Wine review — Ravensworth, Tower Estate and Saltram Pepperjack

Ravensworth Murrumbateman Shiraz Viognier 2013 $32
Ravensworth 2013 is one of the greatest reds to come out of the Canberra District, a very fine but powerful expression of the local specialty – shiraz co-fermented with small amounts of the white, viognier. Winemaker Bryan Martin writes, “after a few tough years in the vineyard, this year [2013] saw us all in hammocks reading 90s crime fiction, it was that easy”. The crime, though, would be drinking this wine too early. Tasted soon after bottling, it revealed, in a raw, youthful way, Canberra’s distinctive floral aroma, vivid berry-and-spice varietal flavours and sensuous, supple texture. It appeals now, but will deliver even more with bottle age.

Tower Estate Hillside Vineyard Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2012 $30
Long ago the focus on fine chardonnay shifted to cooler regions, hundreds of kilometres south of the Hunter Valley. However, this warm area continues to produce fine chardonnays, some capable of extended bottle ageing. Tower Estate 2012, sourced from the Cowley family Hillside vineyard at Pokolbin, is a good example of the modern lower-Hunter style. Its 12.5 per cent alcohol indicates fairly early fruit picking. Nevertheless, the wine shows ripe, peachy varietal flavour with typical Hunter roundness and softness – the texture enriched by fermentation and maturation in French oak barrels.

Saltram Pepperjack Barossa Shiraz 2012 $15.90–$20
Judges at last year’s Great Australian Shiraz challenge voted Pepperjack the best of the 300 wines exhibited. That it vanquished wines up to seven times its price shows once again the value of masked tastings and the difficulties even experts encounter discerning between $20 and $140 wines. I noted, though, that some of the pricier wines came from challenging vintages like 2008 and 2009, rather than the wonderful (for Barossa) 2012 vintage. Pepperjack shows just what a good year it was. This is ripe, dense, satisfying shiraz of exceptional quality. It’s a great example of the soft but tannic, potentially long-lived Barossa style.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 30 March 2014 in the Canberra Times

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Wine review — Hewitson, Tyrrell’s, Chalk Hill, Clonakilla, Ravensworth and Mount Langi Ghiran

Hewitson Miss Harry 2012 $21.85–$23
Barossa Valley, South Australia
Dean Hewitson’s delightfully savoury, spicy Miss Harry combines the Rhone Valley varieties, grenache, shiraz, mourvedre, carignan and cinsault. Much of the fruit comes from “historic 100-year-plus, dry-grown bush vine vineyards dotted throughout the valley”, writes Hewitson. The venerable old vines gave their best flavours in the wonderful 2012 vintage. Grenache (60 per cent of the blend) forms the base of this medium coloured, medium bodied red, while the other varieties collectively add fruit flavour, spice and earthy, fine tannins. Together, they deliver an harmonious, elegantly structured, satisfying red revealing the warm Barossa at its best. This is a lot of wine for not a lot of money.

Tyrrell’s Brookdale Semillon 2013 $17–$20
Tyrrell’s HVD vineyard, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, NSW
Tyrrell’s makes a spectrum of Hunter semillons – at one end the austere, slow-evolving Vat 1, capable of evolving for many decades; and at the other end, the softer, drink-now Brookdale. It’s from Tyrrell’s HVD vineyard, which, says Bruce Tyrrell, “always produces wines that are floral, softer and more approachable than [wines from] our other vineyards”. The 2013 offers the variety’s distinctive lemongrass-like aroma and crisp, fresh, lemony flavours. It’s light bodied at 11 per cent alcohol and a very small amount of residual grape sugar (5.4 grams a litre) helps round out the mid palate.

Chalk Hill Shiraz 2012 $19–$25
Slate Creek, Wits End and Chalk Hill vineyards
McLaren Vale, South Australia

To compare opposite ends of the Australia’s amazing shiraz spectrum, taste two wines reviewed here today – gutsy, full bodied Chalk Hill and elegant, medium bodied Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge. Chalk Hill’s dense, crimson-rimmed colour signals what’s to come – a big, ripe, flavour packed palate combining ripe fruit and strong, savoury, rustic tannins. The wine comes from vines aged between 20–45 years and is matured in a combination of new and older French oak barrels.

