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