Yearly Archives: 2015

Wine review – Four Tonne Project, Four Winds, Jacob’s Creek

The Four Tonne Project Canberra District Shiraz 2015 6-pack $100
In the 2015 vintage, two Canberra wineries turned four tonnes of excess shiraz from Four Winds vineyard into a tasty fund raiser for Companion House – a provider of support to asylum seekers and refugees living in Canberra. Collector’s Alex McKay and Eden Road’s Nick Spencer and Hamish young produced perhaps the best red you’ll ever buy at this price. The medium bodied wine combines vibrant summer-berry varietal flavours with regional spice and subtle, stalky notes (and silky texture) derived from the inclusion of whole bunches in the ferment. It’s available at and $174 from each case goes to Companion House.

Four Winds Vineyard Canberra District Riesling 2015 $25
The riesling vine performs well across the Canberra district, from the lowest altitude warmest sites to the highest and coolest – a range of over 300 metres. And in 2015 every one of our widely spread sub-regions produced beautiful rieslings. Styles vary slightly with the sub-region and winemaking inputs, but there’s a regional thumbprint, too. The wines tend to be shy and sometimes austere on first release, but as the months tick by the delicious citrus-like varietal flavour sticks its head above the acidity. Four Winds 2015 is in that delicious zone now, offering ultra-fresh, delicate fruit flavours, racy acidity and dry finish.

Jacob’s Creek Classic Shiraz 2014 $5.65–$10
In 1976 Orlando Wines launched Jacob’s Creek Claret along with a raft of other now defunct labels. Jacob’s Creek alone flourished, first in Australia and then on a large scale in export markets, notably the UK. It started as a single product – a shiraz cabernet malbec blend labelled as “claret”. The makers gradually added other varieties and introduced wines at higher price points. Despite this so-called “premiumisation” of Jacob’s Creek, the lower price classic range remains the biggest seller. And little wonder – the quality is excellent as in this medium bodied red with its gentle, ripe varietal flavour and soft, dry finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 19 and 20 December 2015 in  and the Canberra Times


Top 15 wines under $15

Australia’s more than 2,400 vignerons make a greater diversity and higher quality wine than ever before in a wine history dating from the first fleet.

My top-15 therefore represents a wide range of Australian styles from seven distinct regions in four states, plus five multi-region blends, including one bubbly. Completing the lineup are two imports – a delicate riesling from Germany’s Mosel region, and a savoury montepulciano from Abruzzo, Italy.

While several wines in the selection bear recommended prices over $15, they are frequently discounted and you should never have to pay the full price. As a guide, the price ranges I give cover the lowest discount price at time of writing and the recommended price.

Happy drinking.


Hay Shed Hill Pitchfork Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 $14.25–$16
Winemaker Michael Kerrigan praises Margaret River’s 2015 vintage, but laments the tiny quantities. He writes,We experienced some of the wildest, windiest weather for decades” resulting in the record low yields. However, a dry and balmy end to the season ensured lively, grassy, herbaceous flavours in this classic, slurpy Margaret River blend.

Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes Marsanne 2015 $12.35–$18.85
The Purbrick family’s beautiful Tahbilk property sits on an anabranch of Victoria’s Goulburn River. The property holds one of the world’s oldest and largest plantings of marsanne, a Rhone Valley white variety. The richly textured wine offers pleasantly tart and savoury citrus-like flavours on a bone-dry palate.

Jacob’s Creek Classic Riesling 2015 $7.85–$12
Humble Jacob’s Creek often upstages expensive wines. In the recent National Show, for example, Jacob’s Creek Classic Pinot Gris, topped its class and won the best “other white variety” trophy. Jacob’s Classic Riesling, an even better wine on my scoresheet, captures the aromatic appeal and lime-like flavour intensity of this great variety – on a delicate, dry and beautifully refreshing palate.

Peter Mertes Mosel Riesling 2014 $9.99
Aldi’s semi-dry riesling comes from the vicinity of Kues, the village opposite Bernkastel on Germany’s Mosel River. The area produces some of the world’s great rieslings, noted for delicacy and intense flavour. Mertes captures the regional style with its full flavour, delicacy and good balance of high acidity and grapey sweetness.

De Bortoli Windy Peak Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2013 $11.40–$14
De Bortoli’s classy touch with Yarra chardonnay shows even in their lower priced Windy Peak. Splitting the ferments between French oak casks and steel tanks combines freshness and varietal purity with depth and texture. The resulting wine presents deliciously fresh nectarine- and grapefruit-like varietal flavour on generous, vibrant, smooth dry palate.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill South Australia Chardonnay 2014 $13.30–$15
Like the De Bortoli wine, Penfolds chardonnay is produced in a combination of stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The tank-fermented component preserves fresh peach- and melon-like varietal flavours; and the barrel component gives a smooth, creamy texture, a touch of spice and nut an exotic yeast-derived “funky” note.

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Hunter Valley Semillon 2015 $13–$18
Tyrrell’s offers a range of Hunter semillons from the austere, long-lived Vat 1 to this approachable Lost Block. It’s low in alcohol (11 per cent) and light and fresh on the palate, with the region’s delicious lemongrass- and citrus-like flavours. It’s one of Australia’s distinctive regional specialties.


