A recent visit to 5 cellar doors in the Canberra District wine region.

Clonakilla

Clonakilla is one of my favourite wineries in Australia and I will often try to time a trip down to Canberra to coincide with the release of the new vintage of their flagship Shiraz Viognier each September. The cellar door is functional but seems a little bit dated now, I am also ever hopeful of them switching to better glassware than the standard ISOs (many places are now using restaurant range Riedels or similar) but it hasn’t happened yet and it seems like a simple change that could really help the wines (and the experience).

The wines were fairly solid across the range as usual, however the Shiraz Viognier I think suffers from the difficult 2011 vintage and I will probably allow my decent vertical collection to be broken. It is by no means a bad wine, it just isn’t worth $85 and I actually preferred the $35 O’Riada.

  • 2012 Clonakilla Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Light herbs, floral and citrus notes – nicely aromatic. Good acidity on the palate and pretty appealing overall for drinking now. 89/100

  • 2012 Clonakilla Riesling – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Nicely floral nose with green apples as well. Palate is strongly acidity driven and bright. Good and will get better, but I can’t see it being great. 88/100

  • 2011 Clonakilla Viognier Nouveau – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Citrus, apple and light apricot on the nose. The palate is uncomplicated, though it hints at decent texture. 87/100

  • 2011 Clonakilla Viognier – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Peach, spice and lemon with some wild barrel character in the background. The palate give the initial impression of roundness, but there is good acidity to lift the wine. Texturally interesting as well. 90/100

  • 2011 Clonakilla Shiraz Hilltops – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Hilltops
    I liked the nose, with floral and cherry notes and a touch of game. The palate is simple and there is a stalky character to it, with little depth. 86/100

  • 2011 Clonakilla Shiraz O’Riada – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Very appealing nose of pepper, violets, spice and bright red cherries. The palate has that floral lift to it as well but there is some spice and good depth also. Really good and I currently prefer it to the Shiraz Viognier in this vintage. 90/100

  • 2011 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Very light pepper, with mint, cedar and cherry. The mint note appears on the palate as well, the length is alright but it just feels like it is lacking in drive and complexity. It’s still good but I feel like it will be at its best over the next 5-7 years. 88/100

Eden Road Wines

Next stop was Eden Road Wines. I haven’t visited this producer before but had heard good things and decided it was time to try the range. Last year they purchased and moved into the large Doonkuna cellar door, which is conveniently close to Clonakilla. The cellar door did feel a bit bit too big, especially as we were the only people there at the time but a positive was the plentiful natural light.

I was really quite impressed by the overall quality of the wines here, the top Chardonnay (Tumbarumba & Courabyra) and Shiraz (Hilltops, Canberra, Gundagai) are moving into fairly expensive territory (between $36 and $50) but I quite liked The Long Road range, especially the Chardonnay, at around $20. I believe the majority of the grapes are sourced from growers, but with the purchase of Doonkuna they acquired ownership of some additional vineyard area. I’ll definitely revisit here next time and I’m looking forward to trying this range again.

  • 2011 Eden Road Pinot Gris – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Spice, some lemon peel, pear and peaches. The palate has an oily Alsace styled mouthfeel to it, with good length and finishes clean due to the acid line. 89/100

  • 2010 Eden Road Riesling The Long Road – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Grapefruit and soft floral aromas, backed by a touch of slate. The palate is mineral driven with a good core acid profile. Well balanced. 89/100

  • 2011 Eden Road Chardonnay The Long Road – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Tumbarumba
    Green apple, oats and pear aromas on the nose. The palate shows pure fruit and a minerality reminiscent of good Chablis. I found this to be delicious and great value, I actually slightly preferred it to the two more expensive Chardonnay tried from this producer. 90/100

  • 2011 Eden Road Chardonnay Tumbarumba – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Tumbarumba
    Graphite, mandarin, light oak and pear on the nose. Palate shows restraint with nicely bright citrus fruit though there is an ever so slight roundness to the edges. Finishes with good length. 89/100

  • 2011 Eden Road Chardonnay Courabyra – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Tumbarumba
    Lemon, slate and a touch of oak influence. Palate is medium bodied and there is just a pinch of rich fruit showing through. Good, but I think it will lift further with a couple of years in bottle. 88/100

  • 2012 Eden Road Riesling Off-Dry Canberra – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Peaches, pear and light spice aromas. Pushes the limits of reasonably calling it off-dry, with 28 grams per litre of residual sugar without quite having the level of acidity needed to lift and focus the wine. Still quite tasty though. 87/100

