Wine reviews – Whitton Farm and Collector Wines – Canberra winemakers, Hilltops grapes

Whitton Farm Hilltops Fiano 2019 $27
The fiano grape, originally from Campania, southern Italy, makes distinctive, full-flavoured dry whites. Jancis Robinson says the variety was first mentioned in 1240, while others speculate it may have been the variety behind the ancient Roman wine Apianum. The heat-tolerant variety finds a home in increasing number of Australian vineyards, including Bryan Mullany’s Grove Estate in the Hilltops region, near Young, NSW. Whitton Farm owner Caleb Wearne says he made the wine (in the Nick O’Leary winery, Wallaroo) as he would a riesling. He cold fermented the juice to preserve the varietal fruit character. But ‘it’s a tough-skinned grape’, he says, requiring harder pressing than riesling and resulting in skin character in the wine – detectable as lightly gripping tannins. At just 12% alcohol, it’s a lighter bodied, full flavoured wine, with herbal aroma and a mouth-watering palate, reminiscent of sweet but pleasantly tart melon-rind. It remains vibrant and fresh almost three years after vintage. Available at

Collector Summer Swarm Hilltops Fiano 2019 $28
Like the Whitton Farm fiano above, Collector Summer Swarm comes from the Hilltops region (Peter Mullany vineyard, near Wombat). However, winemaker Alex McKay takes a different tack to Caleb Wearne, fermenting the wine on grape solids rather than as clear juice. McKay’s approach produces a similarly rich, tangy, pleasantly tart dry white, but the solids’ ferment gives a background texture and subtle character reminiscent of ‘struck match’. I like this winemaker-induced seasoning as it adds another dimension to the varietal flavour. But it may not be to everyone’s taste. It’s certainly worth enjoying Collector and Whitton Farm together to compare two quite exciting versions of the variety. Since the tasting Collector sold out of the 2019 vintage and now offers the 2021. I’ve not tasted it yet. Available at

Whitton Farm Hilltops Corvina 2019 $35
Whitton Farm offers this delightful, local twist on those, medium-bodied Verona region reds, Valpolicella and Bardolino. The traditional Italian blend combines corvina veronese, rondinella and molinara. But Canberra winemaker Caleb Wearne opts for corvina, sourced from Brian Freeman’s extensive Italian-focused vineyard in the Hilltops region, NSW. Wearne made the first vintage, 2018, as a traditional pump-over red, resulting in heroic tannins, fit to suck the water from the brain. In 2019 he  mollified the tannins and preserved beautiful fruit flavour by using carbonic maceration (uncrushed berries) with a small portion traditionally fermented. The result is a mid-hued red with vibrant, floral and musk-like fruit aroma; the fruitiness washes across the palate, too, then the assertive tannins sweep through, giving a taut, savoury finish.

© Chris Shanahan 2021