A double treat today with a vertical tasting of top Australian wine Clonakilla, tutored by Tim Kirk himself (treat one), at Aspinalls in Mayfair (treat two)! I am not really in the habit of frequenting gaming clubs so can’t offer any comparisons but this must be very near the top of the fabulousness tree.
It is one of those London places that, the minute you step through the door, you are swept into a completely different sphere of being; all the heaving grime of the city suddenly seems miles away. I love that. A bit of an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ moment on a slightly grey Thursday morning is a wonderful thing.
The tasting is in a room just off what appears to be the main dining room, located up the circular staircase. It is incredibly ornate. A glass domed roof with stained glass windows just underneath, wedding cake cornicing in grey on putty green walls and, for reasons that are not clear to me at first, gorilla centrepieces on the tables. I wrote that off as inexplicable English eccentricity (no bad thing) before remembering John Aspinall’s work as a conservationist, which makes more sense than designer whimsy.
Tim introduced the tasting with a history of Clonakilla which you can read about in my account of a visit to him 2 years ago:-
Then to the tasting - oldest to youngest. We tasted only the Shiraz/Viognier with the latter variety, according to Tim, working in a subtle, unconscious way to bring about roundness and silkiness. It should never impose its character too strongly but instead bring an elegance for which Australian wines are not traditionally known.
He has always believed that Shiraz can be akin to Pinot Noir in its perfumed elegance and he also feels that the climate in Canberra (continental) and the granite soils are perfect for capturing this.
Very slightly leathery nose – clean leather, not sweaty saddle at all. Hints of smoked meat as well. Still fresh acidity, very fine tannins beautifully integrated into sweet fruit, with an unmistakeable perfume. Around the edges is the leather and smoky meat and towards the back, again more perfume with a spiced, smoky finish.
Still has youth although is definitely showing development.
Really wouldn’t like to say how long I think this might still have but at least 10 years if stored correctly I would imagine.
I find this more closed on the nose. There are some sweet black fruits but buried very deep. Acidity fresher than on the 1997 and the tannins even lighter and finer but then so is the body, so it remains in balance. Black cherry fruit with an edge of scented spice. The whole is fresher and more delicate than the 1997 and I prefer it. Lovely smoky/sweet fruit/perfume finish.
Rich, dark, almost slightly funky nose. Acidity and tannins as above. Slightly sour quality to the fruit though and in the mid palate it becomes accentuated. The spice is much dumber than on the other two although the length is very good and the finish is strongly smoky. Definitely not as fine or as integrated as the first two.
Ripe but not overwhelming fruit on the nose. Acidity even fresher, tannins fine and soft. Fruit still very young, there is not a great deal of depth there but the overall elegance and finesse largely make up for this. The length is good and there are hints, but only hints of a very slight spice around the edges and at the back. The finish is good.
This tasting is supposedly about whether or not these can age and the answer is absolutely, yes, for the medium term.
Apparently from 2001 on there was a pattern of good vintages, whereas ’99 and ’00 hadn’t been as good, so that explains the above.
Glorious, fruitcake nose. Rich fruit, sweet spice and underlying this, the smoky leather. Acidity still fresh and tannins integrated, much weightier than 99 and 00 but still elegant. This is big though, I don’t think anyone would mistake it for an old world wine. Plum, blackberries, lashings of spice and leathery smoke.
This was apparently a very hot vintage and it shows, so while it is a great wine for those who want a punch, it is slightly too much for me.
They do acidify in warmer vintages but only to a very small extent.
This vintage marked a turning point as it was made “wine of the year” in a few wine guides.
Tim thinks that there is a Cote-Rhone-ness which I have to say that I really don’t see. Apparently a group of very important Australian palates all thought that this was CR in a line-up but I don’t know what they were tasting it against. If the wines were all or mainly Australian and there were some real (now almost old fashioned) Barossa bruisers in the mix, I can see how by comparison this would seem Rhone-like. But as much as I love these wines, I think that are far fatter and richer than their French cousins.
Fresher fruit on the nose and a definite floral twist to the spice. Same fresh, integrated structure, Lovely fresh fruit with fruitcake spice on the edges. This still tastes very young but with great potential. Stronger spice comes out towards the back with a fresh black cherry/spice finish.
I really like this one – I think it is obviously new world but with the kind of fresh elegance I long for and so often don’t find from warmer climes.
Lovely – this and the 1998 are my favourites so far.
Brooding, but relatively closed on the nose. Some rich black cherry. Good fresh structure, tannins a bit more pronounced but that may be the age although it was a drought year with very small berries. Definitely tastes chunkier and, only by comparison, clumsier although there is a lovely intensity of fruit which although still very youthful, suggests that given a bit of time, this could lose the ungainly notes. It also still manages to retain an elegance which is no mean feat given the conditions. Lovely intense black cherry fruit throughout with hints of earthy spice towards the back and on the finish.
A lighter version of the intense fruitcake on the nose of the 2001 here. Acidity does not seem quite as fresh here but overall, the elegance and finesse is completely delicious. There is a lovely silky quality to the fruit and more perfume.
Having glanced at the notes, apparently this has 7% Viognier which is higher than most years and on the strength of this, I think it works really well, turning it into something amazingly seductive. Don’t know that it will age quite as well though.
Really delicious nose. Ripe fruit, sweet spice and a dollop of leathery smoke to keep it interesting. Fresh, elegant structure with great blackberry fruit and amazing sweet spice that becomes more pronounced towards the back. Beautifully elegant but I still think there is something riper and sweeter about it that puts it very firmly in the new world. Which is as it should be if the concept of regionality really is at work.
Less ripe on the nose than 2005 but certainly in no way green. Structure as above with more perfume and spice at this stage than fruit. Lovely smoked meat and perfume on the back palate and the finish, which is long and lively.
This is the vintage completely devastated by frost, so much so that only about 8% of the usual production was made. Tragic! Delicious blackberry and cherry with some spice. Fresh, fine fruit with a sweet spice edge.
I am finding a lot less difference between the 00’s vintages and Tim confirms that this is the case. All of them so far are exhibiting lovely ripe fruit, sweet, perfumed spice, balanced by a great, fresh elegance. Very nice.
Really fabulous nose, still plump with youth and chock full of black fruit and flowers. This is showing its age but in the most wonderful way and I would drink this very happily now. Glossy black fruit, hints of the fruitcake spice and lots of perfume. Great length and fresh cherry finish.
At the end of the tasting Tim finishes with a brief discussion on the future for Australian wines. He feels that there is no reason at all to believe that Australia won’t produce some of the greatest wines in the world one day, as long as wine makers get the match right between site and variety. If they want to be a ‘grown up’ wine country, they have to look at regionality, the essence of which is making correct matches.
He believes that Canberra is one of the world’s great Shiraz territories, with Clonakilla and a number of others making great wines here, very much in the European mould (so no American oak, for one thing).
I have no idea how long that future will take to fully materialise but it abundantly clear that the Kirk family are making some of the very finest wines in Australia at the moment. Personally, I would rather drink their Shiraz/Viognier than Grange any day of the week. I have tasted the latter wine 6 or 7 times over the years, in varying stages of development and have never been as impressed as I am with these wines.