BY CLARE BURDER
One of my closest pals Simon, needed a lift to the Hunter Valley. You know, the one past Sydney. I offered, since I’d never been and my new-ish car is still showing gloriously few kilometres. We decided to travel through Canberra, Cowra and Orange on our way and visit some of our favourite wineries.
The ACT regions are firmly established these days from an industry point of view – yet for the average Victorian wine drinker they barely rate a mention. We’re collectively spoilt, we’ve little reason to leave our diverse, mountainous, cool climate, coastal state. It reminds me of the lake we have at my parents’ farm – we can never catch any fish because we’ve realised they’re just not that hungry. Anyway, analogies aside. Trust me, just get in the car and go.
The ACT area encompasses the grape growing regions of the Canberra District, Hilltops, Murrumbateman & to the south – Tumbarumba. All with their own identity but in a nutshell these regions are cool, with altitudes ranging from 400 – 800 meters. The region is known for riesling, shiraz, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and some pinot noir. Vines were first planted for commercial wine production in 1971, it’s diverse, beautiful and from a tourism perspective great because the wineries are in clusters and there is plenty of good food around.
Eden Road came up first…a relatively new winery which is making waves nationally. Smart wines, smart people, cool place. These guys specialise in shiraz, chardonnay and pinot noir – and offer several of each in either a single vineyard format, or at different price points. A really interesting exercise in site and style, the lower priced wines are some of the best value wines in the country. I use the off-dry riesling in the course too, so it was great to see the new 2013 vintage – with 30g/l – still looking as balanced, poised and composed as ever. Bloody delicious with thai salads and the like – clean chilli not weighed down with coconut is ideal. This is a good brand to get into if you’re looking for a mid-weight shiraz too. Delicious.
We headed to perhaps one of Australia’s most iconic wineries: Clonakilla. Possibly the most unassuming cellar doors in history, just happily tacked onto the side of the barrel room & lab. You could get caught up in the lack of style here but there’s no point, the wines speak plenty loud enough. Riesling to start – talc, chalk, mineral, this the 2013 and it’s just settling into bottle, I imagine it would be happy there for decades. A neat little Cabernet blend was a nice intro to the reds, leading into of course the shiraz based wines; some with a little viognier. The hallmarks here are density, elegance & ability to age. If you splash out on these wines, keep them for a little while! We were treated to a sneaky tasting in the barrel room, honestly this was just one of those moments where I felt like I was future gazing – all these wonderful 2013 wines not quite ready yet but still showing their individual character. Clonakilla is phenomenal, truly iconic but without the flash. Awesome.
Helm was up next, tucked away off the main road. Ken Helm, again one of Australia’s iconic old guard was behind the counter. Helm is all about riesling, and a little about cabernet sauvignon. But riesling – again I saw that talc character that I have come to associate with Murrumbateman. These are strong, confident wines – seemingly built up by winemaking but of course they are as pure as it gets. Mouth filling, utterly present, a prickle of acid grip. In short, there is a very good reason he can charge $55 for a bottle. We even got to poke around Kens cellar, a grotty cave filled with unlabelled bottles covered in thick gravel dust; holding what I would imagine to be an immense amount of history.
We headed onto Orange and Hunter – unfortunately without much time to stop along the way. We ate at Union Bank in Orange for lunch – fast on its way to becoming an institution. Tom Ward, the owner happened to walk by and we nabbed him for a chat while we ate our steak tartare, king fish carpaccio and errr…fries. Shhhhh. Tom is one of the people driving the recognition of the Orange wine region interstate and beyond and has reason to be optimistic – this is a region to lookout for. The Union Bank is definitely worth the stop.
A long 6 hours later we arrive in the Hunter. It’s just so sexy – so lush, manicured & expensive looking. Hunter Valley to me is the Claudia Schiffer of wine regions. We met up there with the wonderful Sam Connew – AWRI wine scientist/wine maker/wine judge. Sam is accomplished is ways which I can’t even get my head around and then she tells us about her new wine project Stargazer Wines (Tasmania) and I have serious life envy. She takes us to a local Italian eatery where we had probably one of the best meals of my life. The Beltree is an unassuming, quiet place. I won’t bang on about it but the veal carpaccio with fried artichoke & pesto was a revelation.
I spent the 9 hour drive back to the North East meddling with my calendar to make space to go back. Think I’ll have to wait until December but it’s at the top of list.
Until next time!