Mr Mick Clare Valley Novo Sangiovese 2015 $12.80–$17
Tim Adams’ Novo Sangiovese 2015 sparks memories of the vibrant, light and fruity reds of France’s Beaujolais region. It’s a wine to enjoy lightly chilled, with or without food, during the warm months. The light crimson colour, shimmering, summer-berry flavours and tart tannins provide easy, refreshing drinking.

Illuminati Riparosso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2013 $8.90–$12
A favourite since its Australian debut in 1991, Riparosso starts with clean, fresh fruit flavours – before delicious, teasing, Italian savouriness sets in, distinguishing it from the generally more fruity Australian red styles and giving it a satisfying, dry, grippy finish. A Woolworths’ import, it’s available at Dan Murphy and BWS.

Jacob’s Creek South Australia Reserve Shiraz 2014 $14.25–$18
On a quality basis, Jacob’s Creek Reserve justifies its $18 recommended price. But it’s forever discounted, sometimes as low as $11. Lap it up and let the marketers worry about how they differentiate it from the standard Jacob’s Creek brand. The 2014 delivers pure, vibrant varietal fruit flavours on a medium-bodied, elegant palate.

De Bortoli Windy Peak Heathcote Shiraz 2014 $11.40–$15
Windy Peak provides a drink-now side of Heathcote shiraz. The region in general produces deep, dark savoury shiraz. But de Bortoli tames the beast by presenting more of the ripe, juicy, red-berry varietal flavours, with less grunt and savour. Fine, drying tannins and a savoury undercurrent add interest to a lovely red.

Taylors Estate Clare Valley Shiraz 2014 $13.95–$18
Taylors 2014 beat a who’s-who lineup to top the 2015 Great Australian Shiraz Challenge. The award followed a trophy and nine gold medals from other shows. The wine’s vivid fruit booms out of the glass and precisely predicts the juicy, soft palate that follows. Little wonder the judges lavished praise on it.

Twelve Signs Hilltops Cabernet Merlot 2014 $13–$14
The Hilltops region makes ripe, soft, medium-bodied reds with great drink-now appeal. Even at this modest price, Twelve Signs, from Moppity vineyards, captures the sweet-berry flavours of cabernet, the fragrance of merlot and the fine but strong tannins that distinguish good cabernet blends from other varieties.

Hesketh Twist of Fate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $12
Jonathon Hesketh and Phil Lehmann capture the spirit of cabernet in this bistro-style red from South Australia’s Fleurieu region. Though light in colour and made for current drinking, it offers particularly vibrant, lively cabernet aromas and flavours on a bright, buoyant, gently gripping palate.


Hardys Sir James Pinot Noir Chardonnay Cuvee Brut $8.99–$15
With big stocks on hand, Accolade Wines, Hardys parent company, dropped the price on one of Australia’s most popular bubblies. Independent retailers leaped in, dropping the price to under $10, leaving the big retailers flat footed. It’s a light, flavoursome bubbly with gentle varietal flavours, subtle yeast-derived brioche-like notes and deliciously fresh finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 19 and 20 December 2015 in  and the Canberra Times

Wine review – gold medal and trophy winners from Australia’s National Wine Show

Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnay 2014
Yarra Valley, Victoria

Gold medal winner, National Wine Show of Australia. Coldstream Reserve impressed at the National Wine Show. A few days later, in a line up of Coldstream Hills chardonnays dating back to the 1988 vintage, the 2014 Reserve stood out for the volume of aroma and powerful but very fine flavours. It combined all the elements of opulent, barrel-fermented chardonnay. The magnificent screwcap-sealed 2005 and 2006 vintages alongside it, demonstrated the wine’s impeccable provenance and cellaring capacity. If you want something truly memorable for Christmas lunch, or as a gift, this is one of Australia’s time-proven greats.

Jacob’s Creek Classic Pinot Grigio 2015
South Eastern Australia


It probably surprised Jacob’s Creek winemakers Bernard Hickin and Rebekah Richardson as much as it did the judges at the Australian National Wine. How does a sub-$10 wine top the pinot grigio class, then take on all comers to win the “best dry white other varieties” trophy? It reveals the levelling effect of masked tasting. Made in the bright and fruity light-bodied style (11.5 per cent alcohol) Jacob’s Creek offers pear-like varietal flavour, smooth texture and fresh, dry finish. Richardson says she sources grapes principally from the hot riverland regions, with “bits and bobs” from cooler sites.

Wynns Black Label Shiraz 2012
Coonawarra, South Australia

A few years back, Wynns introduced Black Label Shiraz, priced between the ever-popular grey label ($14–$22) and flagship Michael Shiraz ($114–$120). The 2012 appealed very much on its release in mid 2014 and again on the tasting bench last week at the National Wine Show of Australia, where it won a gold medal. The silky, medium bodied cool-climate style appeals even more with that extra bottle age. And surprisingly it’s still around in some retail outlets, alongside the current release (and equally good) 2013.

Eddystone Point Riesling 2014
Derwent and Coal River Valleys, Tasmania

In awarding the National Wine Show’s “best riesling” trophy to Eddystone Point, chair of judges Jim Chatto commented, “The judges deliberated over three wonderful expressions of riesling. Two in the classic citrus and floral styles of the Eden and Clare Valleys, the other a complex and spicy, off-dry, cool-climate expression from Tasmania”. In a similar comparison after the show, we noted the wine’s Germanic, apple-like flavours and the fine, intense acidity which offset the low-level sweetness and accentuated the delightful flavour.

