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A hard look at Canberra region wines

By johnboy - 7 October 2010 12

Chris Shannahan has written a fascinating critique of Canberra region wines and the Canberra regional wine show.

What can we learn from the honours list from the local wine show? Perhaps that wine shows tend to capture the big picture well but falter, at times, on the detail; that shiraz, riesling and chardonnay perform best; that pinot noir, cabernet and sauvignon blanc, with occasional exceptions, fare less well, or even poorly; that we have distinct regional specialties; and that some niche varieties show great potential.

In an impressive blaze of glory, around two-thirds of the entries made from shiraz, riesling or chardonnay won gold, silver or bronze medals. And what a tight race those varieties fought for number one spot.

Well worth a read for wine buffs or those who aspire.

What’s Your opinion?


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12 Responses to
A hard look at Canberra region wines
ChrisECarpenter 8:53 pm 07 Oct 10

Thanks all, for your comments. It’s great to see people interested in the improvement of the breed in Canberra Wines.
The comment on Canberra Pinot is interesting. Cool-climate Shiraz is certainly trendy now, and makes an appealing alternative to the super-ripe, super concentrated styles coming from warmer regions.
We are also seeing that Shiraz is very consistent from Canberra vineyards, helped by increasing skill from vingerons to weather challenging years like 2010.
The opposite edge to this is that medium-light bodied Pinots are not trendy, and Canberras climate does not support consistent Pinot Noirs. Harvesting Pinot late and employing more extractive winemaking methods has been tried by many local winemakers to try and transform Canberra fruit into something it’s not; but it is easy to stray into making Pinot Noir as a a non-varietal Dry Red.

On a personal note, at Lark Hill we have taken to harvesting Pinot Noir early on hot years, (for Sparkling wine base) and only trying to make a red Pinot Noir in cold years.

There are certainly some good Pinot Noirs from Canberra; but they’re not show-winning styles…so it pays to taste at the Cellar Doors around the district and decide for yourself.

Chris
Lark Hill.

pajs 4:07 pm 07 Oct 10

Sirocco, Alex McKay did not enter the Collector Wines in the local show. No need to, really.

The O’Riada (and the Jack Reidy shiraz Clonakilla makes for Vintage Cellars) takes fruit from a series of Murrumbateman and Hall vineyards. There’s a fair bit of difference in the gear when you taste barrel to barrel (say comparing fruit from the Williams’ place at Hall with the Fischer’s Nanima vineyard at Murrumbateman). One of the things Tim Kirk and Bryan Martin do well is work through all the parcels of fruit, and then the barrels, to get a final product that is in the Clonakilla ‘house style’.

Another factor with Clonakilla is the rigour with which barrels are dropped down the hierarchy of wines to maintain quality. If Tim feels fruit that usually goes to the SV doesn’t make the grade, off it goes to the O’Riada, or even into the Hilltops wine.

The district has gotten more professional in recent years, with quality, trained and experience winemakers like Alex McKay and Nick O’Leary lifting the quality and profile of the district. There is also generational change happening, such as with Chris Carpenter coming in at Lark Hill. Last, but not least, there are now more cluey people involved in sales and marketing (like Jennie Mooney from Capital Wines) so the wines get into better retail, build reviews and profile, and then reach more people.

Noezis 3:13 pm 07 Oct 10

rosscoact said :

he’s right about the O’Riada, it’s a fantastic wine and only marginally pipped by its more expensive brother (wine is male isn’t it?).

I made the same comment whilst we were tasting the O’Riada and the SV, especially after an initial sip. However, aftr letting the SV sit in my glass for another 10 minutes, it opens up and the difference is massive.
The SV is more balanced, none of the flavours compete with each other, it is a truly exceptional wine. I ended up buying one O’Riada and six of the SV.

