Category Archives: Wine review

Wine review – Tahbilk 1860s vines shiraz

Tahbilk vineyard and winery on the Goulburn River and its anabranch, central Victoria

On 1 August 1860, Tabilk Vineyard Proprietary paid Hugh Glass £5/10/00 an acre for 640 acres (260 hectares) of land on the Goulburn River, central Victoria. Tabilk appointed Mr T Marie to establish a vineyard, and by year’s end he’d planted 26 hectares of vines. Shiraz vines Marie planted all those years ago survive and continue to make wine.

Tahbilk shiraz vine, planted 1860 by Mr T Marie

Owner Alister Purbrick believes they’re the third oldest shiraz vines in the world after two Barossa Valley vineyards, Langmeil (1843) and Turkey Flat (1847). However, claims Purbrick, the Barossa vineyards combine younger vines with the originals, where the Tahbilk vineyard remains 100% 1860 originals.  

Let’s cast our minds back to 1860. As the USA inched towards civil war, those shiraz cuttings took root half a world away at Tahbilk. Dark-horse Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election. Little Ned Kelly lived unnoticed in Her Majesty’s colony, Victoria. And the Eureka miners’ rebellion lay six years in the past – ancient history to leading rebel, Peter Lalor, now representing South Grant in a reformed Victorian parliament.

The years ticked by: Ned Kelly became man, died on the gallows, and rose again as legend. In 1901 Victoria and fellow colonies formed the new democracy of Australia.

Time passed. Australian women won the vote. World War I, death and maiming of young men on horrendous scale. The roaring twenties. The Great Depression. World War II. Post-war prosperity and immigration. Cold war. White Australia morphed to European-focused multi-culturalism. 1967: Australia’s aboriginal people win limited recognition and the vote. Vietnam War. Australian multi-culturalism embraces people of the world in new waves of immigration. 1992: Eddie Mabo case, native title replaces terra nullius. Sydney Olympics. 911. Kevin 07. GFC. Donald Trump. Covid-19.

Across those decades, century, and more decades, Tahbilk’s 1860 shiraz vines grew, bore fruit, and became wine. 

They survived as others on the estate withered and died, victims of the vine pest phylloxera, devastator of European and Victorian vineyards.

Of Tahbilk’s 1860 shiraz vines, Victorian Government viticulturist, Francois de Castella, observed in the late 1920s, ‘…the vines have survived the insect in a truly remarkable manner owing to the sandy nature of the sub-soil…are not suffering at all from the presence of the insect…’

Alister and Eric Purbrick

de Castella’s wider advice guided Tahbilk’s new owner, Reginald Purbrick. In 1925 Purbrick bought the property from London without inspection. In 1931 his son Eric moved from London to Tahbilk. He managed the property and made wine for the remainder of a long life, interrupted only by World War II service. Eric’s son John established a marketing arm in Sydney and, in time, John’s son Alister, a Roseworthy winemaking graduate, joined Tahbilk as CEO and winemaker alongside grandfather Eric. Alister’s daughter Hayley Purbrick joined Tahbilk in 2009.

Alister modernised Tahbilk’s winemaking with dramatic impact on the whites, extended the vineyards, and added new wine varieties. However, the two reds reviewed here offer refinements of a distinctive Tahbilk style developed by Eric during his long husbandry of the estate.

Tahbilk 1860 Vines Nagambie Lakes Shiraz 2015 $342
Tahbilk reds tend to be medium bodied with a strong backbone of tannin, as we saw in an extensive tasting of back vintages on site in 2005. But Alister Purbrick says, ‘If the tannins show, we haven’t done our job’. In that regard 2015 1860 vines shiraz appears to be the perfect vintage, combining intense fruit flavour and persistent, soft tannins. Although powerful in flavour, structure and savour, it’s elegant, refined, and tasting young and fresh at five years’ age. Purbrick says it’s fermented in small, open vats, with tannins extracted by gentle pump-overs, not the more extractive techniques of header boards or cap plunging. It was matured in small French oak casks, 50% new, 50% older. A beautiful and distinctive red.

Tahbilk Eric Stevens Purbrick Nagambie Lakes Shiraz 2015 $72
Alister says his grandfather first released his flagship Bin 11 Shiraz in 1948, a blend of the best barrels. Alister continued the style and admits ‘in the biggest mistake I’ve made’ changed the name from Bin 11 to ‘Reserve’ in 1985. From 2002 the name changed again to Eric Stevens Purbrick. Though still in the medium bodied style, ESP’s notably fuller than the 1860s vines red, with a little flesh added by the use of American as well as French oak. The wine combines fruit and savour with firm structure in harmony with the fruit.  


