Collector Wines Lamp Lit Marsanne 2013, Canberra District, AUD $32
Like many of my generation (BB, that is) I’m transfixed by the recent fashion for retro wines. This is my term for wines made in old-fashioned ways, and I’m not talking of Whitehill beater crushers, hand-cranked basket presses, old oak and forked stalks, à la Rockford winery. I’m talking seriously old: clay amphorae and ceramic eggs for fermenters, white grapes fermented on their skins, reds fermented on their stalks, minimal or zero additions (such as yeast, bacteria, acid, tannin, yeast nutrients, sulfites, etc.), and sustainable viticulture – especially organic or biodynamic.
The quiet achiever of Canberra District wine, Alex McKay, has just opened his cellar door at Collector. Collector is a sleepy little spot beside the Federal Highway just on the Goulburn side of Lake George. When I dropped in for an excellent coffee at the cute Some Café, followed by a tasting of Alex’s Collector Wines next door (he shares a building with the café) you could have fired a cannon down the main street and not hit anybody.
At least 25 Australian wine regions regularly produce excellent shiraz. They vary in latitude from the Granite Belt in southern Queensland to Tasmania’s Tamar Valley. Top-line shiraz is also produced from the eastern to the western extremities: from the Hunter Valley to Western Australia’s Swan Valley. There is no other country that offers such a range of shiraz produced in such a variety of terroirs. Yet people still generalize about Australian shiraz as a blockbuster wine: unsubtle, superripe, high-alcohol and jammy. This is a mistake.
A Hunter Valley shiraz made by Hungerford Hill has won the title of NSW Wine of the Year for 2012. It’s the 2007 Hungerford Hill Epic Shiraz ($55 – tastings), which topped a field of 780 entries in the NSW Wine Awards, a field that
The Yarra Valley is arguably Australia’s most creative wine region at present, a cauldron of inventiveness and much progress is being made despite the setbacks of heat-waves, bushfire smoke, droughts and frosts and this year’s deluge. Driven by such charismatic personalities as Steve Webber (of De Bortoli), the region is pushing the boundaries of the envelope with chardonnay, pinot noir and other varieties. One of the new catch-cries is stalks. Stalks in pinot noir and shiraz, principally. Other cool-climate winemakers have been experimenting with stalks too, such as Alex McKay (of Collector Wines) and others in the Canberra region, but in the Yarra, the ‘stalk dorks’ seem to be taking over. The chief proponents are Dave Bicknell of Oakridge, Bill Downie (William Downie), Luke Lambert, Gary Mills (Jamsheed), Rory Lane (The Story) and Webber. The pioneer of big-time stalk usage was Gary Farr of By Farr and previously of Bannockburn. He and his son Nick (Farr Rising) still probe the limits with stalks and are making what I think are wonderful pinot noirs this way. Back at Bannockburn, Michael Glover continues the stalk mania.
The giant-killer at the recent Sydney Royal Wine Show was Alex McKay, whose 2008 Collector Reserve Shiraz netted four trophies, climaxing with the Gilbert Phillips Trophy for best red wine of show. McKay, who is one of the quietest and least demonstrative winemakers I know, kept his composure at least on the surface on each of his four trips to the podium at the awards ceremony on February 11. At one stage a voice from the back of the room boomed: “Smile, Alex!”