Exceptional vintage revealed in Canberra, Tumbarumba 2015 wines

Ravensworth Charlie Foxtrot Gamay Noir 2014
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 before long Martin had two batches of gamay bubbling away: de-stemmed berries fermenting in an open-top vessel; and whole bunches, stems included, tightly sealed inside a tall, thin steel tank. In this oxygen-free environment they underwent enzymatic breakdown ahead of a regular yeast ferment. Well, the open-ferment wine matured in barrel for a short time, while the anaerobic one remained pure and fruity. Martin blended the components, ready for us to suck down in all its fragrant, fruity, juicy glory. It’s mainly about fruit. But there’s a savoury element and a teasing, subtle stemmy note derived from those whole bunches.

Ravensworth Riesling 2015
Murrumbateman and Wamboin, Canberra District, NSW
The austere, lemon-like acidity of very young Canberra rieslings makes them, “a bit of an ordeal without sugar”, says winemaker Bryan Martin. So, he blends a little unfermented juice into both his own and Clonakilla rieslings. The addition introduces about four to five grams per litre of sugar into the wines – enough to offset the acidity, but not detectable as sweetness. For his own wine, Martin combines a pure, protectively made component with more richly textured material, spontaneously fermented on skins, grape solids and lees in a ceramic fermenter. The blend presents lemony tart, delicious Canberra riesling with the added flesh and grip contributed by the spontaneously fermented component.

Ravensworth Pinot Gris 2015
Long Rail Gully, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

We’re sure to hear lots more of Bryan Martin’s ceramic egg – a small fermentation vessel that “allows oxygen circulation without the flavour of an oak barrel”, says Martin. In 2015 he made three wines in the vessel: a component of his riesling, a yet-to-be released grenache and this pinot gris. It’s a bright, fresh dry white with pear-like varietal flavour and, perhaps more importantly, a rich, smooth texture, derived from spontaneous fermentation of the cloudy juice and contact with yeast lees. Sulphur compounds, noticeable on first opening the bottle, add interest to the palate.

Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2015
Helm and neighbouring vineyards, Nanima Valley, Canberra District, NSW

In the subtly varying world of Canberra riesling, Ken “Mr Riesling” Helm heads down a different path than Ravensworth or Clonakilla. Helm keeps his Classic Dry effectively bone dry, with residual sugar of just 2.5 grams a litre. It’s also slightly lower in alcohol at 11.8 per cent. It’s therefore leaner and more delicate and, at this very early stage of development, doesn’t have the body of wines with higher levels of sugar. Nevertheless the floral aromas and intense lemon-like varietal flavours are there and, from experience, the palate will begin fleshing out over the next six months or so in bottle. This is a notable riesling and even though lean and taut now, appears fleshy in comparison to Helm’s Premium wine.

Helm Premium Riesling 2015
Lustenberger and Helm 1832 vineyards, Nanima Valley, Canberra District, NSW

Assessing Helm’s Premium riesling now, when it’s barely out of the fermenter, is really about guessing where it’s headed in future. Right now it’s delicate and fine, lower in alcohol than his Classic Riesling and also slightly lower in acidity. As an act of faith, based on past vintages, we can predict a bright future. I suspect its slightly more forward, cheaper sibling could pull in the gold medals from later this year. But the Premium will almost certainly pull ahead in a couple of years and show the class previously displayed by wine from the Lustenberger vineyard. However, we must rate it on how it appears now – probably a great wine in waiting.

Helm Half Dry Riesling 2015
Nanima Valley, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Helm’s ninth vintage of half-dry demonstrates how a little bit of sugar helps the riesling go down. To be precise, 18 grams of residual grape sugar in every litre of wine provides a delicate counter to the eight grams of acid. The sugar adds a juicy richness to the wine’s mid palate, while the acidity provides vitality and freshness. The modest sugar level remains well short of dessert-wine sweetness and, indeed, this style goes really well with highly spiced food.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 18 and 19 August 2015 in goodfood.com.au  and the Canberra Times