vitality to the Gundaroo wine. It’s beautifully aromatic, intensely flavoured and delicate all at the same time. It delivers a lot of drinking pleasure at a realistic price – an aperitif style, suited to lighter foods, including salads and delicate seafood.

Coldstream Hills Rising Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 $42–$45
Rising vineyard, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Coldstream Hills, now part of Treasury Wine Estates, produces several Yarra Valley chardonnays – a general blend, a “reserve” version and, in 2012, two single-vineyard wines, “Deer Farm Vineyard” and “Rising Vineyard”. The latter demonstrates the symbiotic relationship between top-notch chardonnay and oak. Winemaker Andrew Fleming fermented then matured the wine in in French oak – 60 per cent of it new. That’s a high proportion and works only if the fruit is up to it and the oak exactly right. It’s a beautiful wine, seamlessly integrating intense, vibrant nectarine-like varietal flavours with spicy oak and all the subtle textural and flavour nuances derived from contact with the barrels and yeast lees. A chardonnay of this grace and opulence requires regal dinner company – fresh crayfish, perhaps.

Montalto Pennon Hill Pinot Noir 2012 $30
Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Pinot makes a versatile food companion in a hot Australian Christmas. It sits comfortably with rich seafood, and white and red meats. And lightly chilled (15–18 degrees), it retains its delicate aromatics and fruitiness. Mornington Peninsula is a leading source of the variety. Of five Montalto pinot noirs tasted recently, Pennon Hill appealed for its vivid varietal character and the value for money it offers. It gives the true pinot experience at a fair price. And the three single-vineyard offerings ($65) from various parts of Mornington show a diversity of site-driven styles – and all offer a distinct lift in quality. Teurong, the lowest and northernmost vineyard, shows a dark, savoury and tannic side of pinot; Main Ridge, the southernmost, highest block, displays perfume and suppleness; and Merricks seems rich with firm, savoury tannins.

Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz 2011 $95
Langi vineyard 1963 block, Grampians, Victorian
The supremely elegant Langi shiraz comprises multiple parcels of wine from a block of shiraz planted in 1963, using cuttings from nearby Great Western. It’s a unique expression of Australian shiraz, far lighter in colour than most, and, in a cool year like 2011, it lies on the far end of the spicy, peppery, just-ripe spectrum. That’s a pleasing, teasing place to be, especially when intense, sweet berry flavours offset the lean, spicy, peppery character and fine, grippy tannins. This is indeed a noble wine – one to savour, perhaps, with Christmas duck or goose; or maybe as a course on its own, tempered only by one of Silo’s incomparable white breads.

Seppeltsfield DP38 Rich Rare Venerable $29–$35 500ml
Various locations, including Seppeltsfield, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Our December 2008 agreement with Europe spelled the end of “sherry”, “oloroso”, “amontillado” and “fino” on our wine labels. So, Seppeltsfield’s former “oloroso sherry” becomes “rich, rare and venerable” – descriptors that have always been apt for this glorious, sweet fortified wine. It’s never better than at Christmas, when we nibble on fresh nuts or finish our meals with traditional steamed pudding or fruitcake. A product of fractional blending through a “solera” system, DP38 offers a luscious, fruity sweetness, profoundly altered by long ageing in old oak barrels. Age gives a distinct yellow–tawny hue to the colour – one aspect of what the Spanish describe as “rancio”. Rancio includes distinct leathery, nutty and marmalade-like nuances resulting from prolonged barrel maturation.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 11 December 2013 in the Canberra Times and

Beer review — Weihenstephaner and Shepherd Neame

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel 500ml $5–$6.00
Bavaria’s 1000-year-old Weihenstephan brewery makes delicious, complex, traditional beers including this glorious bottle-fermented dark wheat beer. It’s got the dense, abundant head of the style and a harmonious, malty, rich-but-not-heavy palate with the brisk, acidic, dry wheat-ale palate. The strong dollar seems to keeping the price down – the sample bottle cost $5 on special.

Shepherd Neame Premium Spitfire Kentish Ale 500ml $9.00
This is a lovely, satisfying, full flavoured ale weighing in at a modest 4.5 per cent alcohol. The focus is on incredibly rich, silky, treacly malt flavours nicely offset by quite bitter, lingering hops flavours. Serve it at about ten degrees as an attractive cool-summer-evening ale.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 11 December 2013 in the Canberra Times

Craft beer positions itself with wine

Co-director of Melbourne’s three-day Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS), Steve Jeffares, says the event attracted around 12.000 visitors this year. Then in late November, Jeffares invited breweries to participate in GABS 2014 at the Royal Exhibition Building from 23 to 25.

