Wine review – Gallagher, Sandalford, Printhie, Ten Minutes by Tractor and Nick O’Leary

Gallagher Shiraz 2012 $30
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

“After doing climatic data searches for about two years, looking for the best area to grow shiraz”, says Greg Gallagher, he and wife Libby Gallagher planted the variety at Murrumbateman in 1995. While neighbouring Clonakilla enjoyed success with shiraz from 1990, and shiraz-viognier from 1992, the variety remained far from the local hero it is today. But the Gallaghers backed the right variety, and their percipience delivers yet another outstanding Canberra shiraz. Their highly aromatic 2012 vintage combines bright red-fruit characters deliciously with intense spice and pepper of the cool season. The palate is supple and sweet, with very fine tannins providing structure and a long finish. The wine won a gold medal in the 2013 Canberra Regional Wine Show.

Sandalford Chardonnay 2014 $16–$20
Margaret River, Western Australia

Make no bones about it, chardonnay fermented and matured in oak barrels runs rings around unoaked versions. However, unoaked chardonnays cost less to produce and perhaps take the style closer to sauvignon blanc, Australia’s favourite white tipple. Sandalford’s unoaked wine edges in that direction, with its focus on fruit flavour and comparatively high acidity. Even the undoubted peach-like varietal flavour doesn’t distract from the sauv blanc similarities – raising the question of where this style fits. There is no doubting the wine’s high technical quality.

Printhie Mountain Range Merlot 2013 $18.05–$20
Orange, NSW
Is any other grape variety as revered or reviled as merlot? Its generally unquestioned merit in blends with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc fails to carry through to the variety on its own. Wines labelled merlot can be light and soft, dark and firm, or somewhere in between – or even sweet. Different clones vary and, of course, the vine responds to climatic variation, viticultural practice, ripeness at harvest and winemaking approaches. In the cool heights of Orange, Printhie prefers early ripening clones, tightly managed yields, ripe fruit and a combination of new and older French oak for maturation. The bright and plummy aroma leads to a medium-bodied palate with plummy fruit and a quite firm, fine backbone of tannin.

Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Chardonnay 2013 $30
Osborn, Judd and McCutcheon vineyards, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Ten Minutes by Tractor offers several more expensive, single-vineyard chardonnays, but the entry level 10X offers most of the features found in the premium wines. This is opulent, finely balanced chardonnay of a very high order. It was barrel fermented, using ambient yeast, it underwent partial malolactic fermentation as was then aged in barrel for eight months, with regular lees stirring. These techniques added greatly to the wine’s texture and highlight the great beauty of chardonnay’s flavour – in this instance in the cool climate spectrum, reminiscent of melon and white peach with a squeeze of grapefruit.

Nick O’Leary White Rocks Riesling 2013 $37
Westering vineyard, Lake George, Canberra District, NSW

Canberra winemaker Nick O’Leary sources grapes for White Rocks from one of Canberra’s oldest vineyards. In 1973, two years after Dr Edgar Riek planted the first vines at Lake George, Captain Geoff Hood established Westering Vineyard next door. Hood’s dry-grown old riesling vines continue to thrive under Karelas family ownership, producing tiny crops of powerfully flavoured grapes. O’Leary says, “It’s a great vineyard”, and adds “the vines have huge trunks on them”. From these venerable old vines O’Leary made an extraordinarily concentrated riesling – a wine of great power but also of finesse and delicacy.

Nick O’Leary Shiraz 2012 $32
Malakoff vineyard, Pyrenees, Victoria

After hail ravaged the local 2012 grape crop, Nick O’Leary wondered how to fill the expensive oak barrels lying in wait for vintage. He looked to Victoria’s Pyrenees region, an area he says, “Is under-rated and makes meatier wines with darker fruit” than Canberra shiraz. O’Leary sourced fruit from Malakoff Estate and made a superb complement to his Canberra wine. The medium bodied, plummy palate shows the intense spice of the cool season and a notable stalky character, derived from O’Leary’s inclusion of whole bunches in the ferment (60 per cent of the total). The combination of fruit, spice, stalk, supple texture and fine tannins provides irresistible drinking. O’Leary made follow-up vintages in 2013 and 2014.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 10 September 2014 in the Canberra Times and