Wine and time: 2012 dinner series

For the Clonakilla 2012 dinner series we conducted a really enjoyable set of dinners investigating the age-worthiness of Clonakilla wines at some fine dining establishments around the country.

We started each dinner with a glass or two of the 2012 Viognier Nouveau. This has proven to be a very successful wine for us. Built on the (correct) assumption that sometimes you just want a drink, something that is neither heavy nor intense. Just a nice bright fresh glass of wine that hits the spot without asking too much of you.

With the first course we served a bracket of Rieslings. The vintages varied over the dinners but the most common combination was 2002, 2006 and 2012.

The 2012 Riesling is an excellent example that has garnered some top reviews and topped the 2012 Riesling class in its only show outing at the Canberra Regional Wine Show in September last year. It was fascinating then to take a straw poll of the favourites. I think in every case the 2002 Riesling at ten years of age came out on top, sometimes in a very close tussle with the 2006.

Those gathered, with many fine palates among them, showed a clear preference for the aged version. And who can blame them. The lime, toast and honey characters that emerge as Canberra Riesling ages proved a winner.

The second bracket was the Ballinderry. Here we poured the 2011, either the 2005 or 2006 and then the 1997. At every dinner it was a revelation how well the 1997 opened. Classic Cabernet notes – think blackcurrants and garden herbs all encased in that glorious warmth that really good aged wine seems to develop.

The 2005 and 2006 looked a lot more primary in comparison and given the rather stunning 1997 that stood next to them the consensus was they needed more time to really hit their straps.

The 2011 Ballinderry from a cool season showed a lovely floral dimension in its bouquet. An elegant, aromatic wine without the firmness of tannin exhibited by its older siblings from the warmer 05 and 06 vintages.

The Shiraz Viognier bracket was a highlight of course. The vintages varied as we moved around the country.

The 2002 I’ve often thought of as the most Burgundian vintage of SV. Think autumn. Sunny afternoons, the last of the year’s tomatoes and the fallen leaves piling up on the earth. A gentle, comforting kind of wine.

The 2003 looked very strong. A warm drought vintage, I pointed out to my fellow diners the extra tannin impact from the small berries of that year. Small berries means less juice in proportion to the amount of skin and seed in the ferment. The skin and seeds of the grapes are where the tannins come from. It has a lovely potency about it, and that haunting glowing ember warmth that good aged Shiraz is all about.

The 2005 looked elegant and just a little aristocratic. It has terrific spice drive through the aroma, even if it has lost some of the flamboyant fruitiness of its early years.

The 2006 showed the hallmark deep red fruit with a cracked pepper spine. It is STILL a little on the closed side. I have to say it is a surprise to me how long this wine is taking to emerge from its shell. If you have some in the cellar, it could go a while yet.

The 2008 was gorgeous. Really bright, ripe fruit here, reflecting the generous warmth of the March of that year. Quite the seducer, this is an easy wine to love.

The 2011 from the coolest year in ages showed a fragrant line of spice and a fineness and purity that left it no way embarrassed by the warmer vintages that preceded it.

The dinners all finished with the 2001 Auslese Riesling.

This wine is a heart-warming tale of bringing triumph out of adversity. After carefully instructing the pickers all vintage to scrupulously avoid any bunch with any sign of botrytis, the day came when I told them to ONLY pick bunches that were positively COVERED with botrytis! Once we got these disgusting looking grapes into winery Bryan had the unenviable task of turning them into something magical.

The desiccation that goes on in a grape infected with botrytis results in a serious concentration of the sugars and the acids. Making wine from such grapes is a serious pain in the behind, given the challenges of extracting juice from the shrivelled berries, getting them to start fermenting, getting them to keep fermenting and then getting them to stay in some semblance of stability once the fermentation has finally ground to a halt.

For all that, the wine is a shining diamond of a thing, as those of you fortunate enough to have tasted it can attest. Utterly delicious.

It was a delight to see how well the older vintages were aging. Encouraging too for our mailing list members who came along, particularly those with older Clonakilla wines in their cellars. For all that, I do want everyone with our wines in the cellar to crack the top off and try them. I like to think they make interesting drinking at all stages of their lives.

Now, I just have to decide on a theme for the 2013 dinner series. I’m looking forward to them already.
Text: Tim Kirk
Photography: David Reist