Held at two hatted wine hotbed Bentley Restaurant & Bar, this dinner pitched Australia’s own Rhone inspired superstar Clonakilla against contemporary Northern Rhone wonderkind Yves Cuilleron, in a fittingly modern, new school Rhone battle.
Besides the high quality food & wine, what was most pleasing about the event was (for this parochial Aussie) how well the Clonakilla range fared, particularly when the price list was brought into consideration.
To reinforce the respect I have for said Canberra wicon (thats wine and icon combined, its my new term and I like it) Tim Kirk was on hand to talk us through the wines (or his ones at least). For those who haven’t met him, Tim is one of the more genuine wine industry characters, with a solid religious grounding and a sincere honesty & intelligence about him that is rather endearing.
Onto the wines:
Clonakilla Riesling 2009 ($25)
I’ve bought some of this previously and more will be following me home this year. Tight nose with lemon and grapefruit, overlaid with lavender lime florals. More lavender and lemon then compared to the limey Clare style of Rizza. Palate is really pure and tight, with a solid floral ripeness to it that makes for a very enjoyable drink already. Long, pretty and simply delicious. 18/92
Ravensworth Marsanne 2008 ($20)
The ringer in this lineup, but introduced as a foil for the glorious St Joseph below. Opens up with a brightly opulent, honey peach aromatic blitz that is open, fresh and forward. Palate is quite sweet with peach skin like ripeness and a lightly dry palate. Initially I was particularly impressed by this, but after moving on to the wines below, a retaste showed this to be candied and overly sweet. 16.9/89
Cuilleron St Joseph ‘Lombard’ Marsanne 2007 ($70)
Sneakily delicious and appeared ever more impressive every time it was retasted. Spicy & quite heady nose, this slowly unveils its fruit conserve richness with a creamed peach viscosity and a very dry, quietly rich palate of perfect dry vs sweet contrast. Winning stuff. 18/92
Clonakilla Viognier 2008 ($46)
Desperately in need of bottle time, this was spicy & fat, with a very big and rich big nose, the palate bulky & oaky, but with the sort of richness and impact that suggests bottle age might integrate everything further. Leave for 6 months for best drinking. 17.2/91+
Cuilleron Condrieu ‘Les Chaillets’ [Viognier] 2007 ($150)
Yes, that price is correct. Whichever way you approach it, $150 is alot to pay for a bottle of Viognier. This had very classic honeyed denseness with mega rich apricot varietal character and a long and powerful palate. The whole package though is let down some particularly intrusive alcohol heat. 17.6/92
Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2008 ($25)
Sadly, I have never ‘got’ this wine. It has always struck me as roasted, meaty and hard, which is such a definitive contrast to the rest of the Clonakilla range. This shows cloves, kirsch and really ripe fruit on the nose, tending to almost pruney and dehydrated. The palate shows bubblegum sweetness and an awkward hardness to it. Awkward in this company. 15.8/86
Cuilleron Cornas [Shiraz] 2006 ($165)
I am often no fan of the bacony stylings of Cornas, but this had real charm and length. Smoky, deep and, yes, bacony nose, with black black fruit and a long, slightly smoky, whole bunch powered palate of mighty, serious elegant power. Quite a sleeper, this got better and better. Excellent length. Very good. 18.2/93
Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz ($36)
Bargain. Half the price of the flagship, but really not that far behind in quality. Pretty, sweet liqueured and musky nose with attractive polished red fruit, blackberry jam, boot polish and a hint of the lolly shop in there. Similarly quite sweet (but not sugar sweet) and polished generous palate. Just a tad boozy, but seduction plus. Buy some of this to drink whilst your Shiraz Viognier matures. Yum. 18.1/93
Cuilleron St Joseph ‘L’Amarybelle’ [Shiraz] 2006 ($70)
Just a bit lacking after the wines above. Volatile and just a bit shy on the nose, but really not giving away much. Palate is surprisingly leafy and dried out, jubey even and quite simple. Needs much more length and flavour for this price. 16.9/88
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2008 ($80)
Again big and quite volatile on the nose, this time even more kirsch laden than the O’Riada, yet with a firmer, more hardcore tone. Really very closed and tight, with a pretty, yet tannic palate of long, powerful and very ripe fruit. Boot of alcohol heat on the finish.
After some time in the glass, more kirsch fruit richness escapes and everything starts to take shape. This is a formidably structured red, with the sort of power and length you would associate with a great wine in a great vintage – very cellarable indeed. Just don’t touch it. 18.5/94+
Cuilleron Cote Rotie ‘Bassenon’ 2006 ($130)
I’ve actually scored this lower than the Clonakilla, but I think in time they will sit on similar points, even if they express themselves differently. This shows horsey, peppered red berries and salami in a real typical North Rhone frameset (ie you have to have some tolerances for smallgoods in your wine). The palate is warm and just a bit cherried in its ripeness, but with this seemingly limitless depth of flavour. It finishes with some rather dark leafy tannins too, just to reinforce its desire to be in the cellar. Far too young. 18/92+
Clonakilla Syrah 2006 ($80 on release)
Again, I seem to be in the minority who prefer the Shiraz Viognier blend in this vintage. I always expect to like the straight Syrah over the blend (considering my intolerance to Shirogniers) but it never happens. Sum is greater than the parts then.
What this does have though is prettiness. It’s almost Cab Francish on the nose, with a red currant and dill character that always brings up thoughts of Franc. Following this, the nose also shows meaty extract and a liberal dose of musk. The palate is actually quite linear, with back palate heat that derails the finish. I like the grainy tannins, but the palate still feels just a little stewed and ungenerous compared to the blend. 17.7/91
Cuilleron St Joseph ‘Les Serines’ 2006 ($110)
I’d actually call this fair value when place next the Cornas. I certainly liked it more. Black, leafy nose is more mulchy and stalky than the Cornas, interspersed with a hint of tomato leaf too. The palate though is the star, ripe, long, meaty and cedary, with well integrated chocolate oak and the best grippy tannins. In fact the tannins are the clincher, sitting nicely in with the character here for major impact. Really good stuff. 18.2/93
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2004 ($140)
The options wine, at first I was less than taken by this, but the longer it sat in the glass, the more youthful it appeared (I had it first billed as an 01). Cherry & boysenberry on the nose, with a hint of leaf & chook poo. Palate is really bright with a boysenberry red fruit sinew and just the most perfectly weighted silky smooth palate. Excellent. 18.4/94
Cuilleron Condrieu Condrieu ‘Les Ayguets’ 2007 ($120)
An exorbitantly priced dessert Viognier, this was so very tropical and rich, with a caramel, toffeed sweetness to it that was admirably restrained and well balanced. It was still just a bit dull for the pricetag, though influenced by my dislike for fatter sticky styles. 17.6/91