Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Doonkuna Estate

There are many words to describe Canberra district wines: ‘boutique’, ‘cool-climate’ and ‘intimate scale’ are popular in tourist brochures, while the phrase ‘that’s bloody big’ less so*. Thus my first impression on driving up to Doonkuna was a slightly industrial feel compared to other Canberra wineries.

The cellar door is a little barn-like, with ample space for large parties. It wouldn’t do for a cosy meal but looks like a great place for an old-fashioned knees up or getting quietly stonkered on a warm afternoon, safe in the knowlege the tour bus will take you back to your hotel.

Meanwhile, at the business end of the winemakers bulb, Doonkuna produces a couple of notable wines and some good value quaff, if you time your buy right. Like many wineries targeting a broad market, Doonkuna offers a fruit salad range, the aim being to bottle something for most imbibers.

As usual there are two price lists – by the bottle and by the dozen. Doonkuna’s price per dozen is great value, and a good way to stock up on some tasty/versatile summer quaffers. Mind you, the latest summer price of a 25% discount by the dozen (see website to download price list) isn’t quite as good as the 1/2 price bargain we snaffled up in September**.

Leaving aside beardy pro wine writers, I made copious notes on Doonkuna and its wines for you lot but it comes down to this, the standout wine was the 2008 Cian Sparking. Lovely straw colour, yeast/bread on the nose, fine persistent bead giving it great texture with delicious fruit/pear flavours. It’s not hard to find around town and we’ve spotted it on the wine list at Grazing.

Although one or two of the reds were a bit jammy for my palate, some others made for enjoyable, easy drinking. We liked the dry finish and liquorice flavours of the 05 Cabernet Merlot so much we bought three bottles - lots of spice on the nose. We didn’t buy the 07 reserve shiraz, which we thought was a bit pricey at $40 a bottle*** but my notes recall dark cherry jam and vanilla, sweet pepper but with a good, dry finish. The latest price list pegs it at $30 per bottle in any mixed dozen. Now we’re talking.

The still whites were also competently put together and included a riesling, crisp with hints of apple, and two styles of chardonnay. We nabbed two bottles each of the 2005 chardy and the 2008 Rising Ground unwooded. I liked the second tier (Rising Ground) better than the first tier offering. At the time we got it for $7 a bottle but even at the current price of $10.50 it’s good value compared to big brother 05 chardonnay – full price $25 – which to my mind tasted disappointingly like…. well, like chardonnay… big fruit, butter-rich and almost diabetically plush from the Australian sun****.

The Doonkuna label is easy to spot and features the Striped Legless Lizard. A native of the Canberra region, it resembles a small snake but apparently has remnant hind legs. I found this cheerily reminiscent of certain politicians who regularly migrate to Canberra and seem to have only remnant spines.

*To squeeze any slight comedic effect from this opener, it should be read in the style of Stephen Fry (and apologies for this being in no way as amusing as Stevo’s stuff – must steal more try harder)
**Yes DMP has been a slack correspondent but if you prefer dependable (and somewhat pudgy) then Max Allen is still writing for Gourmet Traveller Wine.
***At the time of our visit there was no by the dozen discount available on this one.
**** If I mentioned our man in Canberra’s contribution was: ‘what did you expect it to taste like’ would you be surprised?

Doonkuna Estate

3182 Barton Highway, Murrumbateman, NSW, 2582
10 am to 4 pm seven days
(02) 6227 5811

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Dionysus Winery

It’s been some time since we visited Dionysus, so I’m going to have to rely on my crap scant notes and even crappier less than perfect memory. The mere suggestion that we should revisit the cellar door (and the thought of having to pay for more wine) had Our Man idly speculating whether the national library would accept wallets as part of their delayed release document program.

Which is pretty much bullshit bollocks because Dionysus ticks most of the boxes when it comes to good value local wine. It also ticks the try hard obvious name box* but I came away with a few of their bottles in hand, feeling well disposed towards this pleasant, family-owned winery.

It was an execrable late winter’s afternoon when we trundled out to Patemans Lane in Murrumbateman and they hadn’t long finished bottling for the year. Owners Michael and Wendy O’Dea were away for the weekend and their daughter Lizzie was on duty at the cellar door. Her enthusiasm for the family business was genuine and something of an antidote to the ‘lazy, self-absorbed Gen Y’ meme that seems to be on high rotation these days.