S.C. Pannell Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2014
McLaren Vale, South Australia

Gold medal and two trophies, National Wine Show of Australia. Steve Pannell’s juicy blend wowed a group of tasters in a post-wine-show tasting, just as it did the judges a week earlier. The musk-like fragrance of grenache lures the drinker to a joyously fruity, fleshy, slurpy palate. Pannell writes, “Grenache brings lifted aromatics and its trademark sandy tannins, shiraz chimes in with red fruits, spice and weight, whilst the touriga, a lusty, powerful Portuguese variety, adds pungent fruit characteristics of plum pudding, dried spices and floral notes”. It’s an irresistible medium bodied red to wallow in right now.

West Cape Howe Tempranillo 2014
Perth Hills and Frankland River, Western Australia
Gold medal and trophy, National Wine Show of Australia. West Cape Howe tempranillo combines fruit from the warmer Perth Hills and cooler Frankland region, located almost 400km south-east of Perth. Winemaker Gavin Berry says the Perth Hills component contributes earthy, savoury characters while the cool-grown Frankland component provides spicy and berry flavours. The combination gives a richly flavoured, medium-bodied red with deliciously vibrant red-berry-like flavours. Mouth-puckering tannins soon push through the fruit, reminding us tempranillo is a feisty Spanish variety, best enjoyed with savoury food.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 15 and 16 December 2015 in the  and the Canberra Times

Hops – the bitter truth

Brewers don’t need to hide behind a ton of hops

The craft-brewing craze brings with it an extreme fascination in hop aromas and flavours. Only mainstream brewers, it seems, retain the skills to make more subtle beers where the main role of hops is to provide a pervasive, lingering bitterness completely integrated into a beer’s flavour.

Good examples of that style are Cooper’s Pale Ale, with a bitterness level markedly higher than in most commercial brews; and Bavaria’s delightful Weihenstephaner Pilsner.

Smaller brewers on the other hand reveal the wonderful range of aromas and flavours various types of hops bring when added to beer at various stages of production. The hops characters scream from many beers and do, of course, give dramatic bitterness.

Perhaps subtlety will be the next phase of craft-brewing’s evolution. In an interview with James Atkinson recently, American brewer Ben Dobler said, “Brewers are getting more talented, they don’t need to hide behind a ton of hops”.

Little Creatures Original Pilsner 330ml 6-pack $24
Lion, a subsidiary of Japan’s Kirin, claims about half of the Australian craft beer market through a number of brands, including Little Creatures. They recently beefed up their pilsener, using 100 per cent pilsner malt and German perle hops. The change means more assertive, delicious and lingering hops bitterness.

Big Shed Brewing Co Kol Schisel German Pale Ale 330ml $4.50
Although only a modest 4.2 per cent alcohol, Big Shed’s slightly hazy, pale-golden ale lands solidly on the palate. Helga hops take a strong resiny, spicy lead over the underlying sweet, malty richness. Hops bitterness builds with every mouthful and finally dominate the finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 15 and 16 December 2015 in  and the Canberra Times

Wine review – De Bortoli, Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key, Dominique Portet

De Bortoli Windy Peak Chardonnay 2013 $11.40–$14
De Bortoli’s top-end Yarra Valley chardonnays rate among the best in Australia. And there’s a remarkable quality trickle-down to their lower priced Windy Peak. Winemaker Steve Webber, husband of Leanne De Bortoli, sources fruit from a number of Yarra vineyards controlled by the family. He ferments the wines in a combination of French oak casks and stainless steel tanks. The stainless steel components contribute freshness and varietal purity, while the oak material adds depth and texture. The resulting wine presents deliciously fresh nectarine- and grapefruit-like varietal flavour on generous, vibrant, smooth dry palate.

Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Reserve Hilltops Shiraz 2014 $20–$27
Jason and Alecia Brown’s triple gold-medal winner displays the irresistible, juicy flavour of shiraz grown in the Hilltops region around Young, NSW. The couple produce a surprisingly large number of wines from their extensive Moppity vineyard, Hilltops, and Coppabella vineyard in higher, cooler Tumbarumba. After a couple of changes of winemaker, the Browns directed their grapes to one of the region’s most accomplished operators a couple of vintages back. That the consistency and quality of the wines lifted another notch or two is deliciously confirmed in this seductive, drink-now shiraz.

Dominique Portet Yarra Valley Brut Rosé $28
Thinking Christmas salmon? Prawns? Ham? Pate de foie gras? Dominique Portet’s versatile bubbly stands on its own as an aperitif, or accompanies pretty well any style of food. Its lightness and delicacy comes from cool-grown Yarra Valley grapes, harvested just on the cusp of ripeness. The combination of high acidity and delicate fruitiness of the three varieties – pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier – cleans and refreshes the palate. The subtle flavour depth and structure derived from a few years’ bottle maturation adds to the drinking satisfaction of a delightful, fair-priced, very high quality sparkler.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 12 and 13 December 2015 in  and the Canberra Times

Wine review – Jacob’s Creek, Andrew Thomas, Charles Cimicky

Jacob’s Creek Classic Riesling 2015 $7.85–$12
Humble Jacob’s Creek often upstages more expensive wines in Australian wine shows. In the recent National Wine Show of Australia, for example, this riesling’s cellar-mate, Classic Pinot Gris, topped the pinot gris class and won the trophy as the best “Dry white, other variety” in the show. Jacob’s Classic Riesling, an even better wine on my scoresheet, captures the aromatic appeal and lime-like flavour intensity of this great variety – on a delicate, dry and beautifully refreshing palate. Winemaker Bernard Hickin attributes the quality largely to fruit sourcing from several of Australia’s best riesling-growing regions.

