Canberra's top 10 red wines for 2014

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The maturity and breadth of our wine industry shows in this selection of the top 10 reds of 2014.

The selection could easily have come from the Canberra district alone, so rich are the pickings from vineyards spread at altitudes varying from around 550 metres to 860 metres above sea level.

However, our surrounding regions on the Great Dividing Range share much with Canberra. They too reveal a spectrum of flavours driven by different grape varieties, different altitudes and latitudes and different approaches to grape growing and winemaking.

The choice, then, remains mostly within the Canberra District, but includes wines from higher, cooler Tumbarumba and Orange, the warmer Hilltops region and one outlier from near sea level at Bermagui, on the NSW south coast.

The mix of regions and winemakers takes us well beyond Canberra's red and white specialties – riesling and shiraz – though they, deservedly, comprise the majority.

The coast gives us savignan, a savoury white, originally thought to be Spain's Albarino. Tumbarumba provides two of its specialties – chardonnay and bubbly. Hilltops gives us a purely varietal cabernet sauvignon and an excellent example of Piedmont's noble red variety, nebbiolo. And Orange contributes a fragrant, silky pinot grown at around 900 metres above sea level.

A spectrum of rieslings and shirazes leads the Canberra line-up. But the region's versatility shows in a marsanne-led white blend, a high-altitude local expression of Austria's gruner veltliner, a tempranillo (Spanish red variety), a sangiovese (Italian red variety), and a red blend of the Rhone Valley varieties grenache, shiraz, mourvedre and cinsault.

These are all small producers and wines may not be widely distributed. Their websites and cellar doors generally offer direct sales and, of course, you can phone for details of retail distribution. Half the thrill is in the hunt.

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TOP 10 REDS

Capital Wines "The Ambassador" Tempranillo 2013 $25
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Though volumes remain small, the Spanish variety, tempranillo, may become another Canberra red specialty. Outstanding examples from Mount Majura, Capital Wines and Quarry Hill all hit the excitement button. At a masked tasting, Capital Wines' The Ambassador 2013 and Quarry Hill Lost Acre 2013 thrilled the tasters and split the table over first preference. Finally, Capital pulled in front, to my taste, as it captured the vibrant, blueberry-like fruitiness of the variety while weaving in savoury notes and finishing firm and tight – another of the variety's signatures. 

Four Winds Sangiovese 2013 $25
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

A recent tasting of Canberra sangiovese demonstrated this Italian variety's great potential in the region. But it's not an easy variety says Winemaker Bill Crowe. In 2013 he dropped much of the crop on the ground – reducing the yield from an unripenable 20 tonnes to the hectare to just under nine perfectly ripe tonnes. The medium-bodied, drink-now wine  has exuberant, bright fruit flavours, cut through with the variety's tight, fine, savoury tannins.

Swinging Bridge M.A.W. Pinot Noir 2012 $38
Rowlee Vineyard, Orange, NSW

Tom and Georgie Ward's impressive M.A.W. pinot comes from the Rowlee vineyard, Orange, 910 metres above sea level – an altitude with growing temperatures suited to chardonnay and pinot noir. Tom Ward says he made the wine from two pinot clones, and matured it in a combination of small and large French oak barrels. The wine offers bright, fragrant, cherry-like varietal character, with attractive savoury undertones and a silk-textured tannins. (Available from swingingbridge.com.au).

Freeman Nebbiolo 2012 $35
Freeman Altura vineyard, Hilltops, NSW

Brian Freeman gave Piedmont's notoriously difficult nebbiolo a head start by grafting it on to thoroughly established 40-year-old pinot noir vines. And in 2012 he made from them an elegant, distinctive red well removed from Australia's generally fleshy styles. The wine shows nebbiolo's typically pale colour, floral-and-savoury aroma and taut, firmly tannic, medium-bodied palate. Delicious, ripe fruit flavours push teasingly through those tannins ahead of the firm, savoury, lingering finish.

Moppity Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $30
Moppity vineyard, Hilltops region, NSW
Canberra's neighbouring and slightly warmer Hilltops region rivals us in shiraz quality but appears to have the edge with cabernet sauvignon. Jason and Alicia Brown's 2013 Moppity, with three trophies and three gold medals, shows what the region can do. The medium-bodied, elegant red displays pure, bright, ripe-berry varietal aroma and a palate to match – complete with juicy mid-palate flesh that easily carries the firm backbone of tannin.

Clonakilla Ceoltoiri 2013 $36–$45
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Tim Kirk's Ceoltoiri (the musicians) combines "grenache, shiraz, mourvedre and a tiny splash of cinsault", writes Kirk, adding, "it may surprise you". It's certainly different from last year's release from the cool 2011 vintage. The warmer vintage offers the alluring, sweet, musk-like fragrance of ripe grenache, seasoned with spice and pepper. The brisk, medium-bodied palate reflects the aroma, though the spicy character asserts itself through the fine, soft, savoury tannins. 

Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2013 $32
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Ravensworth 2013 is one of the greatest reds to come out of the Canberra District, a very fine but powerful expression of the local specialty – shiraz co-fermented with small amounts of the white viognier. The wine reveals in a youthful way Canberra's distinctive floral aroma, vivid berry-and-spice varietal flavours and sensuous, supple texture. It appeals now, but will deliver even more with bottle age. 

Mount Majura Shiraz 2012 $32
Mount Majura vineyard, Canberra District, ACT

As everyone swoons over Canberra's 2013 reds, Mount Majura's 2012 reminds us of the limitations of vintage generalisations. The 2012 won gold medals in the 2013 Canberra and Region Wine Show and Winewise Small Vignerons Awards. Then five judges at the 2014 Winewise Championship rated it as the best in its category. The highly aromatic 2012 shiraz shows varietal spice and a strong stemmy character, derived from the inclusion of whole bunches in the fermentation. The medium-bodied, silky palate reveals good fruit, seasoned with stem and spice.

Nick O'Leary Bolaro Shiraz 2013 $55
Fischer family Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Nick O'Leary's makes Bolaro from Great Western clone shiraz, grown on Wayne and Jennie Fischer's Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman. His 2013 vintage reveals the great flavour intensity and solid tannin structure produced by these outstanding vines. A quick encounter with the wine hints at the delicious, spicy fruit held by those firm tannins. Tasted over a couple of days, however, the fruit's alluring sweetness reveals itself fully, albeit integrated with the wine's spicy, savoury character and beautiful tight but silky tannins. (Gold medal, national wine show 2014).

Lerida Estate Shiraz Viognier 2013 $49.50
Lerida Estate vineyard, Lake George, Canberra District, NSW
Lerida Estate led an impressive Canberra District performance in the 2013 shiraz class at the 2014 National Wine Show of Australia. Rated the best of three Canberra gold-medal winners, it went on to win the Chair of Judges' trophy. A slow-evolving style, it offers bright, red-berry fruit, seasoned with typical Canberra spice, with underlying savoury characters and quite tight, though fine, tannins. Owner Jim Lumbers expects to release the wine mid-2015. Put this one on your wish list.