Clonakilla Chardonnay 2013 $45
Revee Estate Tumbarumba, Murrumbateman, NSW
In a mini chardonnay shoot out over the long weekend, we compared the 2013s from Clonakilla and Ravensworth. Although Clonakilla drew a little fruit from two Murrumbateman vineyards, the two wines come predominantly from a single batch of Tumbarumba grapes. Our tasting therefore compared the different flavours resulting from two distinct winemaking approaches. This sort of comparison makes a nonsense of any scoring system, so let’s just say both drink deliciously in their own ways – Clonakilla in the classic Burgundian style and Ravensworth more on the wild side. I describe the differences under the Ravensworth heading.

Ravensworth Chardonnay 2013 $32
Revee Estate Tumbarumba, NSW
During the tasting, winemaker Bryan Martin (winemaker for Ravensworth and Clonakilla) tweeted, “Same fruit, whole bunch V skin contact” – shorthand for fermenting juice low in phenols (Clonakilla) versus juice higher in phenols (Ravensworth), extracted by allowing juice to remain in contact with grape skins. The Clonakilla is classic cool-climate barrel fermented chardonnay with varietal fruit to the fore (grapefruit and melon), with very fine texture. In Ravensworth, the funky, wild aromas and flavours hit first, then the slightly grippier texture – and finally, the fruit pushes through. We shifted our preferences from one to the other over the weekend. But both bottles emptied at the same time – a dead heat for sure.

Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2012 $23.75–$30
Mount Langhi Ghiran vineyard, Grampians, Victoria
The back label describes Cliff Edge as “baby Langhi”, a reference to the Mount Langi’s superb $100 flagship, “Langhi” shiraz, made from the oldest vines on the property. A chip off the old block, Cliff Edge offers its own expression of the Langi Ghiran and regional style. Medium bodied and flavour packed, it shows the unique flavours of shiraz grown in this part of the Grampians. The ripe-berry flavours are woven through with spice and pepper and cut with silky but quite assertive, savoury tannins. This is a complex and loveable shiraz that should evolve in the cellar for another decade.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 26 March 2014 in the Canberra Times

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Winewise Championship sifts for nuggets

In late 2009, in the back of a taxi headed for the Macedon wine show, Winewise magazine’s Lester Jesberg outlined his ambitions for a grand final of Australian wine judging events.

Jesberg’s idea was to hold a “best of the best” competition, inviting only gold medallists from Australia’s national shows, selected regional wine shows and special events, including his own Winewise Small Vignerons Awards. Then, recognising that many of our best producers avoid wine shows altogether, Winewise extended the invitation to successful wines from in its own regular masked tastings – conducted to wine show standards.

Winewise conducted its first championship in 2010 and this year hosted its fifth event. Stewards and judges gathered between 26 and 28 February in the Black Opal Room, overlooking Canberra racecourse.

A broad church gathered on the judging benches for the final day, Friday 28 February: one winemaker (Fran Austin), one retail executive (Peter Nixon), one ex-lawyer (James Halliday), one ex-statistician (Lester Jesberg) and one ex-jockey (Deb Pearce, distracted, momentarily, by the horses training below).

The judges brought decades of experience to the tasting. And on previous days, the panel had included Winewise’s David Yeates and Lex Howard, and Canberra winemakers, Nick Spencer and Nick O’Leary.

Over three days the panel judged 480 wines (up from 298 last year), “in small groups of no more than seven [wines], and ranked in order of preference”, says Jesberg. He attributed the surge in entries to better targeting of qualified wines, good recent vintages, greater producer awareness and “the Halliday factor” – a salute to James Halliday’s unequal standing in the industry.

The wines were judged by variety and sorted by style, and in single-region groups wherever three or more wines turned up from a region.

Jesberg says a simple tally of judges’ scores decided the winner for each class, with the rider that a wine couldn’t win without a first-place ranking from one of the judges. He said the panels tended to become polarise over the more interesting wines.

The competition, he says, brought together wineries of all sizes, from the tiniest to the largest – an assertion borne out in winners list.

James Halliday commented, “there’s no other wine show like it. You see an amazing spread of big to small makers. It’s not elitist, and you see an amazing cross section of wines”.

He favoured the event’s finely articulated separation of wines into regional classes, representation from all parts of Australia and the inclusion of so many harmonious reds from warm regions, unmarred by over extraction of tannins or excessive alcohol. “There were so many lovely wines with little separating them”, he said.

He admitted the judging format allowed little time for discussion; but on the other hand, doing so wouldn’t be practicable with the number of wines.

In a subsequent email accompanying the list of top wines, Jesberg wrote, “Pinot noir and shiraz wines showing stems characteristics together with good supporting fruit were rated highly. Stemmy wines with under-ripe characteristics such as white pepper and green tannins were not.