Andrew Thomas “Six Degrees” Hunter Valley Semillon 2015 $21–$23
Hunter Valley winemaker Andrew Thomas offers an early drinking alternative to the region’s comparatively austere young semillons. By arresting fermentation before yeast converts all the grape sugar to alcohol, Thomas achieves a low-alcohol white (eight per cent) with a moderate level of sweetness from the residual grape sugar. While the sugar contributes sweetness and softness, the high acidity of the early picked grapes balances the sweetness and amplifies the delicate, pure, lemony varietal flavour. It’s a delicious twist on a normally bone-dry regional specialty.

Charles Cimicky “Trumps” Barossa Valley Shiraz 2014 $16.20–$22
Charles and Jennie Cimicky’s winery and vineyards are at Lyndoch, in the slightly cooler south of the warm Barossa Valley. Their reds, starting with the inexpensive Trumps shiraz, deliver typical Barossa generosity and softness without going over the top on oak, tannin or alcohol. As Trumps 2014 demonstrates, for Cimicky it’s all about capturing ripe, mouth-filling fruit flavours and the Barossa’s tender tannins. The ripe, supple fruit and softness give great drinking pleasure right now. There’s no reason to cellar it, simply move on to each new vintage.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 5 and 6 December 2015 in  and the Canberra Times

Canberra wine 2015 – a great vintage and a sense of adventure

By New Year 2015 Canberra’s widely scattered vineyards, ranging in altitude from around 550 metres to 860 metres, held big, healthy crops. Vignerons crossed their fingers, hoping for the weather to hold. And it did, despite rain, warm weather and subsequent threat of bunch rot for a brief period in January.

From budburst in spring 2014 to harvest in autumn, benign conditions produced one of the earliest, biggest, compressed and potentially most beautiful grape harvests the district had seen since 1971 – the year Drs John Kirk and Edgar Riek planted their vineyards at Murrumbateman and Lake George.

Murrumbateman winemaker Ken Helm declared, “If we get a better vintage than this, I’ll be very, very surprised”. At Hall, Alan Pankhurst rated the season “a bit better than 2013” – a vintage widely lauded as one of the greatest ever.

Despite good yields and high fruit quality, the vintage became something of an ordeal when everything ripened at once said Lerida Estate’s Jim Lumbers. “We’ve had very late nights, our capacity has been stretched but coping. We’ve been picking and processing every day with no breaks”, he reported mid vintage.

As we approach the year’s end, Canberra’s unoaked 2015 whites, led by riesling, are bottled and available, while chardonnay and most reds remain in barrel, to be blended and bottled next year. Only then will we have the full measure of the vintage.

The finished rieslings, however, support the winemakers’ early optimism. The earliest releases rolled onto the tasting bench during the depths of our cold winter, just four months after harvest. While Canberra riesling can be shy or austere at this stage, some already tasted terrific – notably those that a few months later won gold medals at the Canberra Regional Wine Show: Clonakilla, Ravensworth, Helm Classic and Helm Semi Dry.

As the weather warmed up, these and other rieslings began to reveal greater aroma and flavour – a widely known quirk of fine young riesling. In early October, Stephanie Helm’s Vintner’s Daughter caught our attention. And in November we drooled over Nick O’Leary’s two amazing rieslings – a mouth-watering beauty from Lake George and Murrumbateman ($25) and the more demure, slow-evolving, intense White Rocks ($37) from the original Westering vineyard, Lake George.

Vintner’s Daughter deserves special mention as it topped all the riesling in the Winewise Small Vignerons Awards, dropped back to silver for the regional show, then earned gold and trophy as best Canberra riesling at the International Riesling Challenge.

Unfortunately Canberra’s regional wine show, judged in September, precedes the great flourishing of our new-vintage rieslings by a couple of months. It therefore misses seeing our great white specialty at its best. Even so, three quarters of the 31 2015-vintage rieslings exhibited this year won medals, including five golds and five silvers.

White drinkers can’t go wrong stocking up on the 2015 rieslings. The wines can only get better over the coming months. And many should evolve deliciously for years.

Canberra’s other specialty, shiraz, remains unassailable in both quality and quantity across most of the district. We must wait until 2016 for the 2015 wines, and most of the outstanding 2013s sold out long ago. However, one of the best, Collector Reserve Shiraz 2013, remains on for $58 at the time of writing. The beat every other shiraz in this year’s regional wine show, winning the top gold medal in its class and three trophies: best Canberra shiraz, best shiraz and best red.

While the 2013 shirazes upstage the 2014s to some extent, the vintage produced many beautiful wines. Of 35 entered in the regional wine show, two thirds won medals, with golds medals to McWilliams Appellation Series Hilltops Shiraz 2014, Collector Reserve 2014 (a great follow up to the trophy winning 2013), Nick O’Leary 2014 (NSW wine of the year), and Clonakilla O’Riada 2014. The latter two and Collector Reserve 2013 feature in my top-10 reds, also in this edition.