From next year GABs becomes part of Good Beer Week – a Victoria wide celebration of beer, established in 2011. Good beer week claims to have doubled the number of events to over 100 in 2012. And in 2013, reports its website, “Many of Melbourne’s leading culinary lights took part, including the traditional, such as Grossi Florentino and Metteo’s, and the new wave, such as Cumulus Up, Rockwell and Son, Kumo Izakaya and Pope Joan”.

Dramatic, sustained growth in craft beer consumption seems to be steadily repositioning beer as an upmarket beverage deserving of the same attention being lavished on wine.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 11 December 2013 in the Canberra Times

Wine review — Yalumba, Punt Road and Bay of Fires

Yalumba Eden Valley Roussanne 2012 $25
Yalumba first worked with the Rhone white variety, roussanne in the 1980s, halted work because of a vine virus, then restarted with fresh material around 20 years later. By then they had 30 years’ experience with another of the Rhone varieties, viognier, and decades of experience with spontaneous fermentations in barrel. Bringing this experience to bear produced a roussanne of great character in the excellent 2012 vintage. Winemaker Louisa Rose sees wild pawpaw and peach in the aroma – descriptors that ring true with me. The richly textured palate delivers those flavours, finishing fresh, dry and with a little tweak of tannin in the finish.

Punt Road Airlie Bank Yarra Valley Shiraz 2012 $18
Cool-climate shiraz makes a versatile food companion for a hot Australian Christmas. The peppery–spicy flavours, medium body, modest alcohol content (12.7 per cent) and supple, soft palate pair well with a wide range of vegetables and meats– whether from sea or paddock. Punt Road’s new Airlie Bank, from accomplished Yarra Valley winemaker, Kate Goodman, delivers all these drink-now qualities for less than $20 a bottle. The wine, from the company’s vineyards at Coldstream, shows the lovely flavours of a very good vintage.

Bay of Fires Pinot Noir Chardonnay Tasmanian Cuvee $25.65–$30
Winemakers recognised Tasmania’s potential for growing sparkling wine some decades back. The long-term investments are now paying off in a growing number of outstanding, delicate wines. In my view House of Arras leads the way. But Arras quality trickles down the line to its cellar mate, Bay of Fires, sourced from vineyards in Pipers River and the Coal River, Tamar and Derwent Valleys. The cool-grown fruit provides a vivacious and elegant base for this outstanding sparkler. Extended maturation on spent yeast cells (following fermentation in bottle) and use of oak-aged reserved wines for topping up, give the wine structure and layers of pleasing flavours.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 8 December 2013 in the Canberra Times

Top 10 reds and whites of 2013

Picking a top 10 reds and whites becomes increasingly difficult every year as Australia’s wines increase in quality and diversity. This year’s selection represent wines that appealed at first taste, then passed the bottle test – that is, they held our interest all the way through to the last drop

They’re absolutely first-rate examples of the regions they come from, representing the best of modern Australian winemaking across a range of styles.

The two pinot noirs come from the excellent 2012 vintage – one from the Yarra Valley, the other from Stephen George’s tiny Ashton Hills vineyard in the Adelaide hills.

Shiraz, as always, gets a good leg in and, indeed, probably is under-represented given the range and excellence Australian now produces across so many climates. Geelong, the Grampians and Canberra represent the finer, more elegant end of the shiraz spectrum, each in its own distinctive way. And the warmer style is represented by a remarkable, medium-bodied Hunter Valley wine and a juicy, ripe and savoury Barossa blend of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre.

Coonawarra and Margaret River carry the banner for cabernet sauvignon in two contrasting styles – Sue Hodder’s sublime Wynns John Riddoch 2010 and Vanya Cullen’s supremely elegant Diana Madeline 2011. Coonawarra wins another spot with it Brian and Tony Lynn’s magnificent cabernet–shiraz blend, The Malleea.

The outlier is the extraordinary Seppeltsfield 100-year-old vintage tawny – a red fortified wine made in 1913, matured in oak for 100 year, bottled in 2013 and available for tasting and purchase at the cellar door. Could there be a better gift?

The lone bubbly in the white selections comes from Ed Carr in Tasmania – a beautifully built wine combining the unsurpassable fruit of Tasmania and Carr’s mastery of the sparkling art.

