A recent change of ownership of Capital Wines saw the closure of its cellar door, the departure from the wine industry of two of Canberra’s noted tourism and hospitality entrepreneurs, and the planned opening of a new cellar door by a Hunter winery with a Canberra vineyard.
The two couples behind Capital Wines went their separate ways in July when Jennie and Mark Mooney sold out to Andrew and Marion McEwin. As so often happens in small businesses, an unworkable partnership forced the change.
The McEwins, previously responsible for winemaking and vineyard management, must now also take on the marketing and sales roles. Their many challenges include replacing Jennie Mooney’s formidable business skills and marketing talent, and finding a new home for their cellar door. Under the partnership, the outlet (now closed) operated out of renovated stables behind the Mooney’s highly successful Royal Mail Hotel and Grazing restaurant at Gundaroo.
However, winemaker Andrew McEwin remains confident of Capital Wines’ future. He says, “We’re keeping skilled cellar door staff and I’m looking for a new location, likely to be in Hall”. He says the business also includes a considerable volume of contract winemaking, which will continue.
Until they formed Capital Wines with the Mooneys in 2008, the McEwins owned a long-established winery and the Kyeema vineyard, Murrumbateman. They sold wine under the Kyeema label.
Jennie Mooney threw prodigious energy and flair into the new venture, creating Capital Wines as the overarching brand for both Kyeema Vineyard wines and the quirky new Ministry Series – billed at the time as “a playful dig at our location near the power house of Canberra”.
Speaking from Perisher Valley, where she and husband Mark manage the Man from Snowy River Hotel, Jennie Mooney, said, “Capital Wines was my baby. I created the brand and established the supply chain and logistics”.
Mooney says she’ll miss Capital Wines but has no immediate plans to return to the wine industry. Nor does she rule out the possibility. “What I like most”, she says is taking something run down and turning it into something”. The Mooneys successfully restored Gundaroo’s historic Royal Mail Hotel in 2003 at the same time creating Grazing, one of Canberra’s enduring restaurants and tourist attractions.
After establishing Capital Wines with the McEwins, the Mooneys restored an old stone stables on the Gundaroo site to serve as a cellar door outlet. The outlet closed after the Mooneys sold out of Capital Wines, but Jennie Mooney lost little time in securing a new tenant – Hunter-based Gundog Estate.
At first glance, a cellar door 400km from the Hunter might appear to have little connection with our region. But Gundog owners, the Burton family, own a Gundaroo vineyard (purchased in 2006) and make several Canberra wines.
Gundog’s website lists four Canberra wines (a cabernet rosé and three shirazes) and a shiraz from the neighbouring Hilltops region. Winemaker Matt Burton writes, “We are also looking to expand our range of whites to include one or more incarnations of Canberra District riesling”.
Jennie Mooney says, “With their vineyards just out of the village, Gundog complements Grazing really well”. The cellar door offering will include local cheeses and charcuterie. Mooney says she expects the Gundog cellar door to open in 2017.
Like its namesake, Susan and Robert Bruce’s Wily Trout wines lived in the shadows – not of the river bank, but of the couple’s Poacher’s Pantry smokehouse.
But that’s all about to change, suddenly and dramatically. The 11 August release of Wily Trout Nanima Block Pinot Syrah 2016 marks a huge step up for the family’s wines, now grown and made by the Bruces’ son, Will.
Will Bruce says he “dabbled in the vineyards in 2013 and 2014, but by 2015 I was all over it”. He managed the vineyards to maximise fruit quality, changed from machine harvesting to hand harvesting in 2015 and took control of the winemaking.
While this week’s new release says much about innovation and fruit quality, the surest litmus of quality came in a recent tasting of Wily Trout shiraz from vintages 2012 to 2015.
And within that grouping nothing better illustrated the new standard than a comparison of the two great recent vintages, 2013 and 2015. The 2013 showed Canberra’s distinctive spicy character, but it lacked the power, depth and structure of the best wines from the vintage. In contrast the 2015 soared from the glass and delivered great fruit sweetness, savour and impressive structure. Wily Trout is suddenly a serious maker of Canberra’s signature red variety.
And the new release Nanima Block Pinot Syrah 2016 shows another emerging dimension of Canberra’s imaginative wine industry.