  • 2011 Eden Road Pinot Noir – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Tumbarumba
    Lightly scented nose of cherry, olive and stalk. The palate is also best described as light, though there is some mid palate texture to give it some interest. 87/100

  • 2010 Eden Road Shiraz The Long Road – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Lifted aromas of red cherry, liquorice and a small pinch of spice. The palate is medium bodied with a good balance of red fruit and some pepper/spice. Will be nice to drink over the short-medium term. 88/100

  • 2010 Eden Road Shiraz Hilltops – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Hilltops
    Aromatic bright floral notes, red berries, cherry and pepper on the nose. The palate gives off more of a dark fruit impression with good depth and restraint. Very enjoyable. 90/100

  • 2011 Eden Road Shiraz Canberra – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Floral nose with spice, stalk and some blueberry undercurrents. There is plenty of interest on the palate, good depth and restrained savoury fruit – right along the lines of the style I like. 90/100

  • 2011 Eden Road Shiraz Gundagai – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Gundagi
    Black cherry, liquorice, dark chocolate and graphite. Excellent savoury mouthfeel with some medium bodied dark fruit supporting. Textured and long, really quite impressive. 91/100

Helm

Helm is another producer I really admire in the Canberra region. From visits over a number of years I think that the Riesling here is some of the best in Australia, however the wines tasted this time were just slightly below expectations (still mostly good though), apart from the 2010 Premium which was great. The cellar door in a tiny 1888 school house is charming, and it is also a nice place to stop for a picnic lunch as there are tables and chairs scattered around the vineyard outside.

  • 2011 Helm Riesling Classic Dry – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Floral and aromatic nose with some lemon and lime. Good acid profile on the palate, a touch more depth to the fruit would be nice though. I prefer the 2010 and 2009 but this was still pleasant. 88/100

  • 2010 Helm Riesling Premium – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Lemon, light florals and slate on the nose. Shines on the palate – precise, balanced and focused on the palate, with drive and persistence. I loved the 08 and 09 versions of this wine and I can see a trend developing. 91/100

  • 2009 Helm Sauvignon Blanc – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Olives and lemon on the nose. Palate is medium bodied with some grip and a slightly oily texture to it. Interesting but not necessarily enjoyable. 87/100

  • 2012 Helm Riesling Half Dry – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Passionfruit and orange peel on the nose. Residual sugar is noticeable and if I had to guess would be around 15 grams per litre – though there is decent balance with the acidity. Could do with some more complexity but it is superficially nice to drink. 88/100

  • 2012 Helm Riesling Botrytis – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Lemon peel and honey on the nose. The richness and the sweetness come in over the top of the acid line and while it doesn’t end up as cloying, it doesn’t have enough drive for my taste. I wanted to like this more but it wasn’t as good as I hoped. 86/100

  • 2009 Helm Cabernet Sauvignon – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Mint and menthol with light liquorice aromas. Medium bodied with decent length, but fails to provide nearly enough depth. Fine to drink but there are so many more interesting options available. 85/100

  • 2008 Helm Cabernet Sauvignon Premium – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Plum, licorice and game aromas. Palate is medium bodied and suitably balanced between ripeness and restraint. Balance is fine, there is just some excitement lacking here. 88/100

  • 2008 Helm Cabernet Shiraz – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Chocolate, spices, liquorice and light mint on the nose. Medium bodied and nicely balanced, there are some nice textural elements here. The Cabernet fruit is from the same source as the 2008 Premium bottling and the addition of the Shiraz component give it more depth and interest. 89/100

Capital Wines

I’ve been waiting for the cellar door at Capital Wines to be ready for the last few years and this year it was finally completed. It is located in reconstructed stables next to their well regarded Grazing restaurant which would also be a good place to stop for lunch if in the area. The reconstruction has been done quite well and there is a good mix of rustic elements and modern touches.

Overall this was a consistently strong lineup of wines, with the Reserve Merlot especially exciting.

  • 2010 Capital Wines Chardonnay The Senator Kyeema – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Lemon butter, some wheat and peach. Rounded palate, probably a bit too rounded for my taste but there is some texture to give it a little bit of interest. 87/100

  • 2011 Capital Wines Chardonnay Viognier Kyeema Canberra District – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Quince, peach and apricot on the nose. Lusciously textured on the palate, there is richness and enough acidity to keep it bright. Interesting in style, I wasn’t sure if I liked it at first but I quickly warmed to it. 89/100

  • 2011 Capital Wines Riesling The Whip Kyeema – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Lemon peel, lime and light florality on the nose. Medium length and well balanced palate. Drinking well already, though the acidity should be enough to let it age well over the next 5-6 years. 89/100

