Yearly Archives: 2016

BentSpoke 18%-alcohol ale: brewer’s secret revealed

BentSpoke Cluster 18 – rich, harmonious and 18% alcohol
BentSpoke Cluster 18 – rich, harmonious and 18% alcohol.

BentSpoke Brewery’s Cluster 18 tastes as rich, warm. and harmonious as it looks, despite having an alcohol content of 18%. We visited the Braddon, Canberra, brewpub on a cold winter morning,  savoured every drop of our 200ml glass (prudently, that’s the only size available) and quizzed brewer Richard Watkins. How does he achieve such high alcohol content in a natural ferment?

My first encounter with a beer of this strength wasn’t so happy. About 20 years back, during the Australian International Beer Awards, we judged Samuel Adams Triple Bock, an epic beer: obsidian black, viscous and around 18% alcohol. It poured like syrup, had no bubble and smelled and tasted like Vegemite.

The brewers in our ranks marvelled at the technical achievement, but few enjoyed drinking such a strange beast. Some suggested spreading it on toast.

Watkins shared his brewing secret. Quite simple in principle. Taking the lead from the brewers of Tooheys Dry, he added enzymes to convert non-fermentable carbs to fermentable sugars. After that, he said, a normal ale yeast completed the job.

More remarkable than the technical achievement, however, is the creative genius that can visualise such a potent, velvety beer and deliver it so deliciously.

Flavouring beer with spawn of the devil
BentSpoke brown ale infused with tangelos, chic-covered coffee beans and fresh Canberra truffles.
BentSpoke Tour de Brune, infused with tangelos, choc-covered coffee beans and fresh Canberra truffles.

Tuber melanosporum (the black Périogord truffle) is now produced in commercial quantities in the high, cool country in Canberra’s vicinity. The black tuber’s ability to ripen underground in mid winter led to its banning by the church during the Middle Ages. Who else but Satan could’ve devised such a wickedly sensuous food?

Brewer Richard Watkins first added it to a beer infuser ( the hopinator) at his original haunt, Canberra’s Wig & Pen, but continued the practice when he set up BentSpoke brewpub in the Canberra suburb of Braddon.

The latest batch, weighing in at 8.2% alcohol and served only in 320ml glasses, leads off with malty flavours, strongly suffused with tart and citrus tang of tangelo. When tasted on 4 July, the chocolate, coffee bean and truffle remained in the background – though past experience suggests these earthier flavours will come through several days after the infusion is laid down.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

Wine review – Dal Zotto and Pizzini

Dal Zotto King Valley Rosato 2016 $17.35–$18Dal Zotto Rosato
At Dal Zotto cellar door recently Christian and Michael Dal Zotto noted the rising popularity of rosé. Their Rosato 2016, a dry style made from barbera (with a splash of sangiovese), reflects the family’s specialisation in Italian varieties. The glowing pale pink colour evoked warm summer days, though we tasted it on a miserably cold, wet one. The aroma and palate suggest red fruits like raspberry, strawberry and cherry – flavours that seem held together and invigorated by the variety’s high natural acidity, which also completes the dry, utterly refreshing finish. It’ll never be better than it is now in the full blush of youth.

Dal Zotto Pinot GrigioDal Zotto King Valley Pinot Grigio 2016 $19
So fresh and crisp is Dal Zotto pinot grigio it crunches tart and juicy in the mouth like a new season Granny Smith apple. A delicate flavour explosion combines apple and pear, on a light, softly textured palate that finishes ultra fresh and dry with a pleasant apple-like aftertaste. Winemaker Michael Dal Zotto says picking time is crucial for flavour in this sometimes-bland variety. Gentle, protective winemaking accounts for the wine’s delicacy, while four-months’ maturation on yeast lees, which are stirred periodically, adds subtly to the wine’s body and texture.

Pizzini MerlotPizzini King Valley Merlot 2013 $22
If you’re driving south to Melbourne, the Gateway Hotel, Wangaratta, offers delicious food and a decent wine list, including several good local wines by the glass. The Pizzini family’s merlot, from the nearby King Valley, provided sturdy drinking on a cold, wet winter’s night. This was real merlot – deeply coloured, with rich, ripe plummy fruit flavours and strong, mouth-gripping tannins. At three years’ age the fruit and tannin combine to give a unified flavour and textural experience, in a pleasing earthy, savoury, rustic style.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 2 and 3 July 2016 in
and  the Canberra Times

Wine review – Moppity Vineyards, Coldstream Hills, Tellurian, Chapel Hill, Tyrrell’s

Moppity Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2015 – Wine of the week
Moppity vineyards, Tumbarumba, NSW
Where chardonnay makes decent but not exciting wines at Moppity’s Hilltops vineyard, in higher, cooler Tumbarumba it’s a happier story. Up here, the grapes ripen fully with intense flavours and high natural acidity. Varietal flavours of grapefruit and nectarine reflect the cool climate, while high acidity gives the wine a brisk, vigorous character and accentuates its flavours. Fermentation and maturation in oak casks adds texture and subtle background flavours to an exciting, full-flavoured, amazingly fresh, zesty chardonnay capable of cellaring.

Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Reserve Tempranillo 2015
Moppity vineyards, Hilltops, NSW
With little demand for Hilltops semillon and chardonnay, Moppity vineyard owners Jason and Alicia Brown grafted the vines over to three clones of the Spanish red variety tempranillo. A couple of vintages on we can already see the variety suits the elevated Hilltops region. The brilliantly crimson-rimmed 2015 vintage combines vibrant fruit characters, reminiscent of blueberry and blackcurrant, with deeper black-olive-like savoury characters. On the medium-bodied palate, vivid fruit mixes with tempranillo’s assertive tannins to give a pleasing fruity–savoury flavour and firm, dry finish.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2015
Lower and upper Yarra Valley, Victoria
Well-known author James Halliday founded Coldstream Hills in the 1980s. Though the winery now belongs to Treasury Wine Estates, Halliday lives next door and maintains a keen interest in the wines, made by Andrew Fleming. In a vertical tasting of pinots at the winery last year, older Coldstream wines, especially the reserve bottlings, proved their ageing ability, while the younger wines showed the continuation of a sophisticated style. The 2015 shows the fruit depth of mature vineyards, clear varietal flavour definition and an overall harmony and complexity, partly based on winemaking techniques, including the inclusion of whole bunches in the fermentation.

Tellurian Nero d’Avola 2015
Heathcote, Victoria

Jancis Robinson says Sicily’s most widely planted red variety, nero d’Avola, is most likely a native of the island and was first described there in 1696 by a local botanist. The heat loving variety generally produces dark-coloured, tannic reds, once widely used to bolster paler wines. Several Australian vignerons now grow nero d’Avola. Tellurian’s version shows us a lighter coloured, medium-bodied version of the variety. The palate combines black-cherry and savoury flavours, bound up in the variety’s assertive tannins that give a burly grip and dryness to the finish.

Chapel Hill The Parson Shiraz 2015
McLaren Vale, South Australia

Indicative of the competitive wine market, the price of Chapel Hill’s excellent shiraz still specials for the same $15.20 a bottle it did last year. For that modest price you get a terrific McLaren Vale shiraz – ripe and full-flavoured, with the Vale’s fruity-spicy-savoury character. Clever winemaking tamed the wine’s tannins so that they give texture, grip and finish without any hard edges.

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Semillon 2015
Lower Hunter Valley, NSW
Tyrrell’s offers a range of Hunter semillons from the austere Vat 1 to this approachable Lost Block. Vat 1 and similar Hunter semillon styles, gather richer texture and deeper flavour with bottle age – sometimes for decades. But Lost Block, although low in alcohol (11 per cent), drinks well on release because it’s softer, with juicy, upfront fruit flavours. It’s smooth-textured, and light and fresh on the palate, with the region’s delicious lemongrass- and citrus-like flavours. As one of Australia’s distinctive regional specialties it offers tremendous value for money. The 2016 (not yet tasted) is now also in the market.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 29 June 2016 in the Canberra Times and CT app

Beer review – Almanac Beer Co, Founder Brewing

Almanac Beer Company Pumpkin Sour (San Jose, California) 375ml $19.80
Pumpkin Sour occupies a different beer universe than VB or Budweiser. A brown ale made from a tag team of yeasts and other microbes, then matured in bourbon and wine barrels, it hits the palate with a mighty eight per-cent alcohol and startling tart, sweet, sour flavours.