But there’s no reason to limit drinking to the current gold medal shirazes. There’s a spectrum of good Canberra shirazes covering many hues of the Canberra medium-bodied, spicy style.

The excellence of our shiraz and riesling anoint Canberra with a special status among Australian wine regions. But our vignerons make good wines, if not regional specialties, across the whole gamut of mainstream varieties. These are commercially important to their producers and enjoy wide appeal among drinkers.

Will there be a next big thing after shiraz and riesling? While there’s nothing to challenge either yet, some of the so-called “alternative” varieties work well both in Canberra and surrounding districts.

Data collated from the Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory, phone calls, and an email poll of local vignerons by the Canberra District Wine Industry Association, reveals 23 Canberra wineries processing 14 alternative red varieties, and 17 wineries working with five alternative whites.

Some of these are already well known. Rhone white variety, viognier, plays a support role in Canberra benchmark Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier and a string of other similar red blends.

It’s the most widely used of Canberra’s “alternative” varieties (15 vignerons) and is offered as a straight varietal by Clonakilla (wooded and unwooded versions), Dionysus, Jeir Creek, Kardinia Wines and Lark Hill. The variety also appears in white blends alongside the other Rhone varieties, marsanne and roussanne.

A small planting of Austria’s gruner veltliner at Lark Hill, high up on the Lake George Escarpment, settled well into this cool site and makes a delicious and distinctive dry white. It’s another beacon for Canberra.

At Hall, Alan Pankhurst recently grafted arneis, a Piedmont white variety, onto chainsaw-pruned sauvignon blanc vines. He expects to produce wine from it within the next vintage or two.

Canberra winemakers currently work with a broader palate of alternative reds than whites. In our survey, we discovered graciano, tempranillo, sangiovese, gamay, nebbiolo, touriga nacional, colorino, mammolo, canaiolo nero, mondeuse, aglianico, nero d’avola and cinsault – some from Canberra, some from neighbouring districts.

Italy’s sangiovese and Spain’s tempranillo are the most widely used of these by Canberra winemakers. In our survey, we found 12 vignerons working with sangiovese and eight with tempranillo.

Tempranillo perhaps enjoys the strongest profile of the two, thanks to its generous, ripe, mid-palate fruit, albeit tempered by firm, savoury tannins. An annual “TempraNeo” promotion by six Australian producers, including Canberra’s Mount Majura, is also lifting the variety’s profile. Australia wide, 340 winemakers use it.

Sangiovese offers a generally leaner, more savoury style than tempranillo, although it varies widely among winemakers. This reflects clones, growing conditions, winemaking style and, in some instance, the inclusion of other varieties in the blend.

At Mount Majura, graciano stars on its own – and also supports the popular and excellent Tempranillo Shiraz Graciano blend.

Piedmont’s Nebbiolo, too, shows promise in the neighbouring Hilltops region. Brian Freeman’s, made at his Hilltops vineyard, has a slight edge to my palate, over Bryan Martin’s Ravensworth, made in Canberra from Hilltops fruit.

Between established specialties, shiraz and riesling, other mainstream varieties, and a growing number of niche varieties, the quality and diversity of Canberra wines continues to grow. We enjoyed better Canberra wine this year than ever before. That choice and quality can only grow, within vintage vagaries, over the years ahead.

And 2015 ended on a happy note. Members of the Canberra District Vignerons Association marked the 41st anniversary of its first meeting with a 20 November lunch at Podfood. Industry pioneers Ken Helm, John Kirk and Edgar Riek attended the lunch – and that inaugural meeting on 19 November 1974. Forty-one years on the district flourishes more than they could have imagined.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 1 and 2 December 2015 in  and the Canberra Times

Top 20 Canberra and region wines of 2015

Riesling and shiraz remain Canberra’s trump cards by a country mile, so they feature prominently in my 2015 selections. While each comes in a regional style, the wines selected represent various hues along that style spectrum.

When we extend our search to neighbouring regions along the Great Divide, the palate of mainstream varieties opens considerably. Higher, cooler Orange and Tumbarumba provide graceful, modern chardonnays. Orange and Hilltops give us outstanding cabernet sauvignon – one for the cellar and a lower priced version to enjoy now.

Complementing mainstream wines, our embrace of so-called alternative varieties adds a couple of delicious Canberra-grown wines to the menu: the Austrian white, gruner veltliner, and Spain’s red tempranillo. Hilltops shows its diversity with three Italian red varieties – nebbiolo, and a blend of rondinella and corvina. And Tumbarumba contributes a juicy gamay, the red grape of France’s Beaujolais region.

In future years our winemakers will likely offer even greater diversity. A poll I conducted in September revealed 23 Canberra wineries now work with 14 alternative red varieties, while 17 process five alternative whites.

Many more wines might easily have been included in the list but for various reasons could not. These include high quality, small-production wines that simply sold out. While another, gold-medal-winning Lerida Estate Josephine Pinot Noir 2014, made the grade but won’t be released until 2016.

With the exception of Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2014, the wines in the list come from small producers and are not widely distributed. It’s the nature of our local, boutique wine industry. It means in many cases buying direct from the producer – a please weekend activity – or a phone call to find where wines are stocked.

