Wine review — Clonakilla, Gallagher, Quarry Hill, Helm and Pizzini

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.

Gallagher Shiraz 2012 $25
Gallagher vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Winemaker Greg Gallagher describes 2012 as a wonderful vintage, “Especially after so many difficult seasons – 2009, 2010 and particularly 2011”. He says rain delayed ripening and this probably accounts for the extra depth of flavour in this outstanding shiraz. The cool ripening conditions also explain the peppery high notes of the aroma – a varietal character seen more intensely in cool-grown shiraz. The seductive aroma leads with pepper, but also includes spice and fresh, bright fruit characters. The elegant palate reflects the aroma – and persistent, ripe, fine tannins add savouriness and grip to the lean, peppery finish.

Quarry Hill Shiraz 2009 $18
Quarry Hill vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
The inclusion of three Canberra shirazes, all from Murrumbateman, in today’s reviews underlines our region’s great strength with this variety. These are beautiful wines – all variations on a generally fine-boned, spicy cool-climate style. Quarry Hill, made by Alex McKay, won the trophy as best shiraz at this year’s Winewise Small Vignerons Awards. Four years’ age simply enhances the appeal of its buoyant, spicy, flavours – cut through with fruit and oak savouriness. It’s a riper, rounder style than the Gallagher wine. Alas, the wine is all but sold out – hardly surprising given the quality and price. There’s limited stock available at cellar door (, Dan Murphys, 1st Choice Braddon, Ainslie Cellars, Plonk and George’s Liquor Stable.

Gallagher Riesling 2013 $20
Barton Estate, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
As I enjoyed Greg and Libby Gallagher’s 2013 riesling, an email arrived from Matt Skinner at the Canberra and Region Wine Show. Skinner wrote, “Just judged riesling 13 – possibly the best bracket of riesling I’ve ever had the pleasure of judging!”. And if Gallagher’s riesling was in the line up, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t win silver or gold [It won silver]. This is seductive riesling – floral and lime-like in aroma and flavour, with mid-palate richness, and a fine, delicate and dry finish.

Helm Riesling 2013 $26
Cullen vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW
In 2013, veteran Tumbarumba grape grower, Juliette Cullen, offered Ken Helm a parcel of riesling grapes. Helm accepted them, he says, as they looked ripe and healthy and free of sunburn, disease or bird damage. From the grapes Helm made just 370 cases of dry riesling. It’s slightly plumper than his Murrumbateman wines, and offers attractive citrus-like varietal flavour, with a touch of granny smith apple.

Pizzini Sangiovese $26
King Valley, Victoria
Sangiovese can sometimes be a little too skinny – lacking fruit, but not mouth-puckering tannins. Fred Pizzini’s 2012 gets it pretty well spot on – a kernel of sweet, ripe, cherry-like fruit flavour gives life and instant appeal to the palate. And the variety’s earthy, savoury flavours and firm tannins counterbalance the sweet fruit. It’s a distinctive and loveable wine style. Pizzini attributes the intense fruit flavour to seasonal conditions. He writes, “Summer was colder than average, this was good for the vines and fruit maturation process. The conditions allowed for flavours in the grapes to mature at the same rate as sugar ripeness”.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 9 October 2013 in the Canberra Times and