“The history of the world shows that cold climate have produced the greatest geniuses.”
These words were spoken by King O’Malley while searching for the location of Australia’s capital. Well, I’m not sure that we got the geniuses, but we certainly have the cold. But there was one benefit that King O’Malley, a noted teetotaler, didn’t count on.
Cold climates make some wonderful wines.
For close to thirty years now, the region around Canberra has been making wine that is up there with some of the best in the world. Led by the famed Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, we are using the cold weather, fertile soil and local expertise to our advantage.
On a fine winters Saturday I hopped a bus with some friends to taste some of our best. The day put on some serious sun, and Clonakilla, Helm and Jeir Creek delivered some fine tastings.
We started in the morning with the eccentric Ken Helm talking through his selection, regaling us with the history of the building, the region and various wine terms, as well as general wine trivia and the occasional literary quote. But while this charming old man is certainly a draw card to this cellar door, it is the Rieslings that make it a must.
A lot of indicators seem to suggest that Riesling is ready for a boom, and tasting the three versions at Helm give a good reason why. From the crispness of the Classic Dry and lushness of Premium, through to the more aromatic Half Dry, these are all excellent.
But Helm’s value goes beyond these, with a sauvignon blanc richer and more complex than anything coming from Marlborough, and a surprisingly earthy and sexy cabernet sauvignon. Everything is excellent.
Clonakilla is famed for their Shiraz Viognier, and rightfully so. But it’s early July, and the new batch isn’t out for another few months, so this tasting was about their second stringers. That said, this is a second string that many labels would die for.
The best of the bunch was the brand new 2011 Viognier Nouveau, crisp, fruity and perfect for Thai food. The 09 Viognier, the oak barrels and aging giving it a meatier taste, is an always-successful stalwart. And a sweet, sticky port was still young, but will in a few years become deep and sexy. There were some disappointments on the list, with the new 2010 Hilltop Shiraz lacking the expected excitement, but overall the team here delivers.
Generally I find that a winery that specialises in a particular style is better than those that try everything. Yet despite a dozen different varieties available, Jier Creek are still able to deliver on quite a few of them. Their flagship is their dessert wine, a botrytis Semillon, which is as sweet and honey-like as you could want, but some of their less celebrated wines are also quite good. I particularly enjoyed a very peppery Pinot Noir.
Unfortunately there are a number of wineries that don’t quite stand up, making too many uninspired wines and sadly tainting the region. But if you stick to the big names, you’ll do fine.
Sometimes I dream that this city was built on the coast, especially while we’re in a run of 10-degree days. But after a trip around to these wonderful vineyards, it’s seems that, just maybe, O’Malley actually did know what he was doing.