Lizzie was particularly proud of the May Riesling, made in honour of her grandmother who had planted the first vines about 10 years ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available for tasting but if I was looking for a dessert wine, I’d be tempted to buy it for the backstory alone.

As mentioned, the wines were reasonably priced, ranging from a very affordable $10 for the 2008 chardonnay (a little restrained and not too much oak) to $25 for an 08 pinot noir (delicate savoury notes with a bit of grip). Some of the wines available for tasting were from the new vintage and were still a little tight in the glass but there were no seriously bum notes that I can recall.

We brought home a very smooth 08 Merlot ($22) – all silk, with hints of violets on the nose**. It was very drinkable but hard to pin down with a food match. We flipped a coin and tried it with lasagne but this made the fruit taste a little stewed and in the end we decided it stood up best on its own – all the better to bring out the violets.

We also tried a peppery 06 Shiraz ($22) that worked a treat with steak. Did I mention it was peppery? Think white pepper on the nose, a crack of black pepper on the palate and restrained tannins for structure. There were also some enjoyable juicy fruit notes (red berries?) present. I don’t remember much else, other than there was nothing left in the bottle to double check the next day. I also suspect that this style of shiraz could be a love or loathe proposition for some folk and thus the perfect BBQ wine.

There’s still a bottle of 09 Maenads Rosé ($18) on the shelf at home – waiting for the right dish, perfect weather and a moment of weakness on OMIC’s part***. Made with shiraz, it’s a delicate pink colour and smells of Turkish delight, rose water and macerated strawberries. It’s a delightful balance between sweet and savoury –– a very pleasant wine with or without food.

For those interested in other things than wine, Dionysus Winery also sells a selection of locally made foodsuffs - nuts, oils, bush herbs etc – as well as a range of wine accessories. Wish I could tell you more but that's where the notes (and my memory) fade.

* A bit like calling a boatyard Poseidon’s or a courier service Mercury.
** It’s quite possible I just imagined this. I was working pretty hard at willing spring to arrive.
*** Pattie loves rosé. She loved it when it wasn’t kewl and will still love it when (once again) it slips off the wine radar. OMIC finds rosé less than inspiring and believes it exists chiefly so Max Allen has a regular, easy get column every summer (cf. sparkling shiraz, Italian wine, Spanish wine, topics wine writers routinely flog).

Dionysus Winery
1 Patemans Lane, Murrumbateman, NSW, 2582
10 am to 5 pm weekends and public holidays
(02) 6227 0208

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Curate’s egg menu @ Canberra wine dinner

On a wet, icy Saturday night we’re playing ‘spot the winemaker’ in old Parliament House. It goes something like this: no tie, expensive but rumpled suit that looks as though the wearer has arrived straight from the office - senior public servant, scratch and sniff tweed sports jacket matched inappropriately with jeans – our man in Canberra, corduroy trousers, sensible shoes and possibly scotch guarded coat – winemaker.

The excuse for this stereotyping* is the Canberra district wine & regional food dinner, and while making outrageous assumptions about complete strangers is always fun, we’re really here for the booze chance to try the region’s best wines.

Anne Caine, energetic Prez of the Canberra District Wine Association, noticing 14 Canberra wines had cracked Halliday’s Top 100 Wines of NSW, cooked up a dinner with Janet Jeffs and Ginger Catering to showcase the result.

It was, as a certain sartorially challenged, tweed aficionado said, a top idea, as well as a convenient way to get a handle on where some of the best Canberra juice is heading. And the results were excellent.

Top drops of the night included old mates like the Brindabella Hills sauv blanc and the Collector shiraz, and other local heroes such as the Wallaroo riesling and Capital Wines shiraz. While the dinner mainly featured wines from the 07/08 vintages, the 2005 Four Winds shiraz and the 06 Yarrah Wines Cabernet showed how a little bottle age can make all the difference for the right wines.

