Sunday, November 29, 2009

Murrumbateman Wine Visit

McKellar Ridge Wines
Telephone: (02) 62581556
Postal: 2 Euroka Ave, Murrumbateman, NSW 2582
Cellar door opens: Sundays 12noon to 5pm. Other times by appointment

Telephone: (02) 6227 5877
Postal: 3 Crisps Lane, Murrumbateman, NSW 2582
Cellar door opens: daily 11am to 5pm

Helm Wines
Telephone: (02) 6227 5953
Butts Road, Murrumbateman NSW 2582.
Cellar door opens: daily 11am to 5pm

Sunday midday in Canberra was cold, wet and windy. Not exactly the sort of weather that encourages outdoor activity. However, the good people at McKellar Ridge Wines had already invited me to their Christmas Celebration and so with my jacket on, Google Maps on, I set out from Garran.

Canberra is blessed by some nice wine-growing region and although Murrumbateman, being only 30mins drive over the border into NSW from Canberra, it is clustered as part of the Canberra District wines. While wine-growing and wine-making has been around since 1840s in this region, it was not till 1970s when it was established by John Kirk of Clonakilla and Edgar Riek of Lake George Winery. Today, this region is well-established as a wine-making region due to the popularity of Clonakilla's Shiraz Viognier and Helm's Premium Riesling.

The wine from this region fascinates me. The altitude of around 600m and the cool climate means it is suited to some cool climate grapes and certainly shiraz and riesling grow very well here. However, pinot noir is not suited to Murrumbateman. Cabernet Sauvignon can struggle in this region but judging from my trip today, there are some very nice cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc coming out of this region. The shiraz and riesling are of different style to those from Barossa Valley or Eden Valley but just as pleasing.

As opposed to the more commercialised wineries in Hunter Valley in New South Wales, or McLaren Vale or Barossa Valley in South Australia, many wineries and cellar doors are quite small and family operated. As a consequence, I found it easier to talk to the vigneron and to learn and discuss their approach and philosophy when making their wines. The experience is more intimate and satisfying. You do not need to be part of wine club or tour group or super-star to enjoy the wines at many cellar doors in this region. Most importantly, you do not get scoffed at or laughed at when you ask a trivial question.

McKellar Ridge Winery was first up. This is a very young winery established in 2005. They produce roughly 400-500 dozen cases annually. Driving up the driveway, I could smell the BBQ shrimps and snags. The winemaker, Brian Johntson, was hard at work cooking for the guests while wife, Janet, was busy serving  the cellar door. Since the last time I was here, the new 2008 vintage has been released and I'll briefly talk about the wines I tasted today with the BBQ and salad provided!

McKellar Ridge Winery

  1. 2009 Sauvignon Blanc: A refreshing and dry white with hint of passionfruit and citrus. A very nice contrast to sauvignon blanc from Margaret River or New Zealand.
  2. 2008 Shiraz Viognier: The grapes are hand-picked and basket pressed and matured for 14 months in French oak. This wine is very approachable with nice blackberry fruit and a very velvety tannin without being overly spicey. I really like this SV.
  3. 2005 Shiraz Viognier: The Johnston's opened their remaining 2005 as a comparison to the 2008. They sold out the 2007 but I was fortunate enough to tried some at my last trip. The 2005 has the advantage of few more years of maturation with deep blackberry fruit, good tannin and even better structure in the mouth compare to the 08 SV. I'm sure if given a few more years the 08 will be just as nice.
  4. 2008 Merlot Cabernet franc: A very nice oak to the nose, plum on the palate  with nice tannin. I find this a very nice wine although it is on a slightly sweet side. The vigneron was aiming for a St-Emillion style of blend. While I have not tasted wines from St-Emillion, I still quite enjoy this particular blend.
  5. 2008 Trio (cabernet sauvignon 70%, cabernet franc 20%, merlot 10%) : a blend closely resembling a Bordeaux blend, I really really enjoyed this particular wine. It shows good structure, fine tannin, oak to the nose and great depth of ripe berry with nice finish. It's amazing how allowing this wine to breathe really brings out its character. Definitely my pick of the lot.

 Next year's wine in the barrels

Brian Johnston, vigneron and BBQ extraordinaire, hard at work

After a very fulfilling lunch, my next stop was Clonakilla. While I have tasted most of the previous vintages, I have yet to try the new riesling and the new shiraz viognier.

2008 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier

  1. 2009 Riesling: A clean, refreshing white with good aroma of citrus/lemon. Nice aroma and beautiful finish. Certainly a different style of riesling to my other favourite, the Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling.
  2. 2008 O'Riada shiraz: This is a shiraz with viognier co-fermented. Whilst the viognier is grown by Clonakilla, the shiraz are sourced from around the region. I find this a more approachable wine than the 2008 shiraz viognier (more on this later). It has good structure, fragrant and spicy with nice blackberry fruit. It has a very smooth tannin.
  3. 2008 Shiraz viognier: Let's face it, everyone who comes to Clonakilla wants to try their flagship. This is shiraz (94%) co-fermented with viognier (6%). Initially, a very young wine and certainly less approachable than the O'Riada, but give it space and air, it shows that this is a very complex wine with spicy bouquet of blackberry, intense and spicy but a very savoury finish. One thing I notice is the SV is less intensely coloured compare to other shiraz I've had.

2008 Shiraz Viognier up against the light

Sun finally shining through by the time I was leaving Clonakilla

Ready to be picked March/April next year

My final destination was Helm wines. By the time I got here, the cloud came over and rain came. I was lucky enough to have made it in time to run into the Helm cellar door, which, interestingly, was an old school building.

Yep, 420pm at Helm Wine, I still have 40 mins before closing time

Ken Helm planted his first grape back in the 1970s. He is a big promoter of the region's wines and of his own riesling. Again, I was here tasting some of the new vintages.
  1. 2008 Riesling: this is the 32nd vintage of this fantastic riesling. It is young, refreshing with citrus on the nose. 
  2. 2008 Premium Riesling: Drinking the premium riesling is like comparing a C and E class Mercedes. Whilst both are very good, the premium riesling (E class) is that much more better than the riesling (C class). It has a more intense citrus/lemon aroma with a nice palate and finish. The premium riesling is not made very vintage as only the best fruit is used to make the premium riesling
  3. 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: a definitely rare varietal to be growing here as cabernet tends not to mature well in the cooler climates. However, this is a very good wine with good structure, beautiful oak to the nose, deep red and black berry palate with a very smooth and well structured tannin. This cabernet is not as big as other cabernets I've had from Coonawarra or Margaret River regions. 

The '08 Shiraz in French oak barrels

Overall, I had a great half a day in Murrumbateman tasting beautiful wines and chatting to very enthusiastic vignerons about their wines. I hope this little region remain as it is so the charm and warmth is not lost to over-commercialisation.

As for the timepiece, it is the Jaeger Le-Coultre Master Geographic as reviewed in previous post.


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