It combines pinot noir and shiraz from Wily Trout’s east-facing Nanima block in a fruity, medium-bodied drink-now style. Interesting winemaking flourishes add other dimensions beyond mere fruitiness.
The pinot noir ripened ahead of the shiraz, says Bruce, and after partial de-stemming (with about 20 per whole bunches), a spontaneous ferment began in small, open vessels. He later dropped the ripe shiraz onto the pinot and as the ferment took hold, transferred the juice, with a small amount of skins, to an egg-shaped ceramic fermenter.
The wine ticked over slowly inside this slightly air-permeable egg and remained there for about six weeks, before being bottled young, fresh and ready to drink.
The medium-hued red combines bright, fresh summer-berry flavours with a pleasant stemmy character, derived from the inclusion of whole bunches in the ferment. A juicy, medium-bodied, elegant palate comes with a chewy, silky texture and fine, drying tannins.
Wily Trout Nanima Block Pinot Syrah 2016 ($26) will be released on Thursday 11 August at Ainslie Cellars and will also be available at Bar Rochford (Civic), Urban Cellars (Curtin) and Prohibition (Kingston foreshore).
The “weird stuff” tab on Ravensworth’s website opens the magic wardrobe into Canberra’s Narnia of weird, whacky and new wines. This new world belongs to Ravensworth winemaker Bryan Martin and a handful of Canberra winemakers who, like Martin, step nimbly back and forth through the wardrobe, between mainstream winemaking and the new and weird stuff on the edges.
They’re all accomplished winemakers. And all but Sassafras Wines, which specialises in ancestral method bubblies, earn their living making and selling the traditional table wines we drink every day.
The weird stuff, as Martin calls it, sits on the fringes, supported by Sydney and Melbourne sommeliers, a handful of local restaurants and independent retailers, fellow winemakers and adventurous drinkers.
The weird wines come with their own language – including pet nat, ancestral method, orange wine, natural wine and ceramic egg – describing wine styles, production methods and equipment.
After decades enjoying limpid Australian whites and bubblies, the new wines can be confronting. What are we to make, for example, of bronze or even orange coloured whites, or of cloudy sparkling wines?
This new wave of bubblies – known as pet nats (from the French petillant naturel) or ancestral method – come to market very young and fresh, in the year of vintage, with various levels of cloudiness. The wines are cloudy as they are not disgorged or filtered following secondary fermentation.
Paul Starr of Sassafras Wines, introduced the style to Canberra in 2014 with a delicious ancestral method sparkling rosé, made from Tumbarumba gamay grapes. His fondness for the style, he says, came from drinking the traditional gamay-based sparkling wines of France’s Bugey-Cedon region.
The 2014 gamay started with standard fermentation, allowing just enough skin contact to extract the pink colour. When the ferment approached completion, and only a small amount of residual grape sugar remained, Starr refrigerated the wine to knock the yeast out, partially clarified it, then bottled it. The yeasts stirred to action again, creating the bubbles and a very fine haze as they consumed most of the remaining sugar.
Starr attributes at least part of his skill in this tricky and imprecise process to long experience brewing beer. He followed the delicious 2014 gamay up in 2015 with Sassafras Savagnin Ancestral, using savagnin grapes from Quarry Hill vineyard, Murrumbateman – and couldn’t stop smiling when Copenhagen’s Noma Restaurant listed it during its tenure in Sydney.
Starr says he’ll offer two ancestral method wines in 2016: a white, made from Canberra savagnin and Tumbarumba chardonnay, and a red montepulciano, from Ricca Terra Farms, Riverland. See sassafraswines.com.au for an expected spring release.
Ravensworth’s Bryan Martin followed Sassafras down the pet-nat path, with a sparkling riesling in 2015. The wine sold out quickly, encouraging Martin to make red and white versions this year. He expects to release both in November, for around $30–$32.
And this is where we meet Martin’s ceramic egg – a 675-litre fermentation and maturation vessel. Flowform, the Bryon Bay manufacturer, spruiks the advantages of its “passive convection”. But Martin and fellow Canberra winemaker, Hamish Young, dismiss that idea.
Young says, “It’s like an oak barrel, without the wood flavour”. Like the oak barrel, the ceramic egg admits small amounts of air. This influences the flavour and texture of the wines in interesting and pleasant ways.
