Canberra District's top 10 white wines for 2015: Chris Shanahan's selection

Chris Shanahan

When it comes to white wine, riesling remains Canberra's champion by a country mile – so the variety features prominently in my 2015 selections. While the six rieslings share a broad regional style, they also represent various hues of the style spectrum.

Also from Canberra comes an excellent chardonnay-based bubbly from the district's sparkling wine specialist, Greg Gallagher.

When extending the search to neighbouring regions along the Great Divide, you will discover the beauty of two chardonnays grown in higher, cooler Orange and Tumbarumba.

Complementing mainstream wines, our embrace of so-called alternative varieties adds one delicious Canberra-grown white to the menu: the Austrian white, gruner veltliner from Canberra's highest vineyard.

In future years our winemakers will likely offer even greater diversity. A poll I conducted in September revealed 23 Canberra wineries now work with 14 alternative red varieties, while 17 process five alternative whites.


Many more wines might easily have been included in the list but for various reasons could not. These include high quality, small-production wines that simply sold out.

With the exception of Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2014, the wines in the list come from small producers and are not widely distributed. It's the nature of our local, boutique wine industry. It means in many cases buying direct from the producer – a please weekend activity – or a phone call to find where wines are stocked.

Happy hunting and merry Christmas.


Top 10 whites

1. Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay 2014
Ross Hill Griffin Road vineyard, Orange, NSW

The varied altitudes (and climates) of the Robson family's vineyard (750 metres to 1000 metres) gives winemakers Phil and Rochelle Kerney an extraordinary palate of varieties to work with. Chardonnay comes from the family's Griffin Road vineyard at 750 metres. Handpicked, whole-bunch pressed and fermented spontaneously in French oak barrels, it's about as natural as wine gets. It showed great promise tasted from barrel about a year ago and now delivers on that promise: a seamless, plush, vibrant chardonnay, combining cool-climate, grapefruit-and-nectarine varietal flavour with the textural richness and flavour nuances derived from fermentation and maturation in barrel.

2. Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 311 2014
Tumbarumba, NSW

Ultra-fresh Bin 311 2014 combines melon-rind and grapefruit-like varietal flavours with the texture and the slightly funky, biscuity influence of fermentation and maturation on yeast lees, without obvious oak flavours. The wine is an offshoot of Penfolds Australia-wide quest for the best chardonnay it could make. The $180 a bottle Yattarna was the result. But its by-product, Bin 311, is as good an expression of Tumbarumba chardonnay as you'll find.

3. Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2015
Lark Hill vineyard, Lake George Escarpment, Canberra District, NSW

Lark Hill 2015 gruner veltliner surpasses the quality of its very good 2014, created in a very difficult season. In contrast, "2015 provided optimum vintage conditions and we picked higher than normal quantities of fruit, with incredible quality and intensity," writes winemaker Chris Carpenter. The intensely flavoured, deeply textured white supports Carpenter's excitement. A multi-dimensional expression of this Austrian variety, it tingles and thrills with lemon- and melon-rind -like tartness on a sensuous palate, with a subtle rasp of skin tannins and taut, invigorating acid.

4. Clonakilla Riesling 2015
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Clonakilla's 2015 riesling could be the finest of the 40 vintages made to date. Very young rieslings tend not to reveal all their fruit flavours and take many months, sometimes years, to flourish. However, the 2015 already reveals great purity and intensity and is my favourite of the Canberra 2015 rieslings tasted to date. It topped the riesling class at the Canberra regional wine show and earned several trophies.

5. Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2015
Helm and neighbouring vineyards, Nanima Valley, Canberra District, NSW

In the subtly varying world of Canberra riesling, Ken Helm heads down a different path than, say, Ravensworth or Clonakilla. Helm keeps his Classic Dry bone dry, with residual sugar of just 2.5 grams a litre and comparatively low alcohol of 11.8 per cent. It's therefore lean and delicate and, at this very early stage of development, with floral aromas and intense lemon-like varietal flavours. This was a gold medal winner at the Canberra regional wine show.

6. The Vintner's Daughter Riesling 2015
Vintner's Daughter vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Ken Helm's daughter, Stephanie and husband Ben Osborne's first riesling showed early class, winning trophies as best riesling of the 2015 Winewise Small Vignerons Awards and best Canberra riesling of the International Riesling Challenge. It's absolutely delicious, delivering pure, varietal, floral and citrus flavours, cut through with shimmering, fresh acidity. A small amount of residual grape sugar rounds and softens the palate, but it remains fine, delicate, dry and suited to medium-term cellaring.

7. Capital Wines Gundaroo Vineyard Riesling 2015
Gundaroo, Canberra District, NSW

In 1998, Mark and Jennie Moonie planted Geisenheim clones of riesling at Gundaroo. They sold the vineyard to Ruth and Steve Lambert in 2004. But in 2013, by now co-owners of Capital Wines, they bought grapes from the vineyard for a special single-vineyard riesling. This, the third vintage, is in the tight, slow-evolving style typical of winemaker Andrew McEwin. It's delicate, yet steely with delicious citrus like varietal flavour just beginning to push through.

8. Nick O'Leary White Rocks Riesling 2013
Westering vineyard, Lake George, Canberra District, NSW

Canberra winemaker Nick O'Leary sources grapes for White Rocks from one of Canberra's oldest vineyards, planted by Captain Geoff Hood in 1973. These venerable old vines, with huge trunks, produce tiny crops of powerfully flavoured grapes. O'Leary's definitely onto something special with this unique, powerful yet delicate riesling, with its intense, citrusy varietal flavour and invigorating, lemony-tart finish. This is another notch above the excellent 2013 reviewed last year.

9. Ravensworth Riesling 2015
Murrumbateman and Wamboin, Canberra District, NSW

Acidic young Canberra rieslings can be "a bit of an ordeal without sugar", says winemaker and Food & Wine columnist Bryan Martin. To soften Clonakilla and Ravensworth rieslings, he blends in a splash of unfermented juice to offset the acidity. With Ravensworth, Martin combines a pure, protectively made component with material spontaneously fermented on skins, grape solids and lees. The blend presents lemony tart, delicious Canberra riesling with the added flesh and grip contributed by the spontaneously fermented component. A gold medal winner.

10. Gallagher Blanc de Blanc 2010
Gallagher vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Greg Gallagher's 2009 vintage won a silver medal at the Canberra regional wine show. It sold out in November, but the 2010's just as good. A full-bodied style, it offers really fresh and vibrant melon-like varietal flavours, with the patina of brioche-like flavours and creamy, chewy texture derived from ageing on yeast lees in bottle for five years. Gallagher makes, bottles, matures and dispatches his outstanding bubblies from his own purpose-built cellars.