A sommelier's wine tour around Canberra »
Rocco Esposito explores some of the region’s specialties
By Rocco Esposito
A remarkable series of events made possible a wonderful wine weekend in Canberra. It was based around ‘Taste of Two Regions’, an annual wine fair meticulously assembled by the wineries of King Valley and Rutherglen, in North East Victoria.
My job on the day was to pick the best of the regions’ wines, pair them in a stylistic sense, and ‘wine-talk’ my way through them to a selected target audience in a Master-class format. It was fun, educational and interactive.
The occasion clearly demanded a stay overnight in Canberra and a visit to some amazing wine spots the next day on the way home!
Much of the romance and arguably much of the sensory excitement of wine abides in small estates, many passed down over generations; some called into existence by inspired young viticultural pioneers. Winemakers who personally attend to daily viticultural and vinificatory labours typically convey the innovation and stylistic leavening, the sense of vinous authenticity, along with sensitivity to sites and vines.
The greater the number of such estates, the more numerous the potentially fruitful nodes of stylistic and artisanal influence occur.
Canberra boasts almost three dozen wineries, a handful of which are well known to Aussie wine lovers, such as Helm Wines, Mount Majura Wines, Lark Hill and Clonakilla. My long-lasting pit stop however was at Eden Road Wines, a winery in Murrumbateman, just over half hour away from Canberra CBD.
At Eden Road, winemaker Nick Spencer has masterfully crafted some amazing site-driven wines, with fruit diligently sourced from magical plots of land nearby. In the 2009 Royal Melbourne Wine Show, the 2008 Hilltops Shiraz won the famed Jimmy Watson Trophy.
Rising costs and the expansion of a few estates/wineries have created a very challenging environment for small producers. But this doesn’t seem to stop the rise in quality for Eden Road and Nick Spencer’s vision of making extraordinary wines at very affordable prices.
Other critical acclaims given to Eden Road were ‘Best New Winery’ from Nick Stock in the AGE/SMH Good Wine Guide, and a five star rating in the 2012 Halliday’s Wine Companion.
The winery/cellar door’s simple lay-out is humbly inviting with a small outdoor area where families can just park their kids playing bocce, without worrying about them running on the road (that’s what we did!).
Of all the tasting I had through the ACT district, this was arguably the most revelatory, as well as enjoyable. What I saw in this tasting, was not only a pleasurable way of sipping through some spectacular drinks, it was most of all a triumph of terroir.
The first white we tasted was the 2012 Canberra Pinot Gris: alongside the expected notes of pear and spice, there is an intriguing smoky note here that heads off any threat of over-richness from the intense dried-peach aroma. The palate is taut yet generous, setting up a brilliant tension that lasts from entry to finish.
What a way to start and a great lead up to the three Chardonnays: 2012 The Long Road, 2011 Tumbarumba and 2011 Courabyra. All of them attractive, with a lot of definition and detail.
The 2012 Long Road Chardonnay was lean, dry and very much says “seafood”; interesting and refreshing. The 2011 Tumbarumba Chardonnay was bready, rich, and complex with good acidity and a firm, net finish.
Finally the 2011 Courabyra Chardonnay was that minerally, stony nose, with a hint of stone and tropical fruit; nicely pithy palate texture, with some chalky grip to finish.
After some pretty and well-shaped pinot noir, which calibrated the palate with charming aromatics, it was time to ‘shiraz’. Here is the line-up:
2010 Seedling Shiraz: a detailed expression of pristine regional influence, fine and elegant with brilliant silky texture.
2011 The Long Road Shiraz: spicy, wild red and black fruits, earthy and graphite. There’s a good grip here, but not at all despicable, with heaps of intensity and freshness.
2010 Hilltops Shiraz: brilliant energy in this shiraz, with a complex aroma of wild berry fruit, seaweed and dustiness. The small touch of viognier lifts the genuine floral aspect adding a touch of lightness on the palate.
2011 Canberra Shiraz: probably one of Australia’s most acclaimed cool climate shiraz, with loads of intensity and fragrance. A little whole-bunch adds pretty aromatics and incredibly fine tannins. A seriously good wine.
What really stood out for me was the 2011 Gundagai Shiraz. Every time I drive up to Canberra and pass by Gundagai while stopping at the famous Dog on the Tucker Box, the surrounding area feels so good. The magical wide-rolling hills, once sporadically covered with cattle, are now starting to be filled with vines.
I always thought this is an area with so much potential. It is now showing it in the Eden Road Gundagai Shiraz: violets, fresh herbs, some dark spices and a lift of floral note, remarkably underline the finer detail on the palate, packed with sandy-like tannins, visceral grip and harmonious mouth feel with deep, elegantly structured finish.
The drive to Canberra has never been more exciting and enjoyable with plenty of pretty places to stop along the way, a picturesque scenic drive and finally numerous wineries to visit – once at destination – offering impeccably good wines with a great range of prices (mostly affordable), and a great sense of place.
I can’t wait to drive back to Canberra, meanwhile… another glass of Gundagai Shiraz please!
The hospitality industry has been home to Rocco Esposito for more than 20 years and he has specialized in wine expertise and service from the beginning.
Born and raised in Italy, he moved to Australia in 1998 and chosen the path of wine by working in restaurants such as Cecconi’s in Melbourne for several years, consultant and wine buyer for private enterprises and in 2004 he set up his own restaurant/wine bar in Beechworth: Wardens Food & Wine.
In 2009 Rocco was the recipient of ‘The Age Good Food Guide Wine Service Award’ as well as rated by The Age Melbourne Magazine as one of the top 100 influential people.
Rocco was formerly at Vue de monde Group working as Wine Director - he extremely enjoyed working with such a professional and iconic group.
He is currently the Hospitality Manager of All Saints & St Leonard’s Group, one of the elite food and wine destinations in North East Victoria set in the most historic part of the state – Rutherglen. He also is the director of his own business “Drink Wine Consultancy”.
Being very particular and selective about wine, Rocco also enjoys judging in various wine shows; he recognizes and values the importance of the rigor, which goes into show-judging methodology.
Rocco is particularly excited by his new venture in Beechworth – PROJECT Forty Nine – where the main aim is to establish and run his own vineyard and make his own wine. Read more about Rocco Esposito in this interview by Jeni Port here »
- Canberra (ACT)
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