Martin owns three eggs and uses them for several wines, including the loveably weird, Seven Months white blend and his pet-nat riesling 2016. The latter underwent a spontaneous fermentation in the egg before heading off to bottle for its secondary fermentation.
At the winery, I tasted Ravensworth’s unfinished pet-nats – Canberra riesling 2016 and Tumbarumba gamay 2016. These are excellent, fresh, characterful wines and worth trying on release in October or November. The gamay revealed its full crimson glory as it exploded from the sample Martin opened (see picture).
Another wine from the egg, Ravensworth Seven Months 2015 is reviewed below. Note, fermentation of whites on their skins is unusual in Australia but can be used to good effect.
At Poachers Pantry’s Wily Trout, young Will Bruce took over the vineyards from his father a couple of years ago. His 2015 shiraz is sensational, in the traditional Canberra mould. But Bruce, too, owns a ceramic egg, and it hatched a supple, smooth, unfiltered pinot noir-shiraz blend from the 2016 vintage. It’ll be in the market when this is published, so watch for the full review.
The first Wily Trout pet nat, a 2016 vintage blend of pinot noir and chardonnay is due for release at around $25 a bottle in spring.
Perhaps weirdest of all, Bruce made a sauvignon blanc seeped and fermented with fresh hops flowers provided by brewer Richard Watkins. Expect to see this aromatic, intensely bitter hybrid on tap at the BentSpoke Brewery in the near future.
Hamish Young released his new Mada Wines last week. Three of the four wines passed through the ceramic egg. The riesling in particular appealed, thanks largely to Young’s unconventional winemaking approach. See the review below.
At Yarrh Wines, Murrumbateman, Neil McGregor tends the immaculate vineyards, while Fiona Wholohan makes the wines, including the two Mr Natural wines reviewed below – and the first components of a vin santo (Tuscan dessert wine) for release many years in the future.
Ravensworth Canberra District and Tumbarumba Seven Months 2015 $34–$35 Bound to shock drinkers of traditional whites, Seven Months gets it deep golden colour, hazy appearance, very rich flavours, and grippy, chewy finish from fermentation and maturation on skins inside the ceramic egg. Ravensworth website is sold out but at the time of writing Plonk (Fyshwick Markets) and Ainslie Cellars carry stock. The blend is pinot gris, sauvignon, roussanne, riesling and chardonnay. The 2016 vintage remains in the egg for a few more month.
Mada Wines Canberra District Riesling 2016 With Australian riesling, makers generally focus on aromatics and delicacy by gently removing juice from skin, conducting cool ferments in stainless steel tanks. Winemaker Hamish Young allowed his to ferment spontaneously, on skins, inside the ceramic egg. Together, the air-permeability of the egg and skin contact made the difference between Mada and your conventional riesling. “I wanted the skins to enhance some characters but not make it weird and whacky. It had to be delicious”, he says. And it is. The not-quite-clear wine emphasises riesling’s citrus rather than floral characters on a richly textured, racy, dry palate.
Yarrh Vineyard Mr Natural Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Winemaker Fiona Wholohan says years of work building up the soils in the vineyard paid off, delivering perfect fruit in the outstanding 2015 vintage. This allowed her to make a white with very few inputs. She crushed and de-stemmed the grapes to a fermenter and let nature take its course, without the addition of yeast, acid, or yeast nutrients. What a delicious result. The skin ferment means a much deeper colour than we see in most young sauvignons . But the intensely varietal, savoury aroma leads to a juicy, plush, chewy, lively and dry palate.
Yarrh Vineyard Mr Natural Shiraz 2015 Like its white sibling, Mr Natural Shiraz went through a spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel tanks with very little winemaker intervention – apart from the addition of sulphur dioxide at bottling. Bottled young and fresh, with no oak maturation, the medium-bodied red shows the lovely ripe-berry and spice character of Canberra shiraz in a soft, juicy drink-now style.
Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – wine of the week Moss Wood vineyard, Wilyabrup, Margaret River, Western Australia $95–$125 Moss Wood cabernet rates among Australia’s greatest wines. It’s of a quality Hemingway surely had in mind when he wrote, “Wine is one of the most civilised things in the world and one of the most natural things that has been brought to the greatest perfection”. In its almost 50-year journey, Moss Wood’s cabernet reflects the best the best the vine and winemaker can do on a particular site at Wilyabrup, Margaret River. Lush and layered, fragrant, substantial and built for long cellaring, this is world-class, pure, cabernet.
