My initial experience with Queensland wine was a rather awkward one. On return after a long day travelling in the beautiful Daintree rainforest in far northern Queensland, I spied a sign pointing towards a wine cellar door. Exhausted, but fascinated by the prospect of grapes grown in the wet tropics where they may yield two crops per year, a not insubstantial, nor particularly convenient nor frankly considerate detour was insisted upon by yours truly. After kilometres of driving, turn offs missed and retraced and dogged persistence, we arrived near a somewhat suburban looking house, with a sign suggesting that the wine was made from assorted tropical fruits. There were no grapes to be seen. There were no vineyards to be seen. Just inexplicable fruit wine. Proposed trips to cellar doors are now submitted for approval one year in advance.
Fantasies of tropical viticulture aside, Queensland is mostly too hot to grow wine grapes of character with latitudes counting down from the high 20s, and few would be aware I expect outside of the good State of Queensland that they even exist. I was therefore quite fascinated by the prospect of an invitation to taste a number of wines from two of Queensland’s wine regions – the Granite Belt and South Burnett, as part of a recent Queensland wine event week ably aided by fellow wine writers Stu Robinson from the Vinsomniac and Steve from QWine, with the kind support of the wineries involved.
The places. And isn’t Queensland too hot for wine grapes?
The climate in southern Queensland is sub tropical which is, with few exceptions, inconsistent with fine wine production. However, the key thing that makes the wine regions of the Granite Belt and South Burnett possible, is their altitude. Despite being situated at a positively balmy latitude of around 28c, the Granite Belt region is moderated by some serious altitudes of between 450m and 1000m above sea level, giving it four seasons, and a much cooler climate than its latitude would otherwise bestow. Wine grapes have been planted here since 1965 and the region is Queensland’s largest with around 500 hectares under vine.
South Burnett is situated to the north, and is warmer and has a lesser altitude than the Granite Belt region. It is located at around 26c latitude, and its altitudes range around 300m to 600m above sea level. Vines have only been planted in South Burnett since 1993, despite some dabblings earlier in the century. The little “A” symbols on the following maps from Google Maps provide more clues, I expect, than my words:
|The Granite Belt wine region|
|The South Burnett wine region|
The wines. Are they any good?
I am not going to guild the lily – I never do – but as substantively fledgling wine regions, as can be expected, there were some ups and downs in a tasting of a selection of the regions’ wines. Only a couple of wines were in the mix that I would consider “good”, most being “acceptable” and a couple being “poor”, at least in my humble opinion. But to find some good wine is always exciting. The best and most interesting red I thought was a Nero D’Avola from Golden Grove Estate in the Granite Belt, while the best white wine was probably a chardonnay also from the Granite Belt from Witches Falls, although that was despite, rather than perhaps because of its style.
I am not a wine marketer, but my concern as a wine consumer with many Australian wine regions is that there seems to be a something of a prevailing smorgasbord ethos. Every winery seems to produce at least five styles. Perhaps it’s the only way to make a dollar in a tough market. Personally, I am attracted to the idea of one or two marquee blends or varieties per region. This is not a particularly new thought – the same point is made in materials written on nineteenth century Victorian viticulture. But perhaps to illustrate my point, I tasted here a kaleidoscope of varietal wines, including chardonnay, viognier, semillon, verdelho, cabernet sauvignon, mourvedre, shiraz, tempranillo and even pinot noir!
It’s almost overwhelming, and clearly highlights, perhaps understandably given its situation, that Queensland wine is in an exploratory phase. My hope is that this phase ends at some point, and the winners are focussed on, so that the exploration of terroir and nuance can begin in earnest. And, here for what it’s worth, I suspect the most profitable path will lie with varieties and blends that don’t already have established reputations elsewhere in Australia. Does the world need further expressions of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay than offered by Australia’s already numerous and in many cases well established and classic wine regions? Or to put the point slightly differently, and with no disrespect to the pinot noir I tasted, is pinot noir from Queensland ever going to be more than a novelty?
The tasting results
To be extra judicious with these new wine regions, I tasted all of the wines blind. The results follow.
The best red
Golden Grove Estate Nero d’Avola 2011, Granite Belt
This wine from Golden Grove Estate, from Sicily’s nero d’avola grape, struck me as generally of interest. I haven’t tasted widely of the Sicilian versions of nero d’avola, but rustic, thin and acidic are amongst my recollections from thimble sized servings at bustling venues in northern Melbourne, although the grape is of higher repute in Sicily and London than my limited survey sample.
