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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