Happy hunting and merry Christmas.


  1. Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay 2014 $35
    Ross Hill Griffin Road vineyard, Orange, NSW
    The varied altitudes (and climates) of the Robson family’s vineyard (750 to 1000 metres) gives winemakers Phil and Rochelle Kerney an extraordinary palate of varieties to work with. Chardonnay comes from the family’s Griffin Road vineyard at 750 metres. Handpicked, whole-bunch pressed and fermented spontaneously in French oak barrels, it’s about as natural as wine gets. It showed great promise tasted from barrel about a year ago and now delivers on that promise: a seamless, plush, vibrant chardonnay, combining cool-climate, grapefruit-and-nectarine varietal flavour with the textural richness and flavour nuances derived from fermentation and maturation in barrel.
  2. Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 311 2014 $35.15–$40
    Tumbarumba, NSW

    Ultra-fresh Bin 311 2014 combines melon-rind and grapefruit-like varietal flavours with the texture and the slightly funky, biscuity influence of fermentation and maturation on yeast lees, without obvious oak flavours. The wine is an offshoot of Penfolds Australia-wide quest for the best chardonnay it could make. The $180 a bottle Yattarna was the result. But its by-product, Bin 311, is as good an expression of Tumbarumba chardonnay as you’ll find.
  3. 3. Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2015 $45
    Lark Hill vineyard, Lake George Escarpment, Canberra District, NSW
    Lark Hill 2015 gruner veltliner surpasses the quality of its very good 2014, created in a very difficult season. In contrast, “2015 provided optimum vintage conditions and we picked higher than normal quantities of fruit, with incredible quality and intensity”, writes winemaker Chris Carpenter. The intensely flavoured, deeply textured white supports Carpenter’s excitement. A multi-dimensional expression of this Austrian variety, it tingles and thrills with lemon- and melon-rind -like tartness on a sensuous palate, with a subtle rasp of skin tannins and taut, invigorating acid.
  4. Clonakilla Riesling 2015 $30–$35
    Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

    Clonakilla’s 2015 riesling could be the finest of the 40 vintages made to date. Very young rieslings tend not to reveal all their fruit flavours and take many months, sometimes years, to flourish. However, the 2015 already reveals great purity and intensity and is my favourite of the Canberra 2015 rieslings tasted to date. It topped the riesling class at the Canberra regional wine show and earned several trophies.
  5. Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2015 $35
    Helm and neighbouring vineyards, Nanima Valley, Canberra District, NSW

    In the subtly varying world of Canberra riesling, Ken Helm heads down a different path than, say, Ravensworth or Clonakilla. Helm keeps his Classic Dry bone dry, with residual sugar of just 2.5 grams a litre and comparatively low alcohol of11.8 per cent. It’s therefore lean and delicate and, at this very early stage of development, with floral aromas and intense lemon-like varietal flavours. Gold medal winner at the Canberra regional wine show.
  6. The Vintner’s Daughter Riesling 2015 $28
    Vintner’s Daughter vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
    Ken Helm’s daughter, Stephanie and husband Ben Osborne’s first riesling showed early class, winning trophies as best riesling of the 2015 Winewise Small Vignerons Awards and best Canberra riesling of the International Riesling Challenge. It’s absolutely delicious, delivering pure, varietal, floral and citrus flavours, cut through with shimmering, fresh acidity. A small amount of residual grape sugar rounds and softens the palate, but it remains fine, delicate, dry and suited to medium-term cellaring.
  7. Capital Wines Gundaroo Vineyard Riesling 2015 $28
    Gundaroo, Canberra District, NSW

    In 1998, Mark and Jennie Moonie planted Geisenheim clones of riesling at Gundaroo. They sold the vineyard to Ruth and Steve Lambert in 2004. But in 2013, by now co-owners of Capital Wines, they bought grapes from the vineyard for a special single-vineyard riesling. This, the third vintage, is in the tight, slow-evolving style typical of winemaker Andrew McEwin. It’s delicate, yet steely with delicious citrus like varietal flavour just beginning to push through.
  8. 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, planted by Captain Geoff Hood in 1973. These venerable old vines, with huge trunks, produce tiny crops of powerfully flavoured grapes. O’Leary’s definitely onto something special with this unique, powerful yet delicate riesling, with its intense, citrusy varietal flavour and invigorating, lemony-tart finish. This is another notch above the excellent 2013 reviewed last year.
  9. Ravensworth Riesling 2015 $25
    Murrumbateman and Wamboin, Canberra District, NSW
    Acidic young Canberra rieslings can be “a bit of an ordeal without sugar”, says winemaker Bryan Martin. To soften Clonakilla and Ravensworth rieslings, he blends in a splash of unfermented juice to offset the acidity. With Ravensworth, Martin combines a pure, protectively made component with material spontaneously fermented on skins, grape solids and lees. The blend presents lemony tart, delicious Canberra riesling with the added flesh and grip contributed by the spontaneously fermented component. Gold medal winner.
  10. Gallagher Blanc de Blanc 2010 $50
    Gallagher vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

    Greg Gallagher’s 2009 vintage won a silver medal at the Canberra regional wine show. It sold out in November. But the 2010’s just as good. A full-bodied style, it offers really fresh and vibrant melon-like varietal flavours, with the patina of brioche-like flavours and creamy, chewy texture derived from ageing on yeast lees in bottle for five years. Gallagher makes, bottles, matures and despatches his outstanding bubblies from his own purpose-built cellars.