  • 2011 Capital Wines Sauvignon Blanc The Swinger – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Passionfruit and floral aromas. Light bodied, though there is a bit of fruit sweetness to play well against the acidity. Will be best consumed in its youth. 88/100

  • 2011 Capital Wines The Abstainer – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Light nose with rose petal and cherry. Palate is light as well, there is little depth but at least it is dry and what is there seems balanced. 86/100

  • 2010 Capital Wines Merlot The Backbencher Kyeema – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Plum, graphite and some bright red cherries on the nose. Medium bodied palate with more restrained bright red fruits. Not strongly structured but it is drinking well now. 88/100

  • 2010 Capital Wines Shiraz The Front Bencher Kyeema – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Pepper, mixed spices, blackberry and light cherry on the nose. Palate has good length and texture, it’s nicely restrained while still having some generosity of flavour. 89/100

  • 2011 Capital Wines Tempranillo The Ambassador Kyeema – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Raspberry, cherry and graphite on the nose. Savoury palate and though there are some assertive tannins they do not overshadow the fruit. There is good length and I think this would only get better with food. 90/100

  • 2009 Capital Wines Merlot Reserve Kyeema – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Bright and lifted nose of floral aromas, plum, cherry and soft oak. The palate is plush and soft, though the structure is more evident in the mid-palate and it carries well into a lengthy finish. Impressive now and I’d like to see it in 3-4 years. 91/100

  • 2010 Capital Wines Shiraz Reserve Kyeema – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Graphite, smoked meat/game and some spice. I like the savoury style of the palate, though the tannins grip and hold quite tightly. Decent length, but I didn’t really see it being much better than the standard Shiraz in this vintage. 89/100

  • 2011 Capital Wines Riesling Late Picked – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Nice mix of pineapple, quince and mango aromas. Palate is balanced, I would guess at about 40-50 grams per litre of residual sugar, but the acidity balances it nicely. Should age well over 6-7 years. 89/100

Lark Hill

The final cellar door is one that I haven’t visited for 3-4 years after an “interesting” experience on the previous visit, backed by many others telling me they had had similar less than ideal experiences. This was a shame as the wines are usually very good. Recently the son of the owners, Chris has been doing a lot of good work on social media and we decided to give it another go. Chris wasn’t working on the day, but there were no problems with the service. I will mention one negative, which is a tasting fee (unusual to find in Australia) refundable with purchase, implemented earlier this year. I don’t have an issue with the fee as it is rare that I won’t buy at least something at a cellar door, however it isn’t mentioned at all on their website and I find it slightly deceptive to provide cellar door details on the site but not mention the fee.

The winery is certified biodynamic and was the first Australian winery to release a commercial Gruner Veltiner (from the 2009 vintage). Again, these were consistently good wines and I like that they have an aged release available for tasting and purchase.

  • 2012 Lark Hill Viognier – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Peach, ginger, apricot and a nice floral note. Some fruit richness on the palate but it never feels over the top as the acidity cuts through it and it finishes crisply. 88/100

  • 2011 Lark Hill Riesling – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Light florals, lime and minerality on the nose. The palate has biting crisp acidity, it has excellent focus but I do wish it was a bit more generous in its flavour profile. 88/100

  • 2012 Lark Hill GrĂ¼ner Veltliner – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    White pepper, floral notes and pear on the nose. The spice carries onto the palate, there is good verve and length, it does seem to lack a little spark compared to the 2010 but it is still very good. 89/100

  • 2009 Lark Hill Chardonnay – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Hay, peach and some spicy, slightly nutty oak influence. Palate is a well balanced mix of fruit richness along with some more restrained minerality. 88/100

  • 2010 Lark Hill Pinot Noir – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    A pretty nose of cherry, spice and rose petals. Balanced on the palate, it has medium intensity red fruit along with some more earthy savoury elements. Good for drinking now and over the short-medium term. 89/100

  • 2010 Lark Hill Shiraz Viognier – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Pepper, cherry/kirsch as well as some charcuterie characters. Palate is spice driven, though some black tinted fruit comes into play as well. Good length and a good wine. 89/100

  • 2005 Lark Hill Exaltation – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Mint chocolate, cherry, raspberry and some subtle earth. The palate is medium bodied, there is very good balance between some red fruit and the resolving tannin structure. Drinking well now but should continue to do so over the next 5-6 years. 90/100

  • 2010 Lark Hill Riesling Auslese – Australia, New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Canberra District
    Honey and quince with lime aromas. Palate is quite sweet, there is some spice to it but perhaps needs some more acid to lift it. 87/100

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