  • Tahbilk Purbrick family, five generations
  • Chateau Tahbilk: story of a vineyard 1860–1985, Enid Moodie Heddle and Frank Doherty, Lothian Publishing Company Pty Ltd, third edition, 1985
  • Phone interview Alister Purbrick, Chris Shanahan April 2020

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2020

Ode to an oldie – a salute to Len Evans, Keith Tulloch, Vintage Cellars

Vintage Cellars Hunter Valley Shiraz 1997

Covid-19 Chateau Shanahan cellar clean-up. What’s this? Vintage Cellars Hunter Valley Shiraz 1997, last bottle of a dozen. It’s dinner time for you old friend. Upstairs of course. Nowhere else to go. Will it be OK?

No ullage. Cork intact.

Appearance: limpid, light to medium hue, fading red colour but not brown. Encouraging for a 23-year-old bought for less than $10 a bottle. Fingers crossed.

Aroma: savoury, earthy, Hunter, still fruity, meshed with the warm, gamey decay of age.

Palate: medium bodied, flavour reflecting the aroma, aged but fruity, with fine, grippy, savoury tannins. In the old ‘Hunter Burgundy’ style: elegant but earthy, idiosyncratic. Clean, fresh.

If only all cellared reds scrubbed up so well.


In the mid-1990s Hunter-based Len Evans introduced the wine to us at Vintage Cellars, the fine wine brand of Liquorland Australia, the retail liquor arm of what was then Coles Myer Limited.

We liked the wine and its provenance: medium bodied in the traditional regional style, sourced from the highly regarded Somerset vineyard, Pokolbin, and made by Hunter veteran Keith Tulloch.

Traditional’ and ‘medium bodied’ sound normal descriptors now for a Hunter shiraz. But it went against an Australian trend in the late 1990s towards powerful reds, often laden with oak. We saw this even in regions noted for elegant reds – for example the Hunter and Coonawarra. A good number of makers wisely avoided the trend. But for those of us judging at wine shows during this period, the heavy styles, largely the result of winemaking inputs, were widespread.

I liked the wine enough to buy a dozen bottles. It provided good drinking over the following 10 years. However, the last bottle sat there more by neglect than design until the Covid-19 clean-up unearthed it.

What a rare and lovely regional oldie. Here’s to the late Len Evans, Keith Tulloch and my old mates at Vintage Cellars.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2020

Wine review – Holm Oak, Tasmania

Holm Oak The Protegé Tasmania Pinot Noir 2019 $25
Paint dries, grass grows and covid-19 lock-down drags on, relieved by two delicious Holm Oak pinots. Tim Duffy tends the vines, Bec Duffy makes the wine and over time their pinots evolved to deeper, richer, more textured styles. Medium-bodied Protegé brims with vibrant, varietal fruit aromas and flavours. But an underlying savour gives depth and interest to the palate, with fine, firm tannins completing the finish of a very good, reasonably priced pinot.

Holm Oak The Wizard Tasmania Pinot Noir 2018 $65
A deeper, darker wine, The Wizard delivers a broader spectrum of pinot varietal flavour than Protegé on a denser, more concentrated palate – a rich, chewy amalgam of fruit, savour and fine, strong tannins. The tannins combine spicy, lightly charry oak-derived elements (French oak) and silky fruit tannins. It’s medium bodied and lovely to drink now, but a few years’ bottle age should add an interesting new dimension.

Order online.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2020

Wine review – Soumah’s opulent chardonnay

Soumah Equilibrio Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2017 $80
Soumah’s first-release Equilibrio sits at the plush end of the chardonnay spectrum, offering no beg-pardons for hugely opulent fruit and assertive barrel-derived flavours. The price might appear steep, but Soumah provides pure, sensuous drinking pleasure way beyond the everyday. The maker says the wine’s blended from the best barrels of chardonnay made from the Mendosa clone, noted for its richness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2019

Wine review – Andrew Thomas Wines, 2017 shiraz

A warm dry 2017 growing season produced comparatively strong, full-flavoured shiraz in the Hunter Valley, albeit within the area’s medium-bodied mould. Our panel of four tasted Andrew Thomas’s vintage offerings and found considerable style variation – from taut and savoury to soft and opulent.

We tasted the wines masked and in random order.  We knew what was in the lineup, but not the order. Our reviews below follow their sequence in the tasting.