It did strike me as this might be the sort of grape variety that could work well in a sub-tropical latitude moderated by altitude, such as in the Granite Belt. And that proved the case here. The wine has aromatics of ripe and unripe blackberries, savoury tar and tea leaves and wood spice. On the palate, high acid, medium length, and savoury blackberry and tea tree flavours come though, as well as a certain “wildness”. I thought this to be a good wine on the grounds of its balance, length and being well held together by its acid profile on the palate, and frankly was a bit interesting. It’s a food wine that is ready to drink now, and over the next couple of years. Good
The best white
Witches Falls Chardonnay 2012, Granite Belt
This is something of a strange choice as “best white” given my thought that Australia’s regions have enough chardonnay. Nonetheless, the wine is bright in the glass, with a pale intensity and lemon colour with tears evident. Aromatics are of medium intensity and developing notes of oak, cashew nuts and muted yellow nectarines. It has pronounced oak aromatic influences. The palate is dry with medium acid, a full body, and decent intensity of flavour of cashew nuts, caramel and straw, with medium to long length. Overall, I thought this wine to be of an acceptable to good quality, on the grounds that the palate is balanced with some complexity in its interaction between fruit and oak flavours and its quite long length. But personally I would have preferred substantially less oak influence, and found the flavours of cashews dominant. The wine can be drunk over the next few years. Acceptable to Good
Vendors: Check http://www.wine-searcher.com/
Some further whites
Ravens Croft Chardonnay 2011, Granite Belt
This wine is bright in the glass with a lemon-white colour. Aromatically, it is clean, with developing aromas of straw, lemon, minerals and chalk. The palate is dry, with medium acid, medium to full body and medium intensity flavours of straw and lemon and short length, supplemented by some almond like characters. The overall quality of this wine is acceptable on the grounds that it is pleasant enough to drink, but it lacks framing acidity which led to an at times flaccid mouthfeel in my opinion. The primary fruit characters are its best feature and it is ready to drink now. Acceptable
Witches Falls Verdelho 2012, Granite Belt
Verdelho, despite my exhortations that it be used for its true calling to make an Australian style of the famous Madeira verdelho based wines, has a knack of producing wines that are perfectly fine to drink without demanding too much cerebral exercise. This particular wine fits that bill. It is lemon-white in colour, with a medium to pronounced intensity aroma of tropical fruits of mango, pineapple and guava. The palate has flavours of tangy lemons and salt, with shortish length and racy acidity. Overall, this is an acceptable wine that has racy acidity and is quite a balanced expression of fruit driven tropical fruit flavours. Tasted blind, I thought it a well balanced “white wine drink” that is ready to drink now. Acceptable to Good
Ballandean Estate Wines Viognier 2012, Granite Belt
Gee this was an unusual wine to taste blind. Lemon to gold in colour with evident tears, it has aromatics of minerals, paw paw and florals, with the fruit characters verging on being slightly rank and/or overripe. The palate has a petillance, medium acidity, is dry to off dry, and has flavours of guava, spice, yellow nectarine, straw, chalk and is quite floral and blowsy, supplemented by some pithy citrus fruit and apricot kernel. Overall, the wine certainly displayed some complexity of flavours, but seemed more of a mystery tour of flavours than I am used to with viognier. A mostly balanced viognier suitable for current drinking. Acceptable
Vendors: Check http://www.wine-searcher.com/
Clovely Estate Left Field Semillon 2009, South Burnett
This wine struck me as problematic, no pun intended. Aromatically, it is marred by strong struck match and sulphur notes, with the gunflint type characters overwhelming in my opinion. The palate is dry with medium to high acid, a gentle petillance and has quite limited and neutral flavours of citrus and straw and short length. Overall, at least in my opinion, there is simply not enough going on the palate here to commend this wine, with only notes of lemon citrus and acid with time in the glass, although it is at least reasonably balanced in expression. Poor to Acceptable
Some further reds
Ridgemill Estate Cabernet Malbec 2009, Granite Belt
This cabernet malbec both smelled and tasted like, well, a regular cool climate cabernet malbec. It could have been from central Victoria. Developing aromatics of leaf, capsicum, sappy oak, shoe polish and black fruits. On the palate, the wine is dry, with high acid, filmy tannins, woody length and oak coated blackcurrant flavours. In context, I think this to be an acceptable to good wine, but it was a bit “high in everything” – acid, tannins, wood, yet its length acted as a redeeming feature, and I’ve certainly had worse cabernet blends. Acceptable
Clovely Estate Reserve Shiraz 2010, South Burnett
Look, I am sure that this wine has some redeeming features, it’s just in my opinion, they were not obvious on this tasting. The aromatics reminded me of green potting flowers, rubber, plastic and ash, and these are aromas that I personally find highly unattractive. The palate is dry, with high acid, short length, simple fruit and seemingly burnt flavours. In conclusion, I felt that this wine was aromatically terrible, although it tasted slightly better. I cannot recommend it on this tasting. Poor
Witches Falls Pinot Noir 2012, Granite Belt
As mentioned above, it’s hard to imagine pinot noir from Queensland being taken seriously. Nonetheless, the result here is at least self-evidently varietal, so kudos to the winemaker and viticulturalist. It has clean, developing aromatics of cherry and sappy green wood. The palate has strong sappy and stalky notes, with a simple fruited cherry expression. It lacked some body but overall, the wine is acceptable, with the strong stalky notes and green flavours presenting a challenge of sorts. Acceptable
Pyramids Road Mourvedre 2011, Granite Belt
This wine sort of worked. Ruby in colour, it has aromatics of raspberry, leather, dark plums and tar. The palate has slightly stretched plum and savoury fruit flavours, supplemented by Christmas cake and iodine. This is an acceptable and balanced wine suitable for drinking over the next few years. Acceptable
Hidden Creek Tempranillo 2009, Granite Belt
This wine did not work at all for me. Aromatics of green potting plants, and fresh green herbs. The palate is dry, with high acid, short length, roughish tannins, tar, and little to offer on the palate other than neutral “red wine” flavours. Poor