  1. Freeman Rondinella Corvina Secco 2010 $35
    Freeman vineyard, Hilltops, NSW

    Brian Freeman’s blend emulates the highly distinctive Amarone reds of Valpolicella, Italy, made by co-fermenting fresh-picked and dehydrated rondinella and corvina grapes. Freeman dries part of his rondinella and corvina grapes in a neighbour’s prune dehydrator, then ferments it with fresh-picked material. Freeman’s 2010 presents very strong, sour-cherry- and port-like flavours, meshed with the distinct aromas and flavours of oak, on a potent and tannic palate that some will love and others will hate.
  2. Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $14–$18
    Moppity vineyard, Hilltops, NSW

    After much TLC in the vineyard, and several changes of contract winemaker, we’re seeing the best wines yet from Jason and Alecia Brown’s Moppity vineyard. This is perhaps best seen when a great vintage like 2013 comes along. For a modest sum, Lock and Key provides a pure, fruity expression of cabernet, with cassis-like flavour, subtle, complementary oak and an elegant structure. You get a lot of wine for the price.
  3. Ross Hill Pinnacle Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $40
    Ross Hill Griffin Road vineyard, Orange, NSW

    In 2013, The Ridge, a section of the Robson family’s Griffin vineyard, produced evenly ripened cabernet of a quality rarely seen in Orange. Winemaker Phil Kerney successfully captured the varietal flavour and richness of those grapes. A deep, vividly coloured wine, Pinnacle shows equally vivid, ripe berry flavours in a deep, sweet palate, cut through with cabernet’s assertive, ripe tannins. This is powerful, harmonious and elegant cabernet with good cellaring potential.
  4. Ravensworth Charlie Foxtrot Gamay Noir 2014 $30
    Johansen vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW

    Earlier this year winemaker Bryan Martin eagerly accepted a small parcel of red gamay grapes from the Johansen vineyard, Tumbarumba. With fruity, drink-now Beaujolais in mind, Martin picked the brains of a visiting French winemaker. The Frenchman contacted winemaking mates in Beaujolais and voila, Ravensworth Gamay Noir emerged. Fleshy, fruity and delicious it provides huge drink-now pleasure. It won a gold medal and trophy at the Canberra regional wine show.
  5. Mount Majura Vineyard Tempranillo 2014 $45
    Mount Majura, Canberra District, ACT

    After the deeper, darker 2013 vintage, Mount Majura 2014 reveals a fragrant, fruity side of Canberra-grown tempranillo. The aroma and palate both suggest ripe, red berry characters, which push through the variety’s distinctive firm but fine tannins. The bright fruit character gives the wine tremendous drink-now appeal – though the tannins and underlying savouriness should see it evolve for three or four years in bottle.
  6. Capital Wines Kyeema Tempranillo Shiraz 2014 $36
    Kyeema vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
    Capital wines offers two tempranillos – the bright, fruity, irresistible Ambassador 2014 ($25) and this denser, deeper blend of tempranillo and shiraz, sourced from the Kyeema vineyard. The combination works seamlessly. Tempranillo’s blueberry-like fruit flavour and firm, fine tannins, remain. But shiraz adds spicy flavours and flesh to the mid palate. It’s an elegant and satisfying red, made by veteran Canberra winemaker Andrew McEwin.
  1. Ravensworth Nebbiolo 2014 $35
    Hilltops, NSW
    As Bryan Martin and David Reist launched their book, Tongue and Cheek, in March, guests quaffed Martin’s 2014 nebbiolo. The Piedmontese variety makes lighter coloured, highly fragrant reds of great power and elegance, with firm, grippy tannins. Martin’s wine sits at the darker end of the nebbiolo scale, with alluring fragrance and a round, soft palate. The tannins do come back and bite in the end, but this is already a friendly and distinctive drink.
  2. Collector Reserve Shiraz 2013 $58
    Kyeema and Nanima vineyards, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
    In a masked tasting of 20 Canberra 2013 vintage shirazes last year, Collector Reserve rated very highly on first tasting, and even higher after a second, closer look. It presents a deeply layered spicy, savoury, fruity, supple side of Canberra shiraz. It’s one of the best from district in the great 2013 vintage and has the advantage of being still available. It should cellar extremely well.
  1. Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2014 $36–$48
    Murrumbateman and Hall, Canberra District, NSW

    We compared O’Riada to Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2014 ($90–$100) and Hilltops Shiraz 2014 ($28–$33). Six tasters enjoyed the solid Hilltops wine, but as the night wore on, the levels in the other two bottles declined rapidly. Ultimately, in vocal opinions, as well as volume consumed, the intense, silky shiraz viognier won the day by a comfortable, but not wide, margin, over the classy, harmonious O’Riada, a gold medal winner at the Canberra regional wine show.
  2. Nick O’Leary Shiraz 2014 $30
    Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
    Nick O’Leary’s 2014 shiraz topped its class at this year’s Canberra regional wine show. A month later, judges at the NSW Wine Industry Awards named it NSW Wine of the Year. The limpid 2014 offers sweet and alluring red-berry and spice aromas. The vibrant, fresh, medium-bodied palate precisely reflects the aroma, with its spicy, rich, berry fruit flavours. Soft, silky tannins give the wine its smooth texture and gentle finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 1 and 2 December 2015 in and the Canberra Times

Canberra’s year in beer – 2015 one to remember

In 2015 Canberra consolidated its position as Australia’s beer capital, despite seeing in the new year with one less brewery than in 2014. The Wig and Pen, the oldest of Canberra’s three brewpubs, had vacated its city of home of over 20 years on 30 October. But on 12 January 2015, it reopened a few blocks away at Llewellyn Hall, ANU.