Grove Estate The Italian Nebbiolo Sangiovese Barbera 2015 Grove Estate vineyard, Hilltops region, NSW $21.90–$25 “It’s one of the fruitiest things you’ve ever seen”, says winemaker Bryan Martin of barbera grown in the Hilltops region. The Italian red variety, the junior component of Grove Estate’s three-way Italian blend, stamps its character on the wine as soon as it’s poured. Fruit and more fruit mark the aroma and harmonious, delicious, medium-bodied palate. Acid gives freshness, too, and soft tannins support the fruit, while leaving it as the star act. Yum. Sophisticated, low-intervention winemaking gives the wine great purity, drinkability.
Lerida Estate Shiraz Viognier 2014 Lerida vineyard, Lake George, Canberra District, NSW $85 Lerida’s new release hits the market with solid credentials: two trophies from the NSW Small Winemakers Wine Show, and gold medals from the same wine show and the Winewise Small Vignerons Awards. However, showing the vagaries of wine judging, it missed out on a medal in the Canberra Regional Wine Show 2015, and I gave it a silver-medal score in a masked tasting in November 2015, where it was shaded by another Canberra wine from the stellar 2013 vintage. It’s a comparatively big, gorgeous expression of the regional style, with supple, mouth-filling, sweet fruit, supported by fine tannins.
Mr Riggs Riesling 2015 Kate’s block, Churinga vineyard, Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia $21.65–$24 Winemaker Mr Riggs – Ben to his friends – sources fruit for this wine from Watervale, the Clare Valley’s southernmost sub-region. It presents varietal, lemon- and lime-like citrus flavours on a delicate, bone-dry palate. The delicious fruit gives the wine a succulent mid-palate – and an impression of sweetness – before racy acidity cleans the palate, leaving a lingering, dry finish.
Mount Monster Shiraz 2014 Mount Monster vineyards, Padthaway, South Australia $13–$17 The Bryson family’s extensive vineyards at Padthaway (an hour’s drive north of Coonawarra on South Australia’s Limestone Coast), produce a number of wines under the Mount Monster, Morambro Creek and Jip Jip Rocks labels. The comparatively cool, maritime climate produces intensely flavoured, medium-bodied reds, like this appealing shiraz. Ripe and juicy, with cassis-like flavours, a touch of spice, and soft, easy tannins, it offers very good current drinking at a modest price.
Greywacke Pinot Gris 2014 Brancott Valley and Rapaura, Marlborough, New Zealand $28–$34 With David Hohnen, Greywacke’s Kevin Judd put Marlborough in drinkers’ minds in the eighties with the creation of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc. It wasn’t the first of the variety from the region, but it was the first to capture people’s attention. Judd later established Greywacke. He remains at the top of Marlborough’s quality pile with wines like this Alsacian-inspired pinot gris. An intentional whiff of sulphur in the aroma doesn’t appeal to me, but the thoroughly juicy, delicious palate forgives all. Delicate, intense, pear-like varietal flavours sits in a silky, plush texture of a sweetish but irresistible palate. High acidity offsets the sweetness in an harmonious expression of this wine style.
Grape and grain have been mixed before – for example in Saltram Pepperjack Ale, where Barossa shiraz juice provides a sugar boost for the fermentation. But it came as a complete surprise in March when BentSpoke brewer Richard Watkins and Wily Trout winemaker Will Bruce fomented the idea of combining hops with sauvignon blanc.
Watkins was to provide fresh hop flowers (from Rostrevor Farm, Ovens River) while Bruce was to allocate a ton of sauvignon blanc. As the de-stemmed grapes stirred into a natural ferment, Watkins committed his rare and precious hops.
For four months, skins, wine and hops fermented then slept together, begetting the quirkiest, most pungent fusion imaginable. Due for release in the next few months, most likely on tap at BentSpoke, the (as-yet-unfinished, un-named) sauvy-beer tastes delicious and dry, with whiffs of passionfruit and a grapefruit-like, tartness and bitterness.
