A focus on granite Part Two: the Granite Belt, Queensland
Granite is an acidic, well drained soil which seems to imbue wines with lovely freshness and lift. Fruit is juicy, well-defined and intense and the wines food friendly – right up my street!
In my first report on wines from granite soils (here), I focused on Portugal’s Dão region. Today’s report is about the inimitably Australian “does what it says on the tin”-named Granite Belt region in Queensland, “the sunshine state,” with which I saw distinct parallels when I visited last month.
Still, you might be wondering if, this far north, notwithstanding the region’s granite soils, I’d taken a wrong turn. I confess I wondered, arriving in a humid, sticky Brisbane, hot off the plane from Melbourne. Is it really possible to make quality wines a stone’s throw from the Gold Coast?
In short yes. The reason? Elevation, ably abetted by those granite soils….Located in south east Queensland in the Dividing Ranges, at between 600-1200m above sea level (most around the 900m mark), the Granite Belt’s vineyards are among Australia’s highest. Unlike other Queensland wine regions (neighbouring New England aside), the Granite Belt boasts four seasons.
Sirromet’s Chief Winemaker Adam Chapman shuddered recounting arriving from the Barossa to bitterly cold weather in 1990, a particularly cold year. Indeed, snow is not unheard of and, if the land looks bleached, it’s more than likely the result of frost damage; hail which, like rain, typically falls in summer, is also a major risk.
But these risks are worth it because summer temperatures only occasionally hit the 30s and are never in the 40s (degrees centigrade). The resulting long, mild growing season – 100 days plus (reds are sometimes picked into May!) – allows the grapes steadily to accumulate flavour while retaining balance.
I really loved the perfume and freshness of reds and whites. My favourite mid-weight reds had a translucency – an utterly beguiling juiciness to their fruit, underscored by minerality, sometimes dried herbs and flowers – very direct and appealing.
So what’s grown here? Measuring 60km (north to south) by 30km wide, the Granite Belt is quite small. However, because its boutique producers (40 cellar doors) have a penchant for alternative varieties, the region’s portfolio is refreshingly diverse. No doubt, the Granite Belt’s long established Italian community has had an impact and, if you can take advantage of the region’s Strange Bird alternative variety wine trail, you’ll find plenty of wines made from Italian grapes to take your fancy.
But, as you’ll see from my highlights below, that’s not all. Yes, Tempranillo and Italian varieties looked promising, especially Barbera while, for the so-called international varieties, Bordeaux red grapes performed well, with great typicity while Shiraz was, in places, very strong indeed. Golden Grove’s Vermentino confirmed that this variety performs very well across Australia, while aromatic varieties like Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Viognier caught my eye among the whites.
At the end of my Granite Belt notes, you’ll find highlights from those other Queensland wines I tasted, from South Burnett and New England. If you’d like to find out more about Queensland’s 1500 hectares of vineyard (of which the Granite Belts accounts for around a third) click here.
Finally, my visit last month was filmed by ABC for its weekly Landline show, which you can watch here – it gives a great feel for the region, its wine and people.
The Granite Belt
Felsberg Riesling 2011 – from a super rocky vineyard at 850m, this surprisingly muscular Riesling shows pronounced slatey mineral as well as lifted powder puff. Lovely depth and layer. Very good. 11%
Symphony Hill Gewürztraminer 2010 – very good typicity with its floral, rose petal nose and juicy lychee and ginger spice palate. Textured and mineral, it’s very good. 12.6%
Symphony Hill Pinot Gris 2011 – an attractively nuanced Pinot Gris with an earthy minerality, tighter flinty reductive notes and a musky edge of spice to its juicy core of bright pear fruit. Lots to like. 12.3%
Clovely Estate Left Field Pinot Gris 2011 – this South Burnett producer sources the fruit for this wine from the Granite Belt. It shows bright naschi pear and spicier, softer poached pears going through. Good. 13.5%
Sirromet 820 Above Vineyard Selection Verdelho 2011 - very aromatic, with orange blossom and ripe but (attractively) sour-ish tropical fruits on nose and (dry) palate. A good push of acidity keeps it lively. Upfruit, juicy and perfumed, it’s a pretty quaffer. Well made and refreshing.
