Wine review – Clonakilla, Quarry Hill, Four Winds, Freeman and Ross Hill

Clonakilla Pinot Noir 2014 $55
Clonakilla vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

“Pinot’s the holy grail”, says Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk, “and the general wisdom is you can’t make great pinot noir in Canberra”. But after producing pinot for decades, only to blend it into the flagship shiraz-viognier, Kirk made small, separate batches from 2011. He used fruit from vines planted in 1978 by his father, John Kirk, and two plots he planted in 2007 and 2008. “They were always good and interesting wines but not great”, says Kirk, though they improved a little with each vintage. However, the 2014 stands convincingly on its own – an exciting, irresistible wine, displaying the many dimensions of good pinot: sweet fragrance, layers of fruit, deep savoury characters (reminiscent of olive tapenade), silky texture and elegant structure. Kirk produced just two barrels, or around 80 dozen bottles.

Clonakilla Ballinderry 2013 $55
Clonakilla vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

In 1971, John Kirk planted cabernet sauvignon at Clonakilla. In 1985 and 1987 he added the related varieties cabernet franc and merlot. But in the mid nineties shiraz emerged as Clonakilla’s (and later the district’s) red specialty, forcing the cabernet blend into the background. Then along came the outstanding 2013 vintage and, to me, the best cabernet blend yet made at Clonakilla, or in Canberra. It comprises cabernet franc (42 per cent), merlot (35 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon (23 per cent) in a taut, elegant, tannic style. Only after hours of air exposure does the absolutely beautiful fruit reveal itself. And when it does, it’s irresistible, though tightly bound up in those fine tannins. It’ll probably evolve for decades. Tim Kirk believes a serendipitous extra 10 months in oak contributed to its great dimension. Disease ruled out harvesting of cabernet varieties in 2014, meaning there was no call on the barrels containing the 2013 wine.

Quarry Hill Shiraz 2013 $21
Quarry Hill vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Hardys are long gone from Canberra, but the company left a rich legacy of high quality small vineyards inspired by their presence. Dean Terrell’s Quarry Hill vineyard, planted during the Hardy era in 1999, now sells fruit to other winemakers and makes small quantities of wine under its own label. This shiraz, made by former Hardy winemaker, Alex McKay, captures the delicious berry-and-spice character of Canberra shiraz. It’s medium bodied, in the district style, and shows a teasing, stalky twist, probably a result of including whole bunches in the ferment.

Four Winds Tom’s Block Shiraz 2013 $45
Four Winds vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Four Winds vineyard made two very good shirazes in the outstanding 2013 vintage. Their standard shiraz, reviewed last year, offers a particularly aromatic expression of Canberra’s shiraz style. Tom’s Block, on the other hand, heads in a deeper, sturdier direction. As a selection of Four Winds’ best shiraz, it shows richer, deeper fruit flavour than the standard version. Maturation for a year in French oak barrels also built extra weight into the mid-palate, while adding its own sympathetic spicy, charry aromas and flavours.

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

Brian Freeman’s blend emulates the Amarone reds made in Valpolicella, near Verona, Italy. There, vignerons co-ferment fresh-picked and dehydrated grapes to produce distinctive reds of intense sour-cherry, prune- and port-like flavours. The best are remarkable. Freeman planted the Veronese varieties rondinella and corvina for this purpose. He sends part of the crop to a neighbour’s prune dehydrator, then ferments the dried fruit 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.

Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay 2014 $35
Ross Hill Griffin Road vineyard, Orange, NSW

The Robson Family’s Ross Hill has emerged as the one of the hot producers of the cool Orange district. The varied altitudes (and climates) of the family’s vineyard (750 to 1000 metres) gives winemakers Phil and Rochelle Kerney an extraordinary palate of varieties to work with. Chardonnay, for example, 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.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 12 and 13 May 2015 in and the