Similarly, overtly ‘funky’ chardonnays, i.e. those showing strong sulphidic elements derived from lees and solids, only scored well if they had the fruit to carry the complexity.

The cabernet sauvignons were generally too dense and tannic. Somewhat surprisingly a McLaren Vale wine triumphed over some highly regarded Coonawarras and Margaret Rivers.

The win of the 2012 Wicks Estate Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir ($20.00 at the on-line cellar door) may surprise many, but it received two first place votes (Halliday’s and mine) and two second place votes from five judges. I recently suggested it was the best Australian pinot noir for $20.00 or less in a Twitter poll with other wine journalists”.

Although no Canberra wines made the final cut, Jesberg single out the following wines, saying, “these lived up to their gold-medal qualifications”:

2013 Mount Majura Riesling, 2012 Mount Majura Shiraz, 2013 Ravensworth Riesling, 2009 Quarry Hill Shiraz and 2008 McKellar Ridge Shiraz

The final list includes many reasonably priced wines, including the Wicks Estate pinot noir mentioned by Jesberg and the humble 2002 Jacob’s Creek riesling – amazingly for a wine of this price ($8.55–$12) still drinking beautifully after 12 years in bottle.

Indeed, it’s worth mentioning that Pernod-Ricard Australia seized all the riesling spots – a very reliable guide for riesling lovers.

The comments in the list of winners are Lester Jesberg’s.

TOP WHITE WINES

Riesling

2008 Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling

2002 Jacob’s Creek Riesling

2013 Orlando St Helga Eden Valley Riesling

Semillon

2007 McGuigan Wines Bin 9000 Hunter Semillon

2006 Coolangatta Estate Semillon

2010 First Creek Wines Winemakers Reserve Hunter Semillon

Sauvignon blanc

2013 Jarretts Orange Sauvignon Blanc

2013 Sidewood Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc

2013 Sidewood Adelaide Sauvignon Blanc Cellar Select

Sauvignon blanc blends

2013 Next of Kin Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (Xanadu)

2012 Xanadu Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon

2012 Warner Glen Estate Margaret River PBF Sauvignon Blanc Semillon

Chardonnay

2011 Coldstream Hills Reserve Yarra Valley Chardonnay

2012 Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay

2011 Xanadu Stevens Road Margaret River Chardonnay

Note: James Halliday did not rank the Coldstream Hills Chardonnay first.

Viognier

2012 Pepper Tree Wines Limited Release Wrattonbully Viognier

2013 Heafod Glen Swan Valley Viognier

Note: Disappointingly, only five viogniers were eligible and only two of those were entered. Next year viognier will be part of the Other Dry Whites class.

Other dry white

2013 Bleasdale Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris

2013 Rutherglen Estates Arneis

2013 Coriole Fiano

Sweet white

2010 Blue Pyrenees Cellar Door Series Botrytis Riesling

2011 Gramps Botrytis Semillon

2010 Pressing Matters R69 Riesling

Sparkling wine

2001 Courabyra 805 Tumbarumba Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier

2009 Salinger Vintage Cuvée

2011 Coombe Farm Nellie Melba Blanc de Blancs

TOP RED WINES

Pinot Noir

2012 Wicks Estate Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir

2012 Montalto Teurong Block Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir

2012 Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir

Shiraz

2011 Thomas Wines Elenay Hunter Valley Shiraz

2011 Mandoon Estate Frankland River Reserve Shiraz

2012 Shaw and Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz

Cabernet sauvignon

2012 Shingleback The Davey Estate McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 De Bortoli Estate Grown Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 Pepperjack Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon

Italian red varietals

2012 Coriole McLaren Vale Barbera

2012 Waywood Wines McLaren Vale Montepulciano

2012 Kirrihill Clare Valley Sangiovese

Spanish red varietals

2013 Moonrise Estate Tempranillo (Granite Belt, Qld)

2012 Bremerton Wines Special Release Graciano

2012 Eaglerange Estate 3 Daughters Limited Release Tempranillo

Other red varietals

2012 Dutschke 80 Block Barossa Merlot

2012 Shingleback Kitchen Garden McLaren Vale Mataro

2011 Silverstream Wines Reserve Cabernet Franc

Bordeaux blends

2012 Clairault Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot

2011 Rosemount District Traditional Red

2011 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec Petit Verdot

Australian classic blend

2012 Bleasdale Petrel Reserve (Langhorne Creek)

2012 Anvers Wines Razorback Road Adelaide Hills Shiraz Cabernet

2012 Longview Vineyard Adelaide Hills Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon

Grenache and blends

2011 Rosemount GSM

2012 Shingleback Red Knot Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre

2012 Rosemount GSM

Other red blends

2012 Maximus McLaren Vale Tempranillo and Garnacha

2012 Mockingbird Hill Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec

2012 Rosemount Nursery Project GMG

Fortified

Penfolds Great Grandfather Rare Tawny

Saltram Show Reserve Rare Tawny

Saltram Mr Pickwick Rare Tawny

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 12 March 2014 in the Canberra Times