Summit Estate Verdelho 2011 – crisp and dry with citrus fruit and broader, tangy greengage. Well focused. 12%
Hidden Creek Verdelho 2011 – richer, with a marked spiciness to its gentle sway of tropical fruit. Good.
Symphony Hill Reserve Verdelho 2010 – a muscular wine, again quite spicy, peppery almost, with tropical fruit and leaner green tomato for line and complexity. Just a little warm, but interestingly weighty and dimensional. 13.9%
Golden Grove Vermentino 2011 – this maiden vintage has become the star white already at this Italian owned estate. Tightly focused but with plenty of vim and vigour, I can well see why. It’s crisp, crunchy and fresh with bright green apple and textured lemon zest notes. A cracking quaffer and food wine both. 12.8%.
Summit Estate Chardonnay 2010 – aromatic and fresh with subtly spicy pear fruit and some leesy texture. Well made.
Ballandean Estate Chardonnay 2009 – quite tight on nose and palate with white peach, cashew nut, lemony acidity and leesy sourdough notes. A deft seasoning of oak keeps the focus on freshness and fruit. Well done.
Sirromet Le Sauvage Wild Chardonnay 2010 – the Vineyard Selection wine is well made if a little traditional in style. Winemaker Adam Chapman has cut loose to good effect here with this wild fermented, funkier Chardonnay. It shows struck match on a savoury, leesy, textured palate with taut, steely grapefruit and finely etched lemony acidity. With a hint of roast hazelnut to the finish, the oak is very well integrated. 12.9%
Ridgemill Pedigree Chardonnay 2009 – this vintage scooped Best Queensland White Wine Trophy at Australian Small Winemakers Show. Though it’s a little traditional for my taste, with its toast and butter, a lively vein of limey acidity gives length and freshness. 13.5%
Ridgemill Pedigree Chardonnay 2010 – without the buttery notes, the 2010 vintage seems fresher with attractively sappy apple and ogen melon fruit as well as that drive of lime. The oak is quite pronounced now. Needs time to settle.
Felsberg Viognier 2011 – a well balanced Viognier, underblown to good effect with attractive cedar spice to its subtle and supple apricot fruit. 13.5%
Symphony Hill Viognier 2009 – much more swagger to this peachy wine with orange peel and fennel crema catalana notes. A tad warm, but I like the flavour spectrum. 14.9%
Summit Estate Pinnacle White 2010 – this waxily textured Marsanne Viognier blend is stone fruited with good freshness; a good food wine.
Ballandean Estate Viognier 2011 – an intense, not dense, nuanced Viognier with pretty orange blossom, musk and spice notes to nose and palate. There’s good weight and freshness to the palate which shows apple, pear and apricot fruits with attractive honeysuckle lift. Good length too. Very well done, it hails from 18 year old vines planted to a Yalumba clone, so there’s the pedigree!
Summit Estate Pinot Noir 2009 – though it lacks a bit of length, it’s varietally true with red cherry and berry notes, violets, sous bois and a soft brush of tannins. Good effort.
Symphony Hill Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 – from 13 year old vines at the highest parcel at Preston Peak (1010m), this wild fermented earthy, soft, velvety Pinot Noir shows chocolate, red cherry and truffle notes. It’s a really good effort though winemaker Mike Hayes tells me he’s reigning back on the oak and looking for some more a little more terroir focus. From this year, he’ll age the wine in barriques and amphora jars buried under ground. 14.3%
Boireann Pinot Noir 2011 – the warm 2007 vintage couldn’t have been more different than 2011 and it shows in this recently bottled, (as yet) skinny wine. However, its bright cranberry fruit plucked from five year old vines confirms the region’s potential for another style of Pinot Noir.
Hidden Creek Tempranillo 2009 – a ripe, juicy, quite lively Tempranillo with liquorice edged black berry and fleshy plum fruit. With its fine tannins it’s very drinkable. Impressed. 13.5%
Ridgemill The Spaniard Tempranillo 2009 – more intensity of flavour here, lovely purity too with sour red cherry and plum and ripe but succulent black cherry. The juiciness really teased out its granite, gravelly minerality; finishes long and elegant, with fine powdery tannins. Very impressed! 13.5%
Summit Estate Alto Tempranillo 2009 – deliberately made in a Spanish style, this oakier (100% new oak) wine shows vanillin oak, plum and sweet jubey notes. There’s a freshness beneath to keep the whole in balance. I personally prefer purer fruited, juicy styles, but I’m very sure others will love this wine’s soft oakiness. 12.9%
Boireann Barbera 2011 – this is a lovely Barbera, aged in old oak. It sports the variety’s sweet but juicy vivid black berry and currant fruit – its trademark high acid, yet fine tannins. There’s a floral/blossom lift too. Very lissom. Peter Stark reckons more should be planted in the region because it’s an early ripener – a banker which ripens 3 weeks before the Shiraz.