The only bum note was a couple of the food courses – a goat cheese ravioli that had but a passing acquaintance with boiling water and a deconstructed lamb pie that our man said looked and tasted like it had been assembled by a semiotician rather than a chef (but I expect he’s just been reading Roland Barthes again).

Next year - and this has all the makings of an annual event - if the quality of the food matches the wine, I’ll be a completely happy Dame (well, as long as OMIC wears some reasonable strides).

* and we won’t even mention what I had to say about the chicks (yes I’m a bit of biatch, move along).

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Collector Wines

Okay, so this is another winery that really shouldn't be on the list, but...

Our Man and I first came across Collector Wines at the Cafe in the House* annual goat BBQ. It went down very smoothly and we wanted to try it again just to make sure it wasn't the siren song of roast goat that lured us to the second glass.

A quick phone call to winemaker Alex McKay confirmed Collector doesn't have a cellar door.
"I'm concentrating on getting the wines right first," he said (or something like that - can't read my notes). In any case, you've gotta like someone who's more focused on what ends up in your glass than worrying about all the extras. It's a decision that carries through to the bottleshop floor - Collector produces only two wines, a reserve shiraz and the Marked Tree Red, which both King James and Captain Hooke** give props (...the Ali G eps do come in handy at times).

The wines are available across Canberra: Airport Market Cellars, Plonk at Fyshwick, Cox Kelly in Civic and Georges Liquor Stable in Philip, as well as some of the IGAs (Deakin, Ainslie , O’Connor, Lynham). Alex explained most stores have the 06 Marked Tree Red. The 07, a frost year, had a low yield and the 08 has just been released. According to Alex the 08 is closer to the style he's chasing - a lighter shiraz that still packs a punch - a bit like a burgundy.

With a slight nod to symmetry, we picked our bottle of 06 Marked Tree Red from the Kitchen Cabinet in OPH for $28 and matched it with a big, juicy Angus steak. The wine was deep red, almost magenta in colour, with a hint of white pepper on the nose and lots of berry flavours - fruit with a touch of sweetness but a dry peppery finish. It's soft, juicy and went down a little too easily if you're eating out but since we were at home...

Cellar door or no cellar door, if the 06 is this good, I'm very keen to try an 08. And who knows, maybe OMIC will crack open his moth collection wallet for a taste of the reserve.

*I always want to call it Cafe in da House - too many Ali G episodes I guess

**or should I say James Halliday and Huon Hooke both rated these wines highly

Collector Wines

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Clonakilla Wines

Okay, let’s get the obvious question out of the way first. No, we didn’t get to try Tim Kirk’s fabled shiraz viognier. Yes, it was a little disappointing but hardly surprising given it’s considered by many to be the duck’s nuts of Canberra wines. In any event, there were plenty of other wines to taste including a sem sauv blanc, some shiraz, a couple of viogniers and even a young port taking its first baby steps.

Along with Helm and Lambert, Clonakilla (church meadow) is one of three wineries claiming to be the oldest in this region (and we’ll let them work this one out amongst themselves). Whatever the case, the Kirk family as been growing grapes and making wines for almost 40 years and happily this experience shows in the bottle. They’ve had plenty of time to get the shiraz viognier mix right too, having adopted the practice of adding a touch of viognier back in 1992, after Tim’s trip to the Rhone Valley the year before.

Aware we were visiting Canberra’s best-known winery, I was also keen to get a handle on the whole viognier thing. First up was the Clonakilla viognier with a hint of vanilla on the nose, the result of having spent 10 months on French oak, good mouth feel and apricot on the palate. It’s a fine match for pork dishes and easy to see why it’s a benchmark for the variety. We ended up with a bottle quite by accident – but more on that later.

The pick of the day for me, however, was the 09 viognier nouveau. The Clonakilla viognier’s little brother is a light and lively unwooded wine that’s been handled with the minimum of fuss rather like a riesling. With honeysuckle, jasmine and a hint of ginger on the nose and a good acid structure, we reckoned it would be the perfect match for spicy Asian food. We tested this theory at Madam Woo in Kingston where it was teamed with satay sticks, kung po prawns and a spicy lime and coconut chicken dish. The verdict? Best wine I’ve had with Asian food for a spell.