Belford Shiraz 2017 $45
Single vineyard, Belford sub-region, first release

Deep but not opaque, with crimson rim; pure, high-toned fruity aroma with hint of sweet vanillin oak; full, concentrated palate reflecting the aroma but with more oak than the nose suggests and quite firm, fine tannins. Oak nose emerged more with time, along with a savoury, earthy aftertaste.

Sweetwater Shiraz  $35
Single vineyard, Sweetwater Ridge

Similar hue to the Belford wine; strong, earthy–savoury aroma, meaty, charcuterie; meaty, charcuterie palate with underlying fruit sweetness and lean, tight tannins.Over time, sweet fruit aroma and flavour emerged more strongly.

Kiss $85
Single vineyard wine, the Thomas flagship

Deep colour, with crimson rim; savoury and charcuterie aroma combined with sweet fruit and oak; the powerful palate combines intense, fleshy fruit, with mouth-filling tannins and assertive oak flavours. Two  tasters perceived bitterness in the oak aftertaste. However, a wine of this great dimension ought to absorb the fruit fully as it matures over the decades.

The Cote 2017 $35
New release, single vineyard, the Cote d’Or, Central Pokolbin

Medium to deep colour with intensely crimson rim; lovely combination of sweet fruit and savour on the nose; strong, grippy palate, earthy, savoury, charcuterie, with tight, firm, lingering tannic finish.

DJV 2017 $35
From the alluvial flats of Hermitage Road

Medium to deep with crimson rim; subdued aroma combining fruit with savour; lean, tight palate, grippy and tannic but with sweet, juicy fruit under; structure reminiscent of Burgundy (but not the flavour).

Two of a Kind 2017 $25
A blend: Hunter Valley 55%, McLaren Vale 45%

Deep, not opaque, with crimson rim; earthy, savoury aroma with hint of underlying fruit; intensely fruity palate, buoyant and sweet, with soft, fine tannins. Juicy and loveable.

The Dam Block 2017 $45
From an 0.8ha block adjacent to old-vine Kiss shiraz
Deep with crimson, not opaque; aroma combines sweet red fruits with savour and oak, most enticing; powerful, concentrated flavour, round and mouth filling, cut with soft, dry, tannins. Impressive.

Synergy 2017 $25
Blend of old-vine vineyards
Medium to deep with crimson rim; aroma combines fruit, spice and savour; lively palate, tight and tannic, but woven in with vibrant berry fruit flavours. Agreeable now and with some ageing potential.

Elenay 2017 $55
Selected barrels blended from Sweetwater, Kiss, Belford and Dam Block vineyards
Deep with intense crimson rim; big, rich aroma of ripe, sweet fruit laced with sweet oak, in harmony; full, powerful palate, saturated with ripe fruit, but the fruit countered by equally rounded, soft tannins, of fruit and oak origin. The oak is apparent but sympathetic. The group’s favourite.

The Andrew Thomas 2017 shiraz tasting: four tasters, masked wines.

© Copyright Chris Shanahan 2019

Canberra shiraz: revolutionary new Clonakilla wine, gold-medal Mount Majura

Clonakilla Murrumbateman Syrah 2017 $108
Of medium hue, lighter in colour than Western Vineyard Syrah and Shiraz Viognier reviewed below, Syrah 2017 offers sweet aromas of dark fruits, cut with savoury notes. The palate’s full but fine, with tight tannins adding structure and additional savour to the deep fruit. Summed up as subtle, sensuous and powerful.

Clonakilla Murrumbateman Western Vineyard Syrah 2017
Western Vineyard 2017’s bold fruit, soaring oak, and stalky whole-bunch flavours take it in an entirely different direction from Syrah 2017’s subtle power or Shiraz Viognier’s floral, succulence. Alone of the three Clonakilla flagships, it’s matured in all-new oak, perhaps the biggest single contributor to its attention-getting style. Even at this early stage of its evolution, the whole appears greater than the sum of its parts – even if the parts stand out individually for now. This is a revolutionary Clonakilla wine to revisit in future. Winemaker Tim Kirk says he made only 150 dozen for release in a mixed six-pack to loyal customers before Christmas 2019.

Clonakilla Murrumbateman Shiraz Viognier 2017 $108
Brilliantly coloured and limpid, Shiraz Viognier shows the classic Clonakilla style: violet-like, spicy, fruity aroma; assertively structured on the palate, in the gentlest way, with distinctive spice and pepper pervading the succulent palate.