My white selections include three beautiful dry rieslings – one each from Watervale in the Clare Valley, the Eden Valley and Canberra. Profoundly good chardonnay earns four spots, each from the cool south of the continent – Macedon, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley Victoria, and the Coal River Valley, Tasmania.

For something different I included a lovely soft and savoury Barossa Valley blend of marsanne, roussanne and viognier – a style that could well become the signature white from this warm, dry region.

And the Hunter Valley completes the line up with a brilliantly fresh but maturing almost seven-year-old semillon.

I deliberately selected wines across a range of price points, though the main thoughts in selection were drinking pleasure and individuality – wines that faithfully represent their regions and winemakers.


Oakridge 864 Single Block Release Pinot Noir 2012 $75
Guerin vineyard, block 4, upper Yarra Valley, Victoria
Oakridge 864 comes from a single block of vines planted to the MV6 clone of pinot noir in 1997 at 300 metres in the cool upper Yarra Valley. In this small-production pinot, winemaker David Bicknell goes against the trend of using whole bunches, including stems, in the ferment. Instead, Bicknell de-stemmed the bunches ahead of a natural ferment of the whole berries in open fermenters. After fermentation, he pressed the wine to barrel for malolactic fermentation and maturation on gross lees. The whole-berry ferment might suggest Beaujolais-like fruitiness. But the wine, while varietal and fruity, presents, as well, deep savoury and gamey notes, seasoned subtly with a more pungent character, no doubt derived from varietal interaction with the lees. What we end up with is a fine-boned, multi-layered pinot worthy of a longer essay.

Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 $65–$75
Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
For all the talk of “terroir”, the best wines, in any region, come from those making the fewest compromises in every little step through vineyard, harvest, grape transport, winemaking, maturation, bottling and storage. Stephen George’s wines show these perfectionist traits year after year. So, on a recent visit to the cellar, it was no surprise to taste pinots probably as good as they’ll ever be out of the Adelaide Hills – each showing the character of its vintage. George’s Estate Pinot Noir 2011 ($30) showed the edgy, just-ripe flavours of the cold season, albeit with pinot’s slick texture and fine tannins. The reserve 2012 revealed the beauty of an exceptional year – pinot with extra fruity depth, flesh, power and layers of flavour; all without losing its “pinosity”, that hard-to-describe character separating pinot from other varieties.

Shiraz by Farr 2010 $55
Geelong, Victoria
This is the sort of shiraz you’d expect from one of Australia’s most accomplished pinot makers. Grown in the cool, maritime climate of Geelong and co-fermented with a splash of the white viognier, it’s fragrant and lively, medium bodied, peppery and spicy and smoothly, gently textured. We tasted then drank Shiraz by Farr at a leisurely pace following a couple of top-end pinots. This proved a delicious segue into a fine, firm old Bordeaux, Chateau Pichon-Lalande 1986.

Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2010 $24.69–$30
Mount Langhi Ghiran vineyard, Grampians, Victoria
The back label describes Cliff Edge as “baby Langi”, a reference to the winery’s $100 flagship, “Langi” shiraz. The beautifully elegant 2010 Langi, reviewed last year, rates among the greatest shirazes I’ve ever tasted. And Cliff Edge, though somewhat chunkier in the tannin department, delivers its own elegance and irresistible charm. The intense flavour of cool-grown shiraz underpins the wine. But winemaking techniques weave attractive aromas, flavours and textures through the fruit: whole bunches in the ferment; warm fermentation; hand and foot plunging of the skins during fermentation; finishing the primary ferment and secondary malolactic ferment in barrels; and maturation in Burgundian oak barrels. These all add up to an aromatic, savoury-spicy, medium bodied shiraz with considerable cellaring capacity.

Andrew Thomas Kiss Shiraz 2011 $60
Pokolbin Estate vineyard, Hunter Valley, NSW
Andrew Thomas released four Hunter shirazes this month, each outstanding in its own way. But none matches the dimension of Kiss, Thomas’s flagship from a vineyard planted in 1969. The wine presents another unique, and idiosyncratic, face of Australian shiraz, far removed, say, from the sheer power of Grange or savoury twang of Mount Langi Ghiran “The Langi”. Kiss is medium bodied, and its intense, underlying bright fruit flavour is cut through with earthy, savoury notes and fine, soft tannins. The wine grew more interesting and better to drink over four days on the tasting bench – a pretty good guide to future complexity and longevity.

