Canberra Wine Guide
By Sammie Bliss
Overshadowed by its bigger winemaking cousin Adelaide, Canberra is sometimes overlooked as a holiday destination for wine lovers. Although it doesn’t necessarily have the size nor the PR power behind the bigger wine regions of Australia, Canberra produces some wonderful (and internationally acclaimed) drops. So hurry up and book a Canberra hotel because here is the low-down on all things Canberra offers in terms of wine.
Introduction to the Canberra Wine Region
Believe it or not, the Canberra District is actually home to 140 vineyards. Because of land tenure and legal reasons, quite a few of vineyards lie outside of the Australian Capital Territory border and are a part of southern New South Wales. The majority of these vineyards are very young, having been planted in the 1990s; although the oldest vines of the region were planted approximately 160 years ago. You have your choice of visiting over 30 different cellar doors, all relatively close to Canberra’s city centre. Many of these have their own on-site restaurants and cafes. You can sit back and relax, and make a morning/afternoon/evening of it!
The relatively cool climate of Canberra combined with its altitude makes for unique wines with distinctive characteristics. The conditions can be problematic though, as the vines are susceptible to drought during the summer and frost during the autumn, spring and winter. The good thing is that crisp summer evenings and cool autumn days make ideal conditions for the slow ripening of fruit when it comes closer to harvest time.
What to Drink
The riesling, shiraz and chardonnay production in this area is amazing. These varieties in particular secure Canberra national and international recognition, and have helped the region’s wineries win many awards and accolades. Riesling from Canberra is exceptionally good when it has had some time in bottle to soften the acid and allow the varietal flavours to shine through. Shiraz from Canberra displays characteristics typical of a cool climate; it’s medium-bodied, rich in berry flavours with hints of spice and balanced by fine tannins. In contrast, the chardonnays of Canberra are extremely elegant, with great structure and complexity.
The climate, geography and soil types also lend themselves well to the likes of pinot gris, viognier, pinot noir, and even the Spanish varietals of sangiovese and tempranillo. To be quite fair, there is nothing terrible grown here when it comes to grapes. Even Canberra’s wines made for the purpose of blending are of a high enough quality to stand on their own.
What Wineries You Can’t Miss
The question isn’t ‘Who is worth visiting?’ Rather, the question is ‘Where should I start?’ Canberra is home to numerous wineries of international repute. Two of the best include Gallagher Wines and Lark Hill Winery. Visit Gallagher Wines for a personalised wine-tasting experience. You can take a wander through the vineyards, meet the winemaker in person or sample some of their homemade organic cheeses, which happen to be delicious. Established by the husband-and-wife team Greg and Libby Gallagher in 1993, it took the pair more than two years of crunching climatic data before they found the perfect spot to grow shiraz. Needless to say, their shiraz is a must-try. The rich and full-bodied 2009 release is currently available for purchase.
Another winery that should be at the top of your list is the biodynamic Lark Hill Winery. It takes precedence on natural alternatives to traditional methods of winemaking and farming. If you have an adventurous palate, you’re sure in luck at Lark Hill. The winery produces a wide range of varietals, including riesling, grüner veltliner, rosé, shiraz viognier, viognier, chardonnay, pinot noir, methode champenoise rosé and methode champenoise Burgundy. Now, that’s a lot of wine! Once you’re nicely hydrated, you can top off your day with a visit to the Lark Hill restaurant. This restaurant makes rich meals packed full of seasonal produce. It focuses on regional ingredients grown in a biodynamic context.
About the Author: Sammie Bliss is a Melbourne-based sommelier who is currently employed by one of Melbourne’s top restaurants. His favourite wine region in all of Australia is Canberra.