Golden Grove Barbera 2009 – though it’s got the variety’s trademark tight acidity, it’s more deeply coloured and fuller-bodied, though smooth, more solid and savoury than the Boireann. It has sweet core of chunky, slightly jammy plum fruit cut with sour cherry, dark chocolate and smoky oak. A wine for gutsy pasta dishes. 14%
Golden Grove Nero d’Avola 2011 – a deep purple hue with a multi-layered and delicious sweet, sour and savoury palate. It shows black olive, balsamic, dark chocolate, bitter cherry, dried herb and liquorice notes with rich, grainy tannins and well balanced acidity. Another great hearty food wine.
Boireann La Cima Nebbiolo 2011 – focusing solely on red wine, albeit lots of varieties, Italian wine lovers Peter and Therese Stark founded Boireann, the region’s highest profile producer. It’s also one of the region’s higher vineyards at (875m). Their small output quickly sells out each year. The wines I tasted were all extremely young, from the difficult (wet) 2011 vintage when it was a struggle to get to ripeness. If anything it exaggerates the varietal character here – Nebbiolo’s relatively pale hue, dried spice notes (clove and anise) and lean and mean, quite astringent tannins – it’s painfully shy and a bit hair shirt. One to review with more time in bottle.
Ballandean Messing About Nebbiolo 2009 – Italian owners Angelo and Mary Puglisi’s estate produces a very different style (in a very different vintage). It’s a fleshy, user-friendly Nebbiolo with lovely intensity and sweetness to its juicy plum, briar and red cherry fruit. Dried lavender and campari notes add a savoury edge. It’s upfront with interest – less Barolo more Langhe which comment winemaker Dylan Rhymer explained results from a stylistic shift. Apparently in 2002, the wine was more extracted, Barolo style and spent two years in oak. This wine now spends only 12 months in older oak and has been more successful.
Boireann Tannat 2011 – this was last made in 2005 and I guess it tells you why when Peter Stark says no acidification is necessary! It’s plenty juicy, its sturdy frame spurting with fresh picked fleshy blackberry and plum, interwoven with dark chocolate and violets – light and shade.
Summit Estate Malbec 2005 – a smoky (oak) note to the nose and some greenness to its dark chocolate edged black plum and berry fruit. A little angular, but very concentrated and impressively fresh.
Boireann Merlot 2011 – not released every year, this is quite classic – fresh and juicy with chocolate-edged plum fruit and well knit tannins. Open-faced.
Sirromet St Jude’s Road Vineyard Grande Reserve Merlot Monopole 2010 (bottle 37/930) – good Australian Merlots are few and far between. With no sugariness/”fat”, this juicy, fruit focused mid-weight Merlot wears its cool climate credentials on its sleeve. Vanillin oak brings some tell tale sweetness, but the fruit is bright – sour plum and cherry – with hints of liquorice, chocolate and cedar spice.
Harrington Glen Merlot 2007 – deep and rich without being heavy, this shows juicy blackberry, blueberry and plum with spicy fruitcake and dark chocolate; velvety tannins make for a seductive wine. 13.3%
Summit Estate Petit Verdot 2006 – a little smoky (oak), with very juicy, black berry and currant fruit and dried sage. Impressively bright, if a little lacking dimension.
Sirromet Signature Collection Sparkling Petit Verdot 2010 – this unusual, indeed eccentric wine is huge in Asia, especially Japan. It’s deeply coloured and very perfumed (on the palate too) with violets and liquorice to its dark chocolate and cherry fruit. Ripe but present tannins keep it in balance (25g/l residual sugar). An experience! But it’s clean and well made.
Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Sauvignon blends
Sirromet Seven Scenes Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – Bordeaux varieties seem to perform well, perhaps also influenced by the owner’s evident love of Bordeaux, locked away in the private cellar next door to the tasting room. At any rate this juicy, fruit-focused mid-weight wine shows textbook varietal character with its violets, hint of leaf, cassis and blueberry fruit. Fine grained tannins are ripe but present – a very well made fruit-focused Cabernet. 13.6%
Sirromet Private Collection Reserve Assemblage 2009 – as you’d expect this deep plum Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot blend shows greater complexity, depth and structure. It’s my pick of the range with its layers of fleshy plum, bramble and blueberry fruit, richer, spicier fruitcake and svelte but savoury tannins. It finishes long and intense with a lift of violets. Very good. 13.5%
Ballandean Family Cabernet Merlot 2007 – this entry level red is solid and simply done with its focus resolutely on its sweet but juicy blackberry and plum fruit. Well made.
Symphony Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – a stalkiness to the nose is less pronounced in the mouth, rather part of the wines cool quality. Very juicy and persistent, its vivid blackcurrant well buffed by fine tannins. Very good. Wears its 14.5% very lightly.
Symphony Hill Danying Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – lovely intensity of flavour and a tad more extracted, richer and warmer. Though feels a little more pushed, it’s early days for this youthful red. One to review. 14.9%
Harrington Glen Cabernet 2008 – though a little dusty and stalky on the nose, there’s no shortage of violet lift in the mouth or sappy sour cherry, juicy black berry and currant wed to firm but fine tannins. Good lift and line. 13.5%
Summit Estate The QC Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec 2009 – a seamless blend with plummy, juicy fruit, violets and chocolate. Ripe but present tannins offer gentle support.
Lucas Estate The Partners (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot) 2006 – soaring aromatics with violets and, as it opens up, an earthier, mineral undertow. An intense, juicy, fresh cut fruit palate shows lively red and black cherry with mint top notes as well as that earthy minerality. Fine tannins carry the flavours well. Long and fine.
Ridgemill Pedigree Cabernet Malbec Merlot 2009 – the Malbec really shines in this succulent, chocolate accented red. It shows black and red, slightly sour cherry, really good length, line and freshness. Quite Italianate in build and flavour spectrum. Very good. 13.5%
Boireann The Lurnea 2011 – this blend of Merlot (35%), Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Cabernet Franc (20%) and Petit Verdot (10%) has real cherry stone bite, with lovely cherry lift and fine tannins. Couthful even though so intensely youthful. I’d love to see how this wine develops.
Boireann Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 – intensely juicy and fresh, cool and mineral, with a darker fruit spectrum than The Lurnea and slightly firmer tannins.
Symphony Hill Shiraz Viognier 2009 – good depth of colour and flavour here, bright too, its juicy blackberry layered with orange peel, liquorice, dried herbs and (smoky oak) charcuterie notes. Fine tannins make for good fluidity. Well done. 14.3%
Ballandean Family Reserve Shiraz 2007 – named after the local town in the warmer, lower south of the granite belt, this is one of the more robust wines I tasted. Only made in top vintages (2002, 2005, 2007, 2009), from the oldest blocks, this is a ripe, powerful, sturdy wine, long and juicy with concentrated black berry and plum fruit and not a hint of confection. Wonderfully savoury, with its garrigue (dried herb) notes, intense spiciness, liquorice and tiger balm, it’s made for food.
Ballandean Estate Generation 3 2007 (Shiraz /Cabernet) – compared with the first wine, this is a full on, unreconstructed but very well constructed red. There’s plenty of heft and intensity to its spicy, rich, dark fruits and sturdy, chewy but ripe tannins to support. Though it weighs in at 15% abv, lashing of liquorice and juicy acidity lend balance and make for a long, focused finish.
Ballandean Estate Generation 3 Shiraz Cabernet 2005 – rich and powerful but seemingly a little more refined and polished than the 2007 vintage, with savoury, dried herb and spice notes to its juicy, rich but bright black berry, cherry and currant palate. Fine tannins carry a long, dark chocolate-edged finish. Very good.