Mount Majura Vineyard Shiraz 2017 $30.40–$38
A winner of gold medals in the 2018 NSW Small Winemaker Wine Show and Canberra and Region Wine Show, Mount Majura holds the drinker’s interest from the first sip to the last drop. First impressions are of spice and savour, both in the aroma and palate. But sweet, vibrant fruit pushes through the charcuterie-like savour and spice, while fine tannins give satisfying grip and structure.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2019

Grenache review – Clonakilla and Heidenreich

Grenache deserves more credit than it gets says Clonakilla winemaker Tim Kirk.

Speaking at a Canberra tasting in late April 2019, Kirk rated Chateau Rayas 1990 as one of the three greatest wines he’d tried. The current vintage of this all-grenache red from France’s Chateauneuf du Pape area (southern Rhone Valley), sells for around $900. And the legendary 1990 may still be found for $2000–$4000.

For that price you could buy two to four tonnes of Australian grenache grapes (average $1016 a tonne in vintage 2018). Lending credibility to Kirk’s faith in the variety, the price of grenache price exceeded that of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and merlot and was on a par with pinot noir and tempranillo – making the trio, on average, the priciest red wine grapes in Australia in 2018.

While Rayas 1990 stands apart, in both France and Australia, high yields for grenache has meant historically a tendency to produce light bodied, undistinguished table wines. At the same time, grenache contributed to many of the superb ‘ports’ produced in Australia’s warmer areas and, because of its light colour and fragrance, was and remains a delicious rosé variety.

Visibility of grenache in more serious Australian reds grew in the 1980s through the work of the Barossa Valley’s ‘Rhone Rangers’. This small group dedicated itself to making earthy, savoury, spicy reds from the Barossa’s treasure trove of old-vine Rhone Valley varieties, grenache, mourvedre and shiraz.

Of the three, shiraz remains the most widely grown and best known to drinkers. But over the decades mourvedre (aka mataro) and grenache became familiar in warm-climate blends with shiraz – a style popularly known as GSM (grenache shiraz mourvedre).

Clonakilla Murrumbateman Ceoltoiri 2018 $36

As these generous, spicy blends came originally from warm to hot regions, the arrival a few years back of Clonakilla Ceoltoiri from Murrumbateman, in the Canberra District, surprised those of us who’d assumed the area too cool to ripen the Rhone varieties.

This turned out to be deliciously not the case. Though lighter bodied than the warm-climate originals, Ceoltoiri nevertheless offers the blend’s fragrance, spice, juicy fruit flavours and supple, soft texture. The warm 2018 vintage gives Ceoltoiri a little more richness than usual. Kirk says, ‘It’s over 60% grenache, with five other varieties. It’s an ode to the southern Rhone’. The other varieties are mourvedre, shiraz, cinsault, counoise and a drop of the white variety roussanne.

This is a fine, elegant expression of a grenache blend.

Introducing Heidenreich Barossa Valley Grenache 2016 $28

In 1936, Rufus Armein Heidenreich planted grenache vines at Vine Vale on the Barossa Valley’s eastern ridge. Eighty years later his granddaughter Liz harvested grapes from those vines and made the first grenache to appear under her new Heidenreich label.

Liz writes, ‘This area of vineyard is located along the eastern edge of the Barossa Valley, which was one of the first areas settled in the 1840s due to its deep, sandy, loam soils and water-holding capacity in non-irrigated vineyards. The gully breeze that is prevalent in this area helps keep grapes cool during the hot ripening season, and retains natural acidity and freshness’.

Place fruit from these lovingly tended old vines in the care of an experienced winemaker and you get an exceptional expression of warm-climate grenache.

Liz says she made the wine in an open-top, four-ton fermenter, gently plunging the skin twice daily for colour and flavour ‘without extracting bitter seed tannins’. After fermentation, the wine matured in French oak hogsheads, 10% new, the rest 2–4 years of age. Clearly, her aim was to mature the wine without inserting overt oaky flavours.

The wine displays the red-berry fruits of the variety, along with spice and deeper savoury notes. The generous, supple palate ripples with ripe, juicy fruit flavours, supported by soft tannins and boosted by the underlying savour first noted in the aroma. This is an excellent straight grenache, demonstrating the great appeal of warm-grown reds.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2019

Illuminati Riparosso – enduring, satisfying Abruzzi red wine

Dino and Stefano Illuminati in the vineyard, Contraguerra, Teramo Province, Abruzzi, Italy. Dino’s grandfather founded the family estate in 1890.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riparosso 2016 (Illuminati)  $9.50–$14
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Ilico 2015 (Illuminati)  $14.30–­$14.99

Illuminati’s Riparosso first arrived in Australia in 1991 following a Farmer Bros buying trip to Italy. People immediately took to the savoury, medium-bodied red and it became the company’s biggest selling Italian red. When Farmer Bros collapsed in the mid nineties, importation and sales direct to consumers continued through Coles and later Woolworths, the current importer.