One that comes close to the SV and is well ahead of the O’Riada is The Lark Hill Shiraz Viognier. Across the whole range The Lark Hill has excellent wines that in some cases beat Clonakilla’s range.
The Lark Hill source their Shiraz from Ravensworth, the gentleman who owns Ravensworth works for Clonakilla as a winemaker.

Once you start seeing that there is an intricate web of people who work with each other in this district, it makes sense why some of the wines are all very close in quality and in some cases taste.

sirocco 3:09 pm 07 Oct 10

Diggety: only a mild dig mate 🙂 cool website though eh?

Hmmm… on review of the awards it is a shame about Pinots cos I’m sure I’ve tasted some rippers…

Top wine that Mt Majura TSG too.

Where was Alex Mackay (Collector Reserve Shiraz and Collector Marked Tree Shiraz) in all this?

Clown Killer 3:04 pm 07 Oct 10

I find the majority of Canberra district pinot to be either over-cooked or simply weak and insipid.

Edgar Riek (Lake George) made some cracking pinot a over a couple of vintages around a decade ago that is still opening well if you are fortunate enough to have some in the cellar

Russ 1:59 pm 07 Oct 10

WhyTheLongFace said :

pajs nailed it I think.

In the case of Canberra Pinot, the variety is judged long before the wines are even poured. Canberra Pinot = Not Currently Cool.

Certainly hasn’t been for many years. Our Pinot gets a regular caning from this show and local reviewers, yet the same wine gets great reviews in Melbourne and good sales there.

rosscoact 1:07 pm 07 Oct 10

he’s right about the O’Riada, it’s a fantastic wine and only marginally pipped by its more expensive brother (wine is male isn’t it?). The hilltops is a different sort of wine but damn fine too. I went out there a few weeks ago and tried the entire range, thought they were all marveloous and caught up in the moment, bought two of each.

$500+ later and one of these looks from the wife, off we went

Diggety 12:51 pm 07 Oct 10

Chris is using semicolons to assist you there – gosh, where would we be without semicolons, eh?

I’ll tell you where; we’d be writing in short, grunting sentences.

sirocco,
Semicolon usage was not the only thing I was referring to, but thanks for the link.

I have noticed a steady decline in Canberra Region wines on shelves in Queensland (possibly other states?), does anyone know why?

WhyTheLongFace 12:13 pm 07 Oct 10

pajs nailed it I think.

In the case of Canberra Pinot, the variety is judged long before the wines are even poured. Canberra Pinot = Not Currently Cool.

Shiraz is the current darling, you could enter something pretty average and be confident of getting a medal of some sort. Actually the new head judge is quite fond of Chardonnay, so you could expect that variety to do well in the local show whilst he is in the position.

Wine shows are a fun little novelty, great for marketing and opening a lot of bottles. But identifying quality? Yeah right.

pajs 11:04 am 07 Oct 10

The 2010 Canberra Regional Wine Show results are at http://www.rncas.org.au/rws/UserFiles/File/2010%20Catalogue%20web.pdf

Classes 11 and 12 have pinot noir. Lerida entered three pinots in Class 11 (2009 pinot noir) and three wines in Class 12 (2008 and older pinot noir). Lark Hill submitted an 06 pinot to Class 12. Lake George Wines did not submit.

As Chris Shanahan notes, quite a few wineries and wines don’t go in to the local show. Shows can be crap-shoots or, as in the case with the pinot classes, the judges start and finish with negative expectations of what they will see. There is still value in the exercise, but take the results with salt.

sirocco 10:51 am 07 Oct 10

Diggety said :

That first paragraph was so hard to read.

Chris is using semicolons to assist you there – gosh, where would we be without semicolons, eh?

I’ll tell you where; we’d be writing in short, grunting sentences.

Here’s a cool link:

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon

On another note, where did all the cool Lake George/Bungendore Pinot Noirs go if not into this competition? We have some great Pinots from that sub-region of Canberra; Lerida and Lark Hill to name just two (maybe that’s all there is?)

Diggety 10:20 am 07 Oct 10

That first paragraph was so hard to read.

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