Founders Brewing Centennial IPA (Grand Rapids, Michigan) 355ml $4.70
The story of modern American India Pale Ale (IPA) is one of hops, hops and more hops, with sufficent sweet malt to absorb all that hoppy flavour and bitterness. The beers are best fresh and young as this one is – a fine example of opulent, luscious malt flavours balancing the delicious malt assault.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 29 June 2016 in the Canberra Times

Wine review – McCrae Mist Pinot Noir

McCrae Mist Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2015
Dan Murphy’s currently lists this little-known Mornington pinot at $17.99 a bottle, or $17.09 as part of a six-bottle buy – though the vintage isn’t stated online. Our bottle remained on the tasting bench for four days and it impressed without degradation throughout. We gained the impression of considerable whole-bunch influence – that is, stemmy–stalky characters accompanied by silky texture – though we’ve not verified the origins of that character with the maker. It worked well, though, seasoning the delicious underlying fruit and adding to the wine’s solid structure. Overall, an enjoyable pinot of some character.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

Wine review – Mount Horrocks, Yering Station, Katnook

Mount Horrocks Watervale Semillon 2015 $25–$30
Stephanie Toole’s semillon takes us a world away from the more austere, lemony-tart Hunter Valley styles. Picked early, often achieving only 10 or 11 per cent alcohol, and fermented without oak, the Hunter style generally need years to flesh out, then do so delightfully. Mount Horrocks is harvested riper (achieving 13 per cent alcohol), produced from the finest component of the juice and fermented entirely in new and older French oak barrels. The extra ripeness, combined with barrel fermentation and maturation, gives full-flavoured though still lemon-like semillon, with a rich but delicate texture and super tangy, fresh, dry finish.

Yering Station Yarra Valley Village Pinot Noir 2014 $19.20–$24
No matter which of Yering Station’s pinots you buy, from the $14.40 Little Yering to the $100 Reserve, you get the real flavour, texture and drinking satisfaction of the variety. They just vary in their intensity. The mid-price Village wine ($19.20 for members at cellar door) captures much of pinot’s excitement. The aroma combines red-berry varietal character with more savoury–earthy winey notes. The palate reflects the strongly varietal aroma and supports the fruit flavour with its silky texture and strong, fine, drying tannins.

Katnook Estate Founder’s Block Coonawarra Shiraz 2015 $15.90–$20
Cabernet remains the main game in Coonawarra, but shiraz, present in the area since the earliest days, at its best makes fine-boned, long-lived reds. The earlier wines, when little oak was used, showed the way with this variety. Winemakers rediscovered the beauty of those early wines this century, following a period in the 90s when oak and extractive winemaking swamped the inherent fruit quality of many wines. Katnook’s entry-level shiraz represents the riper end of the Coonawarra spectrum with a distinctive jam-like fruitiness to love or hate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 26 June 2016 in the Canberra Times

Wine review – Four Winds, Bit O Heaven, Angullong, Ross Hill, West Cape Howe

Four Winds Vineyard Shiraz 2015 – wine of the week
Four Winds, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Graeme and Suzanne Lunney planted Four Winds vineyard in 1998 during a period of rapid wine industry expansion, driven by Hardys’ arrival in Canberra. Two daughters and their husbands now run the business: Sarah and John Collingwood manage marketing and viticulture respectively, while Jaime and Bill Crowe make the wines. Their 2015 shiraz shows all the beauty of the Canberra style in an exceptional vintage. Fragrant and alluring, it drips with vivid, ripe-berry and -spice flavours on an elegant, medium-bodied palate, featuring fine but assertive tannins that harmonise with the sweetness of the fruit.

Four Winds Vineyard Sangiovese 2015
Four Winds, Murrumbateman, Tumblong Estate, Gundagai, NSW


Owner Sarah Collingwood writes, “We are aiming for all of our grapes to be estate grown and we are in the process of grafting over some of our merlot to achieve this”. In the meantime, sangiovese from Gundagai complements the estate-grown stuff in an impressive local shot at this Italian variety. It’s a shade paler in colour than the shiraz reviewed today, but that’s normal for sangiovese. Bright, fresh, sour-cherry-like fruit flavours give the wine life and instant appeal. Typically for sangiovese, quite strong tannins encase the fruit creating a tasty arm-wrestle between the sweetness of the fruit and the savour, grip and dryness of the tannins.

Bit O Heaven Wines Think Outside the Circle Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Coolbagh and Charlies blocks, Hilltops, NSW

Brian Mullany’s obscure Bit O Heaven wine drew attention to itself last year when it won gold medals in the Canberra Regional Wine Show and then the National Wine Show of Australia. Mullany, a partner in the better-known Grove Estate, owns with other family members a separate vineyard between Wombat and Young. These provide grapes for the Bit O Heaven wines, made by Wine Insights which recently relocated winemaking from Griffith to Cudal, near Orange. This is juicy, elegant cabernet, balancing pure, youthful berry flavours with the variety’s assertive tannins. Available at

Angullong Crossing Reserve Shiraz 2013
Angullong vineyards, Orange Region, NSW

The Crossing family dedicated the company’s new flagship red to their father, Bill Crossing, who died suddenly in October 2015. It’s made from a parcel of grapes from a single block on the family’s extensive holdings. Ben Crossing writes, “Year on year, this particular block produces grapes with more character, balance and concentration of flavour”. In the exceptional 2013 vintage, that translates to a more powerful shiraz than we’d normally expect from the cool Orange region. Deep, sweet, spicy, fruit flavours are backed by strong, savoury tannins derived both from the grape and maturation in oak barrels.

Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Home block, Griffin Road vineyard, Orange, NSW

Ross Hill continues today’s run excellent wines from the western slopes of the Great Divide, southern NSW. Orange’s high altitude vineyards (750-metres in this instance) produced intense, clear varietal flavours in the sauvignon blanc grape, albeit if not with the same exuberance as those from Marlborough, New Zealand. Spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts produced a wine of clear but subtle sauvignon character – herbal but not pungent, with a soft, round palate and delicious, chalky dry finish. It shows that sauvignon, like all grape varieties, enjoys a spectrum of styles for adventurous palates to explore.

West Cape Howe Chardonnay 2015
Western Australia
Sauvignon blanc, led by the New Zealanders, remains Australia’s favourite white wine. However, Australian winemakers grow and make more chardonnay than they do sauvignon blanc. The best are fermented and matured in oak barrels and are notably fuller bodied than sauvignon blanc. Winemaker Gavin Berry takes West Cape Howe down another path, with minimal oak input and maximum vibrant tropical fruit flavours. It’ll appeal as much to sauvy drinkers as it will to chardonnay lovers.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 22 June 2016 in the Canberra Times and CT app

Black day for Canberra’s Wig and Pen

Dark solace for winter solstice

June 21 marked a black day for the Wig and Pen, Canberra’s oldest brewpub. “We’re launching a huge dark fest, featuring 10 dark beers”, says brewer Frazer Brown.

The exotic line up of malty winter warmers comprises four existing Wig and Pen favourites and six new brews, including a Pact and Pen collaborative porter.

Black beers signify sweet, malty richness, strong roasted-grain flavours – reminiscent of coffee, caramel and chocolate – and often accompanied by an elevated, warming alcohol content.

The line up includes traditional porter and stout styles, ranging from a thunder-in-the-brain Russian Imperial Stout (8.9 per cent alcohol) to a gentle, milk-coffee and chocolate-like London Porter (5.9 per cent). More exotic creations are Elephunk, a fusion between brown ale and IPA, and Bricks and Porter, a smoky Belgian porter style.

The Wig will offer all 10 beers for the first few days of Dark Fest, then a rotating set of five in the following weeks.

Beer reviews

Brewcult Gingerbread Maniac 330ml (Derrimut, Victoria) $8
Keeping with today’s dark and warming theme, Brewcult offers something sweet, spicy and alcoholic (eight per cent). Cinnamon and vanilla join ginger in the brew, but ginger dominates the aroma and  sweet, tangy palate. It finishes fresh and clean, with an aftertaste of dark chocolate and ginger.

Pact Beer Co Brickworks Brown Ale (Canberra) 330ml 6-pack $25
Pact’s new release could easily pass as a porter or stout with its deep brown-black colour and rich, warming aroma. The palate combines the chocolate- and coffee-bean-like flavours of roasted grain, cut with pleasantly tart and tangy hops, which give a fresh, clean dryness to the finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 22 June 2016 in the Canberra Times

Wine review – Estandon, Katnook Estate, Mount Langi Ghiran

Estandon Heritage Cotes de Provence Rosé 2015 $20
The Cotes de Provence part of France’s vast Provence region, specialises in light, soft rosé, which accounts for the great majority of the area’s wine production. The blush-pink colour and delicate, fruity aroma conjure images of summer haze, soft colours, the aroma of wild herbs and simple, fresh Provencal food. The wine sits light, fresh, round and soft on the palate, with a refreshingly fruity-savoury dry finish. It’s a blend of the red varieties grenache, cinsault and syrah – with a splash of white vermentino. The wine’s blush comes from a very brief maceration on skins before the grapes are pressed.

Katnook Estate Founders Block Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $17.95–$20
Katnook’s wine connection dates from Coonawarra’s first vintage, when industry founder, John Riddoch, processed his 1896 vintage in Katnook’s woolshed. Though now part of Spain’s Freixinet Group, Katnook wines continue to be made by Wayne Stehbens who had his first vintage there in 1979. Coonawarra’s second largest producer shows its class and versatility with this pure and solid expression of the regional cabernet style. It combines cassis- and black-olive-like varietal fruit flavours on a medium-bodied palate, but through with the variety’s assertive, firm tannins. It’s a roast lamb or steak wine for sure and very satisfying.