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Wine review — Grosset, Seville Estate, Vinaceous, Mitolo, Topper’s Mountain and Wickhams Road

Grosset Chardonnay 2012 $52–$57
Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
In the early nineties, Clare Valley riesling master, Jeffrey Grosset, looked south to the cooler Adelaide Hills for chardonnay, ultimately establishing vines in its Piccadilly Valley sub-region. The wines have always been good. But Grosset’s 2012 rises above any previous vintage, I believe. Its amazing power and richness of fruit, woven in with barrel-related aromas, flavours and textures, make it one of the most enjoyable and distinctive chardonnays I’ve tasted from this outstanding vintage. Despite the big, rich fruit flavour, this is an elegant, harmonious wine with good cellaring potential.

Seville Estate The Barber Chardonnay 2013 $19–$24
Yarra Valley, Victoria
Dr Peter McMahon established Seville Estate in the early seventies and sold it to Hunter-based Brokenwood in the late nineties. In turn, Brokenwood sold it to Graham and Margaret Van Der Meulen in 2005. The Van Der Meulens offer three chardonnays – The Barber, Estate ($36) and Reserve ($70), the latter dedicated this year to Dr McMahon, who died in October 2013. Though fermented and matured in oak barrels (10 per cent of them new), the wine leads with vibrant melon and stone-fruit varietal flavour. It’s medium bodied, dry, smooth textured and finishes with zippy fresh acidity.

Vinaceous Raconteur Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $25
Wilyabrup, Margaret River, Western Australia
Nick Stacy and Mike Kerrigan, the guys behind Vinaceous, source fruit from many regions around Australia, including the Adelaide Hills, Margaret River, McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley. Their impressively deep, purple Margaret River red provides a virtual fruit festival, consistent with the colourful circus-inspired label. The deep colour, luscious, varietal fruit flavour and loads of soft tannins make juicy, irresistible current drinking.

Mitolo Jester Vermentino 2013 $19.50–$22
McLaren Vale, South Australia
Frank Mitolo says he grows the vermentino grapes for this wine, “at the southern end of McLaren Vale, about five kilometres east of the coastal town of Port Willunga”. The variety, best known in Sardinia and Liguria, seems to work well in warmer Australian locations. Mitolo’s been at it a few years now and in 2013 the wine seems notably fruitier and fuller flavoured than usual, though still with vibrant tropical and citrus flavours. The finish is savoury and dry.

Topper’s Mountain Gewurztraminer 2013 $35
Tingha, New England, NSW
Stand back when you open the bottle. Gewurztraminer’s penetrating musk and lychee aroma escapes instantly from the bottle before it’s even poured, let alone tasted. The potent perfume attracts and repels at the same time. The equally strong palate reveals the slightly oily, slick texture of the variety and gives a firm, tannic tweak to the dry finish. It’s a wine to marvel at on occasion and everyone should try it. But it’s hard to imagine coming back for a second glass, or drinking it more than once a year. The wine was made by Mark Kirby, high up in the New England ranges.

Wickhams Road Pinot Noir 2013 $16–$17
Gippsland, Victoria
Hoddles Creek Estate’s second label, Wickams Road, offers good quality Yarra Valley and Gippsland pinot noir and chardonnay at a reasonable price. The Gippsland pinot noir offers medium-bodied, savoury drinking with a good, food-friendly bite of tannins. The fruit flavour’s bright and fresh, with an earthy, funky under current. Wickhams Road Yarra Pinot Noir 2013 (same price) is in a similar mould, though with a greater focus on bright red-berry varietal flavours.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 12 March 2014 in the Canberra Times

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Beer and cider review — Australian Brewery and Samuel Smith

Australian Brewery The Fresh Press Cider 4-pack 355ml cans $14.99
The Australian Brewery of Rouse Hill, Sydney, say they ferment their cider from freshly crushed apples. It’s a pale coloured, low-gas cider with a pleasing, clean, apple-like aroma and flavour and a slight sweetness just outweighing the acidity.

