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Tasting through time with Clonakilla and Tolpuddle Vineyard

01 June 2017

Tasting through time with Clonakilla and Tolpuddle Vineyard

David Gleave writes:

I was very lucky in recent weeks to be present at two vertical tastings of quite exceptional wines: nine vintages of the Clonakilla Canberra District Shiraz/Viognier, and four vintages each of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Tolpuddle Vineyard.

Michael Hill Smith of Tolpuddle was in London to show us each vintage made since buying the vineyard in south-eastern Tasmania in 2011. The 2012 was their first vintage, while 2015 has just been released.  With a clearly defined sense of place, this is one of Australia’s great single vineyards. The quality of the wines from 2014 and 2015 show the improvements made in the vineyard since 2011 are now coming though in the wines. 

Michael explained the cool yet dry climate enables the grapes to ripen slowly, with no need, unlike most cool climate areas, to pick when humid autumn weather brings disease pressure to the vineyard. This in turn results in a wonderful accumulation of flavours in the grapes, balanced by a terrific natural acidity in the wines. 

The Pinot Noir leaps out of the glass, with the 2015 already showing the sort of beguiling perfumes that make this such a difficult wine to age: I just want to drink it now.  The Chardonnay, on the other hand, is the sleeper. Steely and restrained, both the 2014 and 2015 vintages display a regal indifference to the passing of time. They are going to age wonderfully, and will yield great pleasure over the next 15-20 years.

Tim Kirk of Clonakilla brought his magical realism to town as he wove into his stories his family’s beginnings in County Clare in Ireland and their journey from plant scientists to producers of one of Australia’s greatest wines in Murumbateman, just north of Canberra. We started with the newly released 2015, arguably the finest vintage yet made, and went back to the 1994, which showed great grace and spice.

One of Clonakilla’s most remarkable aspects is the intensity it displays for what is, at best, a medium weight wine.  Like the top Cote Rotie it most closely resembles, Tim’s wine has ethereal perfumes, wonderful definition, supple yet grainy tannins and remarkable length and durability. 

Tim makes about 30 parcels of Shiraz/Viognier each year from his 12 hectares of vineyard.  Each parcel is tasted and re-tasted over the 18 months it is aged in barrel to see if it has what it takes to make the blend. In some years, many of those parcels are excluded and volumes will be tiny; in years like 2015, when quality was almost universally outstanding, he made just over 30,000 bottles. 

As with Tolpuddle, the Canberra District Shiraz/Viognier is an expression of a great site which is family run and owned. When I think back to my first visit to Australia in 1992, when none of these wines was even being made, it shows the great dynamism of the Australian industry and like these two properties, how much it promises for the future.