Mount Langi Ghiran Billi Billi Victoria Shiraz 2013 $17–$20
The Rathbone family’s Mount Langi Ghiran makes delightfully, peppery, fine-boned shiraz in Victoria’s Grampians region. Wines include one of Australia’s most exciting cool-climate shirazes, The Langi ($110–$120) and Cliff Edge ($27–$32, a more affordable yet still excellent example of the regional style. Billi Billi, the lowest priced of Mount Langi’s red, combines shiraz from the Grampians, Swan Hill and Heathcote. It leans more to bright fruit flavours and spice than the peppery, savoury character of the more expensive wines. But it echoes the house style with its medium body and fine, drying tannins.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 19 June 2016 in the Canberra Times

Wine review – Gramp and Son St Hugo, Penfolds, Pikes, Ross Hill, Red Knot, Jim Barry

Gramp and Son St Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – wine of the week
Coonawarra and Barossa, South Australia

In the fickle world of corporate wine marketing, St Hugo began life in the 1980s as a Coonawarra cabernet under the Orlando banner. Early this century, it joined cellar mate Jacob’s Creek’s portfolio in a failed bid to add an upmarket layer to the budget brand. Now, a revenant St Hugo stands in its own right, albeit with a nod in subtext to Gramp and Sons, Orlando’s founders. The new release – a blend of Coonawarra cabernet and Barossa shiraz – hits the right balance between fleshy, earthy, soft shiraz and elegant, firm cabernet. It’s a completely satisfying, elegant red with long-term cellaring potential.

Penfolds Max’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Barossa Valley, Padthaway, South Australia

Max’s cabernet continues the Penfolds tradition of multi-regional blending to achieve a particular wine style – in this instance a typically full, chewy cabernet that combines savoury richness with bright fruit and elegant structure. The bright blackcurrant-like varietal fruit and elegance probably comes from the cool-grown Limestone Coast components (Wrattonbully, Coonawarra and Padthaway) – with savour and chocolaty richness from warmer McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley. It’s a bright and fresh modern red, with distinctive Penfolds solidity.

Pikes The Assemblage Shiraz Mourvedre Grenache 2014
Polish Hill River, Clare Valley, South Australia

From Clare’s cooler Polish Hill River sub-region, Pikes blend combines summer-berry-like fruit aromas with spice, and an underlying earthy, savoury character. The medium bodied palate reflects the aroma, giving richness without heaviness and finishing with soft, fine tannins. Winemaker Neil Pike writes, “The 2014 vintage was another really good year for shiraz-based reds in the Clare Valley”.

Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Pinot Gris 2014
Ross Hill Wallace Lane vineyard, Orange, NSW
It doesn’t get much higher or cooler in Orange than Ross Hill’s Wallace Lane vineyard at 1015 metres altitude. The cool site brings out the varietal character of pinot gris, and winemaker Phil Kerney captures it. He presses juice from whole bunches direct to tank for fermentation by ambient yeasts. The wine is pale and bright, with delicate pear-like varietal aroma and succulent, finely textured palate. Fresh acidity and a little bite of tannin give a clean, drying, savoury finish.

Red Knot Classified Shiraz 2014
Shingleback vineyards, McLaren Vale, South Australia

Shingleback makes a couple of reds for Woolworths under the Red Knot label. “Classified” is a new product in the range, priced at about $6 a bottle above the standard McLaren Vale shiraz. Unlike the standard wine, “Classified” is all estate grown, selected for its greater flavour depth and body and all matured in oak barrels. The result is a very good McLaren Vale shiraz, offering medium-to-full body, rich, clean varietal flavour and solid tannin structure.

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Riesling 2016
Jim Barry Lodge Hill vineyard, Clare Valley, South Australia
Just four months after vintage the Barry family’s riesling’s in bottle and ready to drink. Bottling often mutes riesling, but this one wafts from the glass with exuberant floral and citrus aromas. The equally vivacious palate absolutely sings with the same floral and citrus varietal character. The sheer fruitiness takes the edge off the acidity, and makes for joyous, bone-dry drinking right now. But there’s flavour intensity, delicacy and texture here, too, and this points to good cellaring potential. It’s a wine to give drinking pleasure now in its youth and across the next decade as the flavours change with time.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 15 June 2016 in the Canberra Times  and CT app