Samuel Smith’s India Pale Ale 550ml $8.50
Smith’s says it uses water from a well sunk in 1758 top ferments their beer in traditional Yorkshire stone fermenters. True to the traditional India Pale style, it’s intensely bitter, thanks to a mother load of hops (originally a 19th century preservative for the long voyage to India).

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 12 March 2014 in the Canberra Times

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Drinkers rate their top beers of 2013

Each year The Local Taphouse polls beer drinkers to decide the hottest 100 Australian craft beers of the year. They announced the rankings for 2013 on Australia Day this year

While Australia’s two biggest brewers, Fosters and Lion (both foreign owned), enjoy a strong presence in the craft segment, independent brewers dominated this year’s top 100. However, the big brewers also won favour with voters.

Feral Brewing Company Hop Hog seized the top spot this year, repeating last year’s performance. Stone and Wood Brewing Co Pacific Ale came second and Lion-owned Little Creatures Pale Ale secured third spot.

Little Creatures took out fifth place, too with its India Pale Ale. But independent brewers held eight of the ten top spots. See the hottest 100.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 12 March 2014 in the Canberra Times

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Wine review — Bourke Street, Skillogalee and Tulloch

Bourke Street Canberra District Chardonnay 2011 $18.39–$22
Local winemakers Nick O’Leary (Nick O’Leary Wines) and Alex McKay (Collector Wines) jointly make the Bourke Street range, including this impressive chardonnay. Their website currently offers the fuller bodied 2010 vintage, but a friend picked up the 2011 recently in a Canberra retail outlet. The cold vintage shows in the wine’s comparatively low alcohol (12.5 per cent) and racy, grapefruit-like varietal flavour and acidity. The usual barrel-related winemaking tricks season the wine with a touch of butterscotch and the struck-match character of sulphides at a very low but detectible level.

Skillogalee Clare Valley Basket Pressed The Cabernets 2010 $26.50–$30
Skillogalee’s ripe, juicy, succulent blend combines elegant cabernet sauvignon (87 per cent) with robust malbec (11 per cent) and fragrant cabernet franc. The combination delivers a wine of dense, crimson-rimmed colour and vibrant, ripe-berry aromas, tinged with distinctive, regional touch of mint. Where cabernet sometimes tends to austerity on the mid palate, Skillogalee, probably because of the malbec, fills the mouth with voluptuous, ripe fruit flavours. A load of tannin matches the opulent fruit. But it’s soft and supple – meaning the wine drinks easily now, though I suspect those with good cellars might be saying this for another 20 years.

Tulloch Hunter Valley Verdelho 2013 $12.80–$16.50
Verdelho, from the island of Madeira, adapted readily to Australia’s warm wine-growing regions. In the past, it made superb, long-lived fortified wines. But in recent decades it emerged as a tasty, niche variety for making full-flavoured dry whites. They’re happy, fruity, easy drinking wines like this one from the Tulloch family. The cheaper of two versions the family makes, it captures the sappy, tropical and citrusy varietal character of the grape. The palate’s full flavoured, and rounded off by noticeable residual grape sugar. This adds body to the wine and gives an off-dry finish – that is, not perfectly dry, but not sweet either.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 9 March 2014 in the Canberra Times

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Wine review — Peter Lehmann, Curly Flat and Longview

Peter Lehmann H and V Eden Valley Riesling 2013 $19–$22
In 2003, Swiss-based Hess Group, purchased a majority interest in Peter Lehmann Wines, giving the international winemaker a Barossa presence, alongside it interests in the USA, Argentina and South Africa. The purchase gave the Australian business the stability it needed to get on with making good Barossa wines, like this lovely riesling from the adjoining Eden Valley. From the elevated, cooler eastern slopes of Eden, H and V offers pure, lime-like varietal flavour, vibrant acidity and zingy, dry finish. The wine won a gold medal in last year’s Melbourne wine show, silver in London and bronze in Canberra’s National Wine Show 2013.

Curly Flat Macedon Ranges White Pinot 2013 $24
Curly Flat gives us a new take on the old technique of making white(ish) wine from red grapes. The Champagne region succeeded with it centuries ago, making white sparkling wine from the red varieties, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Americans drink gallons of white zin – a pinkish, often sweet wine made from the otherwise dense purple zinfandel grape. With just a blush of colour from three hours’ skin contact, Curly Flat white pinot noir offers a quite full mouth feel, though the flavour and texture are delicate and the finish is dry – fascinating company for our smoked, barbecued salmon.