Watch the Wily Trout and Bentspoke websites for the release date and visit again for my tasting note .
Cider and beer reviews
Napoleone Apple Cider (Yarra Valley, Victoria) 330ml $3.65 The Napoleone family grow grapes and fruit for their Punt Road and Airlie Bank wines and Napoleone ciders. They make beer too. Their basic apple cider – a delicate, dry style – shows the crunchy freshness the real real apples it was made from. The family makes several other pear and apple ciders.
Halvouston IPA (Scotland) 330ml $5.30 Halvouston claims to have used American hops since the 1980s, long before the hegemony of the USA west coast’s uber-hoppy IPAs. And an impressive wee drop it is, too: opulently malty, with strong citrus-like hops flavours (from four west coast varieties) and potent, lingering hops bitterness.
Canberra winemaker Hamish Young, formerly of Eden Road Wines, this week launched four wines under his new label, Mada Wines.
Young doesn’t own a vineyard or winery, but sourced grapes from local growers and made the wines alongside his old mate Nick O’Leary at Affleck Wines.
Word of the new wines scampered through the trade as soon as Young unscrewed the first samples. Pulp Kitchen, Monster Kitchen and Bar, XO Restaurant, and Bar Rochford all signed up, while Ainslie Cellars and Jim Murphy’s became the first retailers to support the new brand.
Taking the lead from Ravensworth Wines’ Bryan Martin, Young installed a ceramic egg-shaped fermenter ahead of the vintage. “I bought it especially for making riesling”, he says. But he also used it to great effect in Mada Syrah Nouveau 2016, a delicious red included in the first release.
Meet the new Mada wines
Mada Wines Murrumbateman Canberra District Riesling 2016 Fruit source: Four Winds vineyard, Murrumbateman, NSW Grower John Collingwood $30 This is not your conventional Australian riesling, where makers focus on aromatics and delicacy by gently removing juice from skin, conducting cool ferments in stainless steel tanks and protecting the wine from air.
Young de-stemmed the bunches directly to the ceramic egg, but pressed a small amount of juice in to encourage the ferment. The fermentation took off spontaneously and after three weeks the now-dry wine was pressed off from the skins.
Together, the air-permeability of the egg and skin contact made the difference between Mada and your conventional riesling. “I wanted the skins to enhance some characters but not make it weird and whacky. It had to be delicious”, he says.
And it is. The colour appears slightly flat, without the burnished look we’re accustomed to. And the aroma emphasises Canberra riesling’s intense citrus character, without the floral layer. A touch of spice adds interest. Although the wine’s dry and just 11% alcohol, the palate continues the intense, varietal citrus theme of the aroma, with a great textural richness not normally seen in young riesling. The wine’s natural acidity gives a lovely, racy freshness to the finish.
Mada Wines Prunevale Hilltops Blanc 2016 (Gewurztraminer about 70%, pinot gris about 25%, the rest riesling) Fruit source: Brian Freeman vineyard, Hilltops, NSW $28 Young hales from Gisborne, New Zealand, home of sturdy gewürztraminer. He loves the variety and discovered a good patch of old vines on one of Brian Freeman’s vineyards. He says, “It’s a very phenolic variety and I decided to embrace the phenolics. I de-stemmed it, then a seven-day cold-soak in a fridge pulled out everything I wanted”. He then ran the juice to a stainless steel tank for fermentation. He fermented the other varieties separately and used them “to manage the phenolics”.
Gewurztraminer’s distinctive musk-like character drives the aroma and fresh, zippy flavour. The use of skin contact shows in the fleshy palate with its slightly grippy dry finish.
Mada Wines Wamboin Canberra District Pinot Gris 2016 Fruit source: Lambert family vineyard, Wamboin, NSW $28
Canberra’s vineyards vary in altitude from around 500 metres near Hall to over 800 metres on the Lake George Escarpment. The cooler conditions up here on the Lambert vineyard suit its old pinot gris vines. Young separated the fruit into three batches. He fermented half of it stainless steel tanks with minor grape solids; 35% of it in a combination of old and new oak barrels; and the rest on skins in an open fermenter.
Young’s picture above shows the dramatic difference in colour from batch to batch. He says the taste differences were just as dramatic. “How will this work?” he wondered, but in the end blended them all together.