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2012 $100
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Canberra (and Australia’s) benchmark shiraz–viognier came out of the blue – a wine style no one would have backed in the first two decades of Canberra viticulture. But the wine, now honed to perfection, speaks for itself. Indeed, without it, Canberra may have puddled around for decades seeking a red-wine identity. Fittingly, Gourmet Traveller named its creator, Tim Kirk, as winemaker of the year just as we finished the last few mouthfuls of our bottle. It’s a stand out vintage – all perfume, spice and silk. It’s a unique wine in Australia’s wide and extraordinary spectrum of shiraz styles.

Grant Burge Holy Trinity Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2010 $28.50–$42
Barossa Valley, South Australia
Grant Burge made the first Holy Trinity blend in 1995. But, following a trip to France’s Rhone Valley with winemaker Craig Stansborough, he refined the style dramatically over the following vintages. In particular a move to extended post-fermentation maceration created silky, soft tannins; and a shift away from American to older and larger French oak barrels meant an altogether more subtle wine. The beautiful 2010 vintage matches anything else to date under the label, and provides smooth, satisfying, supple, spicy, vibrant drinking. It’s an excellent example of this distinctive Barossa style.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate
John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $100–$150

Northern Coonawarra, South Australia
Wynns new releases include this stunning John Riddoch Cabernet – as good a wine as any in the line up since the first vintage in 1982. The outstanding 2010 vintage arrived a decade or so after viticulturist Allen Jenkins and winemaker Sue embarked on a complete makeover of the parent company’s extensive Coonawarra vineyards. And Hodder took full advantage of the new small-batch winery, husbanding grapes from the Alexander area, near the winery, and O’Dea vineyard, through fermentation and into top-quality French oak barrels. The result is a marvellously aromatic cabernet stamped with class and built for long cellaring. The wide range of retail prices indicates how little power parent company, Treasury Wine Estates, has over market pricing.

Cullen Diana Madeline 2011 $115
Cullen Vineyard, Margaret River, Western Australia
While limpid and approachable on release – a wine of delicate violet-like aroma and seductive, subtle, supple, fine-grained palate – Cullen Diana Madeline enjoys a cellaring potential measured in decades, not years. It’s a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot, planted forty years ago by winemaker Vanya Cullen’s parents, Kevin John and Diana Madeline. The fruit flavours are particularly pure and concentrated in 2011.

Majella The Malleea 2009 $75–$80
Majella Vineyard, Coonawarra, South Australia
Majella’s flagship red, The Malleea, rates among Australia’s very finest reds. A blend of cabernet sauvignon (55 per cent) and shiraz, it presents Coonawarra’s combination of power with elegance. The deep but limpid, crimson rimmed colour sets the scene for a magnificent drinking experience. Deep, sweet berry flavours and rare harmony of all the flavour and structural elements puts Malleea at the top of the pile. It’s sourced from low-yielding vines on Brian and Tony Lynn’s Majella vineyard. The brothers grew grapes for other winemakers from 1968 but launched their own label from the 1991 vintage and The Malleea from 1996.

Seppeltsfield Para 100-year-old vintage tawny 1913 $330 100ml, $999 375ml
Seppeltsfield vineyard, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Seppeltsfield released its first 100-year-old Para tawny in 1978 – drawn from a barrel set aside by Benno Seppelt in 1878. He instructed the family to bottle it in 100 years. Amazingly, Seppelt’s successors, including corporate and then private owners, continued the practice without interruption. And today, for $40, cellar door visitors can taste the current 100-year-old release (plus the $150 Seppeltsfield Uber Shiraz 2010). For most, tasting a wine freshly bottled after maturing 100 years in barrel, will be a once in a lifetime experience. The 1913 vintage, tasted at cellar door in July, poured slickly into the glass. The tawny and orange colours spoke of autumn leaf and old age; the aroma spelled the comfort of ancient leather furniture, shellac, cedar, soy and burnt sugar; the viscous but ethereal palate reflected the aroma – a luscious, precious glory of a thing, made before World War I, venerable but still fresh, in its own aged and stately way. (Available at


Mount Horrocks Riesling 2013 $32
Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia
Everything appeals about Stephanie Toole’s 2013 riesling – favourite by a big margin in a trio of 2013s from Canberra, Great Southern and Watervale. The shimmering, green-tinted colour gave it a visual edge – matched by its pure, lime-like varietal aroma and fine, delicate, mouth-watering, dry palate. The wine should evolve well for several years, though it’s racy and a thrill to drink now.

Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2012 $24.60–$32
Eden Valley, South Australia
The Steingarten vineyard, planted by Orlando’s Colin Gramp in 1962, lends it name (and contributes part of the fruit) to Jacob’s Creek’s flagship riesling. I enjoyed a pre-release sample of the wine in January; and a recent taste confirms it as one of the best from a great year. It’s delicate and intense at the same time with exhilarating acidity and pure, lime-lemon varietal flavour. Stock up when it’s on special and put a little aside. Past vintages have aged well for decades – for example, the comparably outstanding 2002 vintage still looks young and fresh.

Ravensworth Riesling 2013 $20
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Bryan and Jocelyn Martin’s 2013 riesling swept all competitors aside at the 2013 Canberra and region show. It won the top gold medal in the 2013 riesling class, then cleaned up in the taste offs, winning trophies as the show’s best riesling, best white wine and best wine. A few weeks later it won another gold medal plus a trophy as best Canberra riesling at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge. Ravensworth shows the tight structure and acidic backbone of Canberra riesling, with pure, intense, fresh citrus varietal flavour and sufficient mid-palate flesh to offset the gripping acidity. Should drink well for the next decade. The wine won another gold at the National Wine Show in November.

Curly Flat Chardonnay 2011 $42–$47
Curly Flat vineyard, Macedon Ranges, Victoria
In a year notable for skinny wines, Curly Flat 2011 stands out for its luxurious richness, power and elegance – a stately chardonnay from the maker of some of Australia’s finest. Curly Flat’s Phillip Moraghan writes, “Much has been written about the difficulties of vintage 2011, yet we see it as a triumphant year for our vineyard and team. Our vintage 2011 tee-shirts carry the motto ‘divided we stand’, acknowledging the role of our horizontally divided lyre trellis system in warding off the downy mildew demons”. Moraghan’s team not only defeated disease, but also coaxed the berries to a perfect ripeness that underpins this beautiful, barrel-fermented and –matured white.

Main Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2011 $55
Main Ridge vineyard, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
In a tasting of top-shelf chardonnays from the cold 2011 vintage, Main Ridge stood out from its bonier peers. The shift to leaner, tighter chardonnays in Australia has been overall a good thing, though some wines do seem a little too skinny, especially in very cool seasons. But even in one of the wettest, coolest vintages Nat and Rosalie White managed to keep some flesh on the bone. Theirs is an elegant chardonnay, in the best sense of the word – finely structured and delicate, but with beautiful fruit flavours, a subtle, sweet, caramel-like undercurrent (probably a result of malolactic fermentation) and smooth, silky mid palate and brisk, clean finish.

Oakridge 864 Single Block Release Chardonnay 2012 $75
Willowlake vineyard, Block 6, Yarra Valley, Victoria
David Bicknell makes a range of Oakridge Yarra Valley chardonnays reflecting various sites around the valley and little tweaks here and there in winemaking and maturation technique. This version underwent spontaneous fermentation in oak barrels (30 per cent of them new). Bicknell then aged it on yeast lees in the barrel for nine months and blocked the secondary malolactic fermentation – thus retaining the high naturally acidity that drives this wine. The winemaking and maturation technique gives the wine a “funky” edge – winemaker jargon for small amounts of sulphides deliberately incorporated into so many modern Australia chardonnays, giving a “struck-match” character. This can overwhelm a wine. But in Oakridge 864 it becomes an incidental seasoning to the intense underlying fruit flavour and creamy texture – all held together by its thrilling acid backbone.

Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 $65
Tolpuddle vineyard, Coal River Valley, Tasmania
In 2011, highly regarded Adelaide Hills winemaker, Shaw and Smith, acquired the mature Tolpuddle vineyard in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley (20 minutes drive north east of Hobart). They joined a significant push into Tasmania by mainland winemakers searching for the very best chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Their first release shows a combination of restraint, elegance and power ¬– all hallmarks of top-end, cool-grown chardonnay. Intense grapefruit- and white-peach-like varietal flavours underpin a creamy textured, dazzlingly fresh chardonnay of great finesse. It has the potential to evolve for some years.

Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2007$77
Hunter Valley, NSW
The Hunter’s idiosyncratic semillon style tends to polarise people into lovers and haters. As youngsters, they’re lean, acidic and austere, tending to lemon juice (even so, delicious with the right food). Over many years the wines become richer and deeper in all aspects, taking on satisfying nutty, toasty aromas and flavours. Tyrrell’s Vat 1 leads the way with this long-lived style and fortunately they generally offer at least one aged version alongside the current release (2013). Their website currently offers the magnificent 2007 which, at almost seven years, is just moving out of lemony youth, taking on lemongrass- and honey-like flavours while retaining invigorating freshness.

John Duval Plexus 2012 $25–$30
Barossa Valley, South Australia
A warm area like the Barossa floor is seldom going to make riesling to match the quality of those from the high, cooler Eden Valley in the hills to the Barossa’s east. If any white styles are to match the region’s reds in quality in future, I’d put my money where John Duval does with Plexus. He uses the Rhone valley varieties, marsanne (55 per cent), roussanne (35 per cent) and viognier (10 per cent), sourced, respectively from Marananga and Seppeltsfield, Kalimna and the Eden Valley. A combination of fermentation regimes, including both tank and barrel, created a full, fresh, richly textured dry white with a distinctive flavour, reminiscent of that sweet-tart area between the flesh and rind of rockmelon. It’s delightful, different and in 2012, particularly rich and sweet fruited.

House of Arras Methode Traditionelle Brut Elite Cuvee No. 501 $30–$50
Perhaps more than any other wine style, top-notch sparklers are built layer by layer. Arras, for example, is the culmination of decades of work by Ed Carr – a quest that began with fruit sourcing (moving progressively south from Tumbarumba, to southern Victoria and, ultimately to Tasmania). Here, Carr found the aromas, flavours, structure, delicacy and acidity required to build outstanding sparkling wine. He uses handpicked grapes, gently presses the juice from them, fines it, then ferments it on grape solids before a secondary, malolactic fermentation on yeast lees. He clarifies then blends numerous components before bottling the wine for its secondary fermentation. The already “built” wine then spends five years maturing on spent yeast cells before clarification and topping up with a special “dosage” that includes older reserve wines. What arrives in out bottle, then, is a dazzling fresh bubbly pinot noir chardonnay blend. The unique Tasmanian fruit is at the core, but it’s in a matrix of flavours, textures and aromas built from the vineyard up by Carr over five years. It’s a delight to drink and to me runs rings around most non-vintage Champagnes – the French originals.

But to appeal to drinkers, Arras needs to learn how to connect emotionally with consumers as the French masters do. Arras is sublime. But successive owners have shown little talent for marketing a luxury product.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 4 December 2013 in the Canberra Times and

Wine review — Printhie, Tyrrell’s and St Huberts

Printhie Mountain Range Orange Chardonnay 2012 $20
Juicy, just-ripe, nectarine-like varietal flavour underpins Printhie’s new release. Like other very good mid-priced chardonnays, Printhie gets the price:quality ratio right through efficiencies of scale in fruit production, then using a combination of tank and barrel-fermentation to keep production costs at the right level. The very best chardonnays, on the other hand, are generally 100 per cent barrel fermented – a labour-intensive process requiring large outlays on oak. The intense flavour and high natural acidity of cool-grown fruit drive this appealing, generous-but-taut dry white. Proprietor Ed Swift rates the 2012 Orange vintage very highly.

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Heathcote Shiraz 2012 $18
Tyrrell’s Lost Block began as a single wine in 1993 – a bottling from a block of semillon grapes harvested as an after thought. The latest iteration features quirky labels on a small range of regional–varietal specialties, including this shiraz from Heathcote, Victoria. Tyrrell’s bring the fruit to the Hunter for winemaking. The winemaking and maturation techniques capture vibrant fruity–savoury varietal flavour meshed with soft but substantial tannins – with an undercurrent of the region’s distinctive savouriness. It’s made to enjoy over the next three or four years.

St Huberts Yarra Valley Roussanne 2012 $30
Roussanne, perhaps the least known of the Rhone Valley’s white trio – roussanne, marsanne and viognier – makes a more subtle wine than its peers. In this instance, winemaker Greg Jarratt barrel fermented juice from handpicked fruit in French oak barrels. The wine shares textural characteristics with other barrel fermented whites, but the flavours head off in their own direction, well removed from those of say chardonnay, marsanne or viognier. It’s a distinctive, full-flavoured (but not heavy), smooth-textured dry white with subtle, pear-like flavour and tangy, slightly tart finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 1 December 2013 in the Canberra Times