Longview Adelaide Hills Shiraz Cabernet 2012 $14.25–$17
The Saturno family turns out a range of Adelaide Hills wines, starting with the well-priced Red Bucket blends. In 2012 they sourced shiraz (65 per cent) from their own Longview Estate vineyard, at Macclesfield, and cabernet sauvignon (35 per cent) from Kuitpo. The wine combines the highly aromatic, sweet-berry character of ripe, cool-grown shiraz with cassis-and-leaf cabernet varietal character. The wine’s generously flavoured, but medium bodied, with the mid-palate sweetness of shiraz and fine, firm tannins of cabernet. It offers delicious current drinking, evidenced by its three gold, two silver and seven bronze medals.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 2 March 2014 in the Canberra Times

 

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Wine review — vignerons a Crezancy, Curly Flat and Vinaceous

Sancerre (Vignerons a Crezancy) 2011 $16.49
For a different take – in fact, the original – on dry sauvignon blanc, try Costco’s French import from the eastern Loire Valley town, Sancerre. Located at 47 degrees north, this cool region makes lean, acidic sauvignons a world away in style from the brash, fleshy, globally loved versions from Marlborough, New Zealand. It’s the difference that matters, so expect lighter body and herbal and savoury rather than capsicum-like flavours. This is a comparatively tame, soft expression of the regional style and slips down easily without becoming the centre of attention.

Curly Flat Lacuna Macedon Ranges Chardonnay 2013 $36
Australian winemakers continue to tweak chardonnay making it, in my view, our great national white specialty – much as shiraz, in all its similar diversity – carries our red-wine banner. Curly Flat’s second label, Lacuna, adds yet another hue to the ever-widening spectrum. Passing a portion of the grapes through rollers and foot crushing another small component adds grip and texture to an otherwise delicate wine, fermented in stainless steel tanks and the beautifully named, air-permeable Flextank cubes. The small amount of oxygen tones down the fruit and adds to this delicious, fresh, crisp wine’s savoury character.

Vinaceous Voodoo Moon Margaret River Malbec 2012 $20–$25
We hear much of Australia’s winemakers but not so much these days of wine merchants buying, blending (and sometimes making) wine for sale under their own labels. Victoria’s Seabrook family and Sydney’s late Harry Brown are great examples of these entrepreneurial merchants – known in France as negociants. Vinaceous, a newcomer to the ranks, combines the skills of marketer, Nick Stacy, and winemaker, Michael Kerrigan. Their small and excellent regional range includes this rich, ripe, aromatic, fruity malbec from Margaret River, Western Australia. The quirky label fits the happy, fruity, easy drinking style of the wine.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 23 February 2014 in the Canberra Times

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Brews from Byron Bay and Okinawa

Two contrasting summer brews landed on the tasting bench this week – one from Stone and Wood Brewing Company, Byron Bay, the other from Orion Brewery, Okinawa, Japan.

They could be metaphors for the national stereotypes. Loud and cheery Stone and Wood Garden Ale, slaps you on the back, calls you maaaate, and pounds your palate with exuberant, brash (and delicious) hoppiness. And a comparatively low 3.8 per cent alcohol invites perhaps just one more stubby, maaate.

Orion bows discretely, lightly and politely onto the palate. Belying its five per cent alcohol, it offers delicate, refreshing flavours and softness – suggesting a fair slug of rice malt in the brew. It finishes bone dry and refreshing in the distinctive Japanese style. (It’s available at asianbeeronline.com.au).

Stone and Wood Limited Release Garden Ale 500ml
Reduce beer’s alcohol content and the flavour falls away; increase it and everything rises with it. In 3.8 per-cent-alcohol Garden Ale, the brewers very cleverly use Tasmanian Ella hops to fill the low-alcohol flavour gap. The hops add a striking citrus flavour and bitterness to accompany the lovely malt and dry finish.

Orion Premium Draft Beer 24-344ml bottles $74.90
Orion “is sure to satisfy Australian pallets this summer”, crows the press release. From Okinawa, Orion is light coloured and light bodied in the crisp, delicate, dry Japanese style. The low bitterness may surprise drinkers of mainstream lager, but it’s part and parcel of the style and well suited to delicate Japanese cuisine.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 23 February 2014 in the Canberra Times

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