The finished wine shows a slight bronze tint, typical of the variety (not surprising when you see the colour of the skin-ferment component). A pure, attractive, pear-like varietal aroma leads to a slick, juicy, lustrously textured palate, laden with pear-like flavours. The dry finishes comes with a mildly tannic tweak.
Mada Wine Syrah Nouveau Murrumbateman Canberra District 2016 (Includes 12% grenache) Quarry Hill vineyard, Murrumbateman, NSW $30 It seems the day of the fruity, fleshy, soft, drink-now current-vintage shiraz has finally come – and little wonder with wines of this calibre.
Young says the shiraz ripened earlier than the grenache, so he cold soaked it for a week to retard fermentation. When the grenache finally ripened he de-stemmed it onto the shiraz and let the ferment rip, on skins of course, for eight or nine days.
By now, he’d taken the riesling from the ceramic egg. He filled the egg with the red but had enough to fill an old oak puncheon, too. A few months later the egg and oak components looked very different.
The palate of the egg component had integrated quickly, giving a very clean, aromatic, expressive wine; while the barrel portion showed darker more brooding, savoury character.
The finished blend appeals immediately for its crimson colour, sweet, musk-like aroma, juicy, fruity, mouth-filling flavour and soft tannins.
Still in barrel, to be reviewed after bottling
Mada Wines Shiraz 2016 – from Yarrh vineyard, Murrumbateman
Mada Wines Shiraz 2016 – from Wily Trout vineyard, Spring Range
Pizzini King Valley Nona Gisella Sangiovese 2015 $21.50 Fred Pizzini released his first sangiovese in 1996. Twenty years later, the family a range of wines from the variety along with many other Italian-inspired wines. Winemaking includes cold maceration ahead of a hot fermentation – a combination that captures rich, bright fruit flavours and introduces more savoury characters to the wine. The wine has a light to medium colour and a mouth-watering, medium-bodied palate suggestive of plums, with a light dusting of herbs and fine tannins drying out the finish.
Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014 $28.50–$30 Variations in growing season temperatures largely account for the diversity of Australian shiraz styles. The big influences on temperature (including intra-day variations) are latitude, altitude and proximity (or not) to large bodies of water, especially the sea. Broadly, cooler areas produce more fragrant, spicy, lighter bodied wines than warmer ones. On that spectrum, McLaren Vale occupies its own special place, reflecting its warm climate, tempered by the cooling influence of St Vincent’s Gulf on its western boundary. The 2014 provides ripe, full drinking, with cherry-like fruit flavour and the Vale’s distinctive savoury tannins.
Bit o’ Heaven Think Outside the Circle Chardonnay 2016 $20 This wine comes from Brian Mullany’s Bit o’ Heaven vineyard in the Hilltops district, near Young, NSW. Mullany tends the vineyard, but sends the grapes to Cumulus Wines, Orange, for winemaking. The blend comprises 90 per-cent chardonnay and five per-cent each of viognier and muscadelle. The viognier component, though small, plays a big role in the wine’s texture and flavour. What would otherwise be a good, full-bodied, fresh young chardonnay, gains exotic apricot-like viognier varietal flavour and a slippery, smooth texture.
Helm Wines Premium Riesling 2016 – wine of the week Helm 1832 vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW $52 Although not released until October, Ken Helm’s 2016 Premium Riesling deserves a great blare of publicity. The wine marks Helm’s fortieth vintage and, largely through his tireless efforts, the rise of riesling to become Canberra’s signature white variety. The flagship of five Helm rieslings, Premium comes this year from a vineyard planted in 2008 from vines believed to be direct descendants of the James Busby collection of 1832. Helm says the Lustenberger vineyard, usual source of Premium, produced too little fruit this year and went to his Classic Dry blend. What a delicate, racy, thrilling riesling it is, with intense, citric varietal flavours, gripped by taut, refreshing acidity. The extra time in bottle between now and the October release should really bring out its beautiful fruit flavour.
Helm Wines Classic Dry Riesling 2016 Helm, Rawling and Lustenberger vineyards, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW $38 From the bumper 2016 riesling crop, Helm Classic Dry reveals more floral aromatics than the comparatively shy Premium version. The floral character flows through to a lively palate, where it combines with more lemon-like varietal flavour. The upfront fruit flavour gives drink-now appeal. But keen acidity cuts through from beginning to end, intensifying the flavour, refreshing the palate and ensuring the wine will evolve, as previous vintages have, for many years.