The Hilltops shiraz with fruit sourced from around Young* wasn’t bad but Our Man and I were quite taken with the O’Riada shiraz. At $35, it’s a cut down version of Clonakilla shiraz viognier. The 6% viognier really makes an impact, tamping down the tannins to create a smooth, softer, very drinkable wine. It had an interesting effect on the bouquet too – definitely shiraz but with a hint of lollies - pink musk sticks to be exact. We’ve got a bottle at home waiting for the day I can introduce it to a nice bit of Italian sausage or veal.

While no expert on viognier I am becoming something of a fan. I love what it does to shiraz in the O’Riada ($35) and the minimally handled viognier nouveau ($22) was a revelation. We purchased one of each but when we got home discovered we’d been given a bottle of the pricier Clonakilla viognier ($45). Now many people would be happy with the mix-up but I had a case of the guilts (as well as being seriously disappointed that I didn’t get the wine I wanted).

OMIC reluctantly agreed to track back to Clonakilla the next day so we could make the swap and that’s when the real windfall happened. Not only did they give us the bottle we paid for but also generously told us to keep the more expensive wine. Of course this left us with no choice – we just had to knuckle down and drink it, helped along by some crispy skinned roast pork from Tak Kee Roast Inn and some Dutch cream mash and sweet chilli soy baby bok choy.

Tasting facilities at Clonakilla are fairly basic (with a certain rustic charm) but this isn’t a problem because when you visit this cellar door, it really is all about the wine.

* OMIC obscurely suggested wine from this region seemed to lack integration and tolerance but I suspect he’s just been reading Manning Clark again.

Clonakilla Wines
Crisps Lane, Murrumbateman, NSW
Open 11 am to 5 pm daily
(02) 6227 5877

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Capital Wines

Capital Wines is a joint venture between Jennie and Mark Mooney of Grazing restaurant Gundaroo and Andrew and Marion McEwin’s Kyeema Wines, so they should know a thing or two about making food friendly wine. There’s no cellar door yet, but Jennie says they’ll be opening one on site with Grazing restaurant in early 2010.

In the meantime the wines are available through their online cellar and a variety of places throughout Canberra including Plonk – OMIC* reports spotting some of Capital’s ministry label at the national museum gift shop. With names such as ‘The Backbencher’ Merlot, ‘The Fence Sitter’ Rose and ‘The Swinger' Sauvignon Blanc, it’s a series clearly in touch with this town.

I’m pretty keen to try ‘The Ambassador’ Tempranillo, and while I could wander off to Plonk for a bottle and let OMIC go at it in the kitchen**, the idea of trying some in situ at Grazing is very appealing. On a more worrying note 2010’s not that far away, so once the cellar door is operating, a full report will be lodged.

For more on Capital Wines, the old master Chris Shanahan has an informative post at his website.

*I wanted to start referring to our man in Canberra as ‘our Mick’ but apparently this makes him sound like ‘an indentured Irish day worker’.

**In our loose coalition, he tends to cook and I switch on the Asko.

Capital Wines
Opening early 2010
(02) 6236 8555

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Brindabella Hills Winery

I wasn’t in the best mood for wine tasting the day we visited Brindabella Hills Winery. It was a bitter Canberra winter’s day and Our Man and I had a wide-ranging argument discussion about the best way to spend the afternoon.

Brindabella Hills was on our list but didn’t offer food, so he suggested taking along a picnic. I pointed to the level of the mercury cringing in the thermometer bulb and hastily threw a few items together, thinking that I’d be able to persuade him into going somewhere with tablecloths and waiters.

Upon arrival, however, things started looking better. I like parrots and when I spotted a small posse of Crimson Rosellas as we rolled up to the cellar door, I took it as a sign that the afternoon was about to improve.

Brindabella Hills is a family owned winery established in 1986 by Roger and Faye Harris. Roger is an ex-scientist turned winemaker/scientist who not only makes good wines but also likes a bit of a chat. We learned they had selected the site because it had a similar climate to other premium wine growing areas, mostly in Europe but also the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. We also found out they were planning to open a new cellar door - currently under construction – that would provide snacks and light meals and, thanks to a recent change in liquor regulations, they could now sell thirsty travellers wine by the glass.