In theory, cutting out the wholesaler gives the retailer a greater profit opportunity. But as other retailers do the same, the potential gain is substantially competed away, meaning lower prices.

This is good news for drinkers and Chateau Shanahan continues to enjoy Riparosso as much now as 28 years ago when those first containers rolled off the ships.

We recently enjoyed Riparosso 2016 (screw cap) and its cellar mate Ilico 2015 (cork) side by side over a meal in Melbourne. Riparosso appealed for its initial fruitiness, then its rustic tannins and overall savour – a satisfying quaffing red, showing the earthy, savoury character of the Abruzzi region’s signature grape variety, montepulciano. Ilico amplifies the montepulciano experience and adds a touch of finesse.

The wines come from leading producer Azienda Agricola Illuminati of Contraguerra, Teramo Province. The winery sits on a ridge with views to the Adriatic to the east and Apennine Mountains to the west.

Nicolo Illuminati founded the estate in 1890 and following the early death of his son, raised his grandson Dino Illuminati. On Nicolo’s death Dino took over and today, at 88, continues to work in the business, now run by his son Stefano.

Woolworths imports Illuminati wines through its subsidiary, Pinnacle Drinks, and sells them through Dan Murphy and BWS retail stores operated by another subsidiary, Endeavour Drinks Group.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2019

Wine review – Clonakilla

Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling 2018 $32
To every thing there is a season. And for Clonakilla riesling, the warm, dry 2018 season produced a riper, richer wine than in the cooler 2017 vintage. Despite the heat, ‘Grapes held excellent acid’, says winemaker Tim Kirk.

That tangy acidity balances a delicious riesling with rich, citrus-like varietal flavour in the pure, delicate Clonakilla style. It’s impressive now as a vibrant, fruity young wine. But it’ll change in pleasing ways over the next decade – best experienced by cellaring a case and enjoying a bottle every year or two, potentially over decades.

For example, the 16-year-old, 2003 vintage (the first sealed with screw cap), ‘Looks fantastic’ according to Kirk, combining mellow aged character with freshness.

Kirk says 2018 marks the first year his riesling came predominantly from young vines on a cool south-facing slope near the cellar door building. Previous vintages had been sourced from a combination of estate-grown fruit and grapes from nearby Long Rail Gully.

Clonakilla Riesling 2018 is due for release in March.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2019

Wine review – Freeman, Hilltops Region, NSW

Freeman Rosso Corvina Rondinella 2017 $20
It’s dusk at Lake Conjola, and on a small jetty the tailor continue to take my friend Mario’s line, if not mine. He’s bagged enough for tomorrow’s brunch, and I think, well no bites for me but I can at least pour a drink. Try this I say. Mario tastes the red wine. Lemon, he declares, bloody delicious, fruity and tangy.

And it is, too, a distinctive dry red wine made from the Italian varieties corvina and rondinella. Brian Freeman grows both on his 175-hectare estate in the Hilltops region, the high country in the vicinity of Young, New South Wales.

These are the varieties behind the medium bodied, savoury dry reds of Bardolino and Valpolicella in Italy’s Veneto region. At their best, both offer a refreshing combination of fruit, savour and tangy finish – not unlike Mario’s impression of the Australian wine.

Freeman says they’re late-ripening varieties, which he harvested in early April (weeks behind other reds) in the benign 2017 vintage.

Fermentation in stainless steel vats captured varietal flavour and 12 months’ maturation in old oak mellowed the naturally savoury tannins.

The resulting wine pulses with vibrant berry flavours, in the clean, fresh Australian style; but there’s a deep, savoury, soy-like element, too, accompanied by the pleasantly tart but soft tannins experienced in the better wines of Bardolino and Valpolicella.

Clearly rondinella and corvina grow successfully in the Hilltops region. And this cleverly made wine, revealing minimal winemaking artifice, allows us to experience their unique flavours and textures at a fair price.

Freeman Rosso 2017, made to enjoy now, is available direct from Freeman Vineyards.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2019