As the Wig settled into its new home, other players planned for the year ahead. Canberra’s Kevin Hingston, Australian champion amateur brewer, plotted the launch of Canberra’s fourth beer brand, the Pact Beer Co. Plonk’s Anthony Young and others began work on Canberra’s annual beer week and beer day out. And BentSpoke’s Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain pondered next steps for their explosively successful venture.

Hingston, Canberra’s newest brewer, arose from the vibrant, anarchic underworld of home brewing. His appetite whet by success at the 2014 Australian Amateur Brewing Championships, hosted in Canberra, he founded Pact Beer Co with Canberra mates Mark Grainger and Tim Osborne.

Pact launched draught beers at several outlets mid year, followed by bottled brews in September. Hingston currently brews and bottles in Melbourne, but hopes to build a Canberra facility in the future.

In November, Canberra Beer Week saw bars, restaurants and pubs across the city hosting tap takeovers, brewer talks, entertainment and beer and food matching. Local and international brewers and cider makers participated. Part of the event, Beer Day Out at Kingston Bus Depot Markets, attracted about thirty brewers and cider makers, a range of local chefs and food producers and a moving feast of entertainers.

Just before beer week, BentSpoke of Braddon, announced plans to build a new brewery, packaging plant and family-friendly outlet at Mitchell. BentSpoke opened its two-story Braddon brewpub in June 2014. It brewed 160,000 litres and 31 varieties of beer in its first year, says brewer Richard Watkins.

Watkins says the new operation had been part of a three-year plan, but encouraged by strong support for the Braddon business, the BentSpoke partners pulled it forward by 18 month.

He expects to release the first BentSpoke 355ml cans around March next year. The first products will be the two most popular brews, Crankshaft Orange IPA and Barley Griffin Canberra Pale Ale. BentSpoke is a joint venture between Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain, and the Meddings family, owners of Bintani Australia, a Melbourne-based supplier of ingredients, including malted barley and hops, to the food and beverage industries.

Christoph Zierholz, continues making inroads into bars, including King O’Malley’s, where he offers The King’s Pale Ale and the airport, which sells Zierholz German Ale on tap. Zierholz this year lured well-known brewer Marcus Muller from Matso’s of Broome to his Fyshwick operation.

After a promising early start at its Llewellyn Hall bar, the Wig and Pen struck gale-force headwinds. Owner Lachie McOmish says lengthy delays in university permission to open a planned courtyard, and a severe failure of ducting associated with the kitchen set the business back severely. “Try running a pub without a kitchen or courtyard”, he laments.

However, McOmish praised brewers Frazer Brown and Alan Ball for maintaining beer standards and should have the kitchen running by the time this article is published.

As Australian per capita beer consumption continues its decline, Canberra looks like seizing opportunities in the rapidly growing craft beer segment. We’ll sail into 2016 with four brewers, plans for our first canning line and a new brewery at Mitchell.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 1 and 2 December in  and the Canberra Times

Wine review – Hesketh, Paladino, Lerida Estate

Hesketh Lost Weekend Chardonnay 2014 $12
Georgina Hart’s romantic label sets the tone for a bright, fresh chardonnay, with extra flavour and structure contributed by ageing about a fifth of the blend in new French-oak barriques. Marketer Jonathon Hesketh and winemaker Phil Lehmann write, “The wine is effectively used to season the new oak, which then goes on to its real job of ageing premium reds”. While the oak adds to the dimension of the aroma and flavour, fresh melon-like varietal character of the Coonawarra fruit gives the wine delicious, drink-now appeal.

Paladino Puglia Sangiovese 2014 $15
Vintage House, a distribution business belonging to the Angove family, imports Paladino from the Rocca family of Puglia, Italy. The wine provides a medium bodied, savoury alternative to Australian red-wine styles. Savoury, in this sense, means flavours more akin to, say, black olives than ripe fruit. The wine’s lean, grippy tannins further hold the fruit in check. But the varietal flavour pushes through in a teasing, tart, sour-cherry way that works well with the tannins. The savouriness and bity tannins perfectly suit savoury foods, but don’t invite stand-alone drinking.

Lerida Estate Lake George Cullerin Pinot Noir 2014 $35
Lerida Estate dominated the pinot class at the 2015 Canberra regional wine show, winning gold medals for its 2014 estate ($26) and Josephine ($65) pinots and a bronze medal for this wine. All three come from Lerida’s vineyard, located at around 700 metres altitude, on the lower slopes of the Cullerin Range, flanking the western side of Lake George. The cool site reliably ripens pinot every year, says owner Jim Lumbers. And after years of adjusting vine management and winemaking techniques with winemaker Malcolm Burdett, the wines show more intense fruit and softer tannins – as in this light, fragrant, mildly grippy style.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 28 and 29 November 2015 in and the Canberra Times