There were several wines available for tasting including some unusual styles – a 2008 sangiovese shiraz ($18) and the 2007 Aureus ($25), a 50, 50 mix of chardonnay and viognier. We took home a bottle of both varieties as well as a 2008 sauvignon blanc ($18) and a 2005 shiraz cabernet franc ($15).

The mel* didn’t last long. We drank it the same evening with some plump winter Clyde River rock oysters, bought at EPIC. A delicate, fragrant wine with restrained tropical fruit flavours, it was a fine match for the oysters with no trace of the Passiona king tide that has swamped this variety.

The 2007 Aureus was a minor revelation. I’m a bit particular when it comes to chardonnay, so I wasn’t expecting to like it. My first impression was of viognier (apricot and white nectarines) on the nose with the chardonnay giving it body. Continuing our theme of ad hoc food pairings we drank it with a homemade chicken satay pizza**, which tended to highlight more of the chardonnay characteristics. I had some more the next day with pork pie and salad and found apricot flavours coming to the fore. It’s a versatile wine and one that I’ve added to my growing list of favourites.

In contrast, I found it difficult to get a handle on the sangiovese shiraz – according to the label, the blend is 66% sangiovese and 33% shiraz (and if anyone finds the last 1% missing from the label please email). Very drinkable but hard to pin down.

Likewise, the 2005 shiraz cabernet franc was juicy with restrained tannins but wasn’t particularly distinctive. An enjoyable quaffer that did a perfectly adequate job of accompanying our rare steak with blue cheese sauce. I’d have no qualms about taking either to a neighbour’s barbeque.

We’re also determined to grab a bottle of Roger’s shiraz at some stage for further research.

You can purchase Brindabella Hills wines from several wine retailers and restaurants in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, or you can order them direct from the winery. As this post was being written, the latest edition of the King James Wine Bible hit the shelves. Brindabella Hills Winery scored a note about being consistently impressive and a five star rating (which on my scale is equivalent to about four Crimson Rosellas).

As for the picnic, the Jindy triple cream and pain de champagne from Croissant Dor were barely finished, and photos hurriedly snapped, before a familiar voice noted with a touch of surprise: “Christ, it’s cold this afternoon.” Time to go home.

* Yes it’s one of those annoying codes couples do. Sauvignon blanc = Mel Blanc. Our man = old Warner Bros cartoon fan (Dame MP = patience of a frickin’ saint).

** No correspondence will be entered into as to whether chicken satay is a ‘real’ pizza. There’s a time and a place for such questions i.e. not now, not here, (and preferably with someone who cares).

Brindabella Hills Winery
156 Woodgrove Close, via Wallaroo Road
Via Hall ACT 2618
10 am to 5 pm weekends and public holidays
(02) 6230 2583

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Barton Estate

Strictly speaking Barton Estate shouldn’t be in the A2Z because it isn’t open to the public – I was thrown by a couple of web entries that suggested you could arrange tastings by appointment. Unfortunately, tastings aren’t offered but you can order the wines via the website (a word of warning, at the time of writing the wine list on the web is from 2005 but apparently the site is soon to be upgraded).

When we spoke to co-proprietor Julie Chitty she also suggested trying the Kingston Hotel bottle-o and Jim Murphy’s Airport Cellars for a limited selection and Braddon Cellars for a fuller range. We struck out with the Kingston Hotel and Braddon Cellars but we did find a few varieties on sale at Jim Murphy’s, all around the $16 mark and all from the 2003 vintage.

We chose a 2003 Carbernets Merlot – it’s not a typo, the wine is a mix of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot. The label suggested that it could be drunk immediately or cellared for up to five years, so keep in mind the wine was a year past its recommended best.

Our first taste showed the fruit had faded somewhat but there was a hit of blackberries on the nose. Our man in Canberra claimed to have also picked up ‘traces of cassis’ but I suspect he’s just been reading Huon Hooke again.

The wine had good structure and the tannins had softened to the point where I start to enjoy the cabernets. Initially, when I tried it with food it seemed a little too astringent for simple roast lamb and taters but I think this might have been caused by the liberal amounts of Crockershire mint sauce I soused my peas with, because after awhile I found myself enjoying a strong hint of red currant on the palate.