Grove Estate Shiraz Viognier 2014 Grove Estate vineyard, Hilltops region, NSW $31.45–$37 Awards won at a variety of wine shows generally indicate high quality. Grove Estate’s four bronze, one silver, four gold medals and a trophy therefore caught our attention. And the wine in our glass earned our own silver-medal score. This is highly aromatic, fruity-musky shiraz with juicy, mouth-filling, fruity-spicy flavours, supported by loads of soft, gentle tannins, with a slight astringency in the finish.
Dal Zotto Garganega 2015 Dal Zotto vineyards, King Valley, Victoria $24 The white variety garganega is widely planted in Italy, from Sicily to the Veneto region, where it plays the starring role in Soave (the name of a town as well as the wine). The Dal Zotto’s family’s version easily bears comparison with the best of Soave, albeit in a bright and fruity Australian style. At the cellar door in June, winemaker Michael Dal Zotto described the fruit flavour as mandarin-like. And indeed it was, in a delicate kind of way. This delicious fruit character cut through a smooth textured palate, with a savoury, tangy, dry finish – completing a distinctive and loveable dry white.
Dal Zotto Nebbiolo 2012 Dal Zotto vineyard, King Valley, Victoria $64 For a time, Michael Dal Zotto made wine in Piedmont’s Barolo region, home of the mighty but difficult nebbiolo grape. There he learned much about taming the variety’s fierce tannins. The key, he found, was a prolonged period of skin contact for the wine. He brought this practice back to the King Valley and in 2012 left the wine on skins for three weeks. The resulting wine shows nebbiolo’s pale colour and unique floral–savoury aroma. Similar flavours flow through to a taut and delicious palate, reminiscent in the tension between fruit and tannin of some of the very best pinots. However, the flavour is all nebbiolo and the tannins are more mouth gripping than in the firmest of pinots. You could call it a pinot for grown ups.
Chrismont La Zona Tempranillo 2013 Chrismont vineyards, King Valley, Victoria $23-40–$26 Two branches of the Pizzini family run distinctly different vineyards and wineries in Victoria’s King Valley. Fred Pizzini operates Pizzini wines, while his cousin Arnie Pizzini owns Chrismont. Chrismont’s La Zona label embraces the so-called Mediterranean varieties, chiefly Italian, but including Spain’s tempranillo. The wine combines sour cherry and -blueberry-like fruit flavours with earthy–savoury characters on a smooth, surprisingly soft palate.
Bridge Road Strong Scrumpy Cider (Beechworth, Victoria) 330ml $3.85 Sweet, bland, ciders dominate the popular market, but Ben Kraus gives us the real flavour of apples grown in the hills near Beechworth. He ferments the fresh-crushed juice with an English scrumpy yeast to delivery a 7.8 per-cent alcohol of suprising delicacy and purity, with a refreshing, dry finish.
In 1998, at the dawning of the craft beer boom, Adelaide-based Coopers launched its first strong vintage ale – a potent beer built for medium-term cellaring. It remained an on-again, off-again project for a few years, but since 2006 Coopers have produced the beer annually, with minor variations to the style.
The 2016 release combines rich maltiness and fruitiness derived from Cooper’s ale yeast, with an assertive hops affect. While the hops contribute aroma and flavour, their biggest impact, to my taste, is in an intense bitterness that harmonises with the sweet malt flavours.
The strong malt and hops input, together with an alcohol content of 7.5 per-cent and bottle conditioning gives vintage ale the ability to age for several years. We keep all of the past vintages at Schloss Shanahan. Though the oldest are fading now, we enjoy tasting the young, hoppy, bitter young beers alongside the mellow, malty older ones.
Cooper’s Extra Strong Vintage Ale 2016 375ml 6-pack $25 We occassionally compare older releases of Cooper’s Vintage ale from the Schloss Shanahan cellars with the current release. Invariably we taste and enjoy the gradual shift, over time, from hops dominance to mellow, sweet, maltiness. The just-released 2016 vintage (7.5 per cent alcohol), shows a harmony of opulent malt flavours and intense, lingering hops bitterness.