The next day we drank the remainder (one of the benefits of writing this guide is learning to leave a bit in the bottle for follow up analysis, something new to both of us) with roast chicken and salad and it didn’t disappoint. The wine had softened a little more and unexpectedly, the fruit flavours were more apparent.

I admit one wine does not a tasting make, but Julie reckons the petite verdot has been well received and as I’m a bit of fan of the variety I’ll be keeping an eye out for it and Barton Estate in the future.

Barton Estate
Not open to the public - mail order only
(02) 6230 9553
0412 229348

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

We didn’t start the fireside festival.

Towards the end of May, I noticed the Fireside Festival website was still carrying information for August 2008. Having survived a memorable long weekend during Stanthorpe’s Brass Monkey Season in my youth, I subscribed to email updates/newsletters for this year’s event. By late June nothing had come through, so I checked back and found the 2008 information was still up.

Yesterday the ABC carried a report the festival was set to kick off on 1 August. Also that fine journal of record Canberra Weekly Magazine ran a full page advert of the festival program.

I’m yet to receive any updates and by the looks of it, a couple of events are already booked out, so if you fancy fine wine, food, flicks and fires just point your browser here for more details.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Affleck Vineyard

Talk about an unexpected discovery. Who’d have guessed acclaimed actor, writer and director, Ben Affleck has further cemented his claim to renaissance man status with a foray into Canberra winemaking.

Okay, he hasn't really, I made that part up (hey I’m a blogger and apparently it’s what we do). Fact is, there is no Affleck, Ben or otherwise, at Affleck Vineyard. It’s Susie and Ian Hendry who are responsible for the 4-hectare vineyard that was established at Millynn Road, Bungendore in 1976.

The name Affleck doesn’t refer to a person but to an Anglicised version of the Gaelic achadh-nan-leac which means a field of flagstones. You do get a hint of the rock field as you negotiate the gravel drive and pass an imposing dry stonewall.

The cellar door is unpretentious. There’s no attempt to charm you into liking the wine because a small fortune was spent on the decor. Instead the tasting area overlooks the engine room of the winery and the stainless steel vats have an honest, hands on appeal.

Sue Hendry and Ellie, (the obligatory friendly winery dog), were on duty the day we visited. Affleck offers basic wine tasting – there’s no food but plenty of tables and chairs on the verandah and Sue says visitors are welcome to bring their own provisions. An idea I squirreled away for future visits to smaller establishments.

Ian Hendry’s 30 plus years of experience as a vintner was evident in the wines. I tried a particularly good 2008 rosé, which had a pinot noir base, fine structure and a nice dry finish. There’s now a bottle on the rack at home waiting for a warm day and a picnic.

The 2005 pinot noir was just as good. It had a lighter mouth feel with a good flavour profile – a smoky, spicy quality that would go well with pan-fried duck breast. Showing admirable disregard for our advice we drank it with a spicy goat stew and the dregs with a rather more pedestrian home cooked burger a day later. While some of the smoky qualities were suppressed by the spiciness of the goat stew, it held up well, with a few savoury notes coming to the fore. The next day what remained was still drinking well and the smoky/spiciness evident at the tasting was enhanced by the simple flavours of the hamburger.

I also enjoyed the Affleck Vineyard sticky – a late picked sauvignon blanc – odd because I’m not a big fan of dessert wines. Even the chardy was good. While not the crisp chablis style I favour, it avoided the big overblown, over-oaked style that for many pushed this variety onto the shun list.

Also available for tasting, was an 04 merlot cabernet, a 2003 cabernet shiraz, a 2008 semillon, a sparkling pinot, as well as some fortified wines that we didn’t try. They were all priced between $10 and $20 – and represent good value if you’re cheap careful with money like our man in Canberra.

Not knowing what to expect, Affleck Vineyard was a good place to start our exploration of Canberra wineries. The drive was pleasant, the wines were good and the owners friendly.

Affleck Vineyard
154 Millynn Road, Bungendore NSW 2621
Ph 02 6236 9276
Mob 0415 484 113

Open 9am – 5pm Friday to Wednesday and public holidays. NB, during July and August 2009, open by appointment on so make sure you phone first.

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