Lucas Estate The Gordon Art Series Shiraz 2008 – very deep in colour with some peppery reduction to nose and palate, with its succulent black cherry, violets and mineral notes, it really puts me in mind of the Dao. A lively, elegant Shiraz. 14%
Symphony Hill Reserve Shiraz 2008 – though it has a creamy, glycerol quality to its sweet, ripe black cherry fruit, its balanced by a nip of sour cherry and an underlying cool minerality. Tannins are fine; very svelte, with good freshness. 13.8%
Summit Estate Alto Monastrell, Garnacha, Shyra [sic], Tempranillo, Cabernet, Tannat 2008 – this deeply coloured wine is spicy and mouth filling with layers of juicy, fleshy plum, dark berry fruit, rhubarb, strawberry and dark chocolate. Multi-dimensional and . still coming together, but interesting.
Summit Estate Alto Monastrell, Garnacha, Shyra [sic], Tempranillo, Cabernet, Tannat 2009 – smokier and earthier, with an edge of green to its raspberry fruit; ripe but present tannins. Interesting.
Boireann Shiraz Mourvedre 2011 - 45% Mourevdre makes for a spicy, meaty, savoury but lively and juicy blend with a bit of attractive grip – a great food wine.
Boireann Shiraz Viognier 2011 – Boireann are best known for their Shiraz (James Halliday gave the 2008 Maggie’s [see below] vintage the same 96 point score as Grange). The Viognier (5%) in this very young wine is co-fermented with the Shiraz. Pepper, white and black, runs through this wine like Brighton through a stick of rock. It’s wonderfully animated, fresh and well defined with juicy blackberry, red currant and cherry fruit, the tannins firm and, like the fruit, precise. A coolly, mineral, focused wine.
Boireann Maggie Shiraz 2008 – very deep in colour, sturdy and savoury, yet not without fruit density and saturation, this wine is iron fist without a velvet glove, at least as yet. It shows spicy, clove-edged layers of ripe but well defined plum, damson and blackberry fruit wed to a firm backbone of tannin. There’s a hint of dark (slightly green, bitter) chocolate, warm, baked earth too. A sleeper. Do not disturb for five years!
Ballandean Estate Late Harvest Sylvaner 2005 – a delicate but intense Sylvaner with pink grapefriut, some pith – grapefruit and orange – and sweet, fruity acidity which teases your mouth into a smile. 9%
Ballandean Estate Josephine’s Liqueur Muscat 1986 – very much in the liqueur (sweet) style, this lush, textured, tarry wine is super rich with chocolate, coffee and panneforte notes to its raisined fruit. Naughty and nice. 17.5%
While the Granite Belt is located 3 hours south of Brisbane, the South Burnett wine region is located 200km north-west of Brisbane.
It’s Queensland’s largest wine region and home to the state’s biggest vineyards, the most sizeable of which (totalling over 170ha) and are owned by Clovely Estate. In contrast to the Granite Belt’s well-drained granite, soils here are deep red and volcanic.
I didn’t get up there, but I did meet winemaker Luke Fitzpatrick at Clovely Estate’s Brisbane cellar door.
Saying “I can’t think of two vintages alike,” he’s quick to acknowledge that, this far north, the climate is more challenging for quality grape growing. For example in 2004, the region experienced 10 inches of rainfall in January while, in 2005, there was not a drop of rain from December through May.
Though, like the Granite Belt, temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees (and, Fitzpatrick has never seen it hit 40 degrees in 10 years), unlike the Granite Belt nights are warm. At around 18 degrees centigrade, the grapes still respirate, so the growing cycle is much faster. In the Granite Belt, harvest was some way off, while 75/80% through vintage, Fitzpatrick had just harvested Shiraz and Sangiovese and told me he’s harvested Verdelho as early as 31 December in the past!
From a winemaker perspective, it means you have to be quick off the mark at harvest because the onset of flavours is rapid, with a very short window for flavour development. Fitzpatrick says in just two days, sugar levels can jump 2 baume and acid levels drop fast.
Here are my highlights from the Clovely Estate range:
Clovely Estate Verdelho 2011 – very honeyed with pretty orange blossom and lemon grass lift and sweet and sour paw paw fruit. Though there are also some developed cinder toffee notes, it has a tight, grapefruity spine of (natural) acidity thanks to early picking. Good. 13.5%
Clovely Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – this wine has the grassy, coriander seed nose and lemony palate I associate with this blend in Margaret River, but the acidity is searing acidity, despite around 5-6g of residual sugar. Bracing stuff. (The Sauvignon – 40% of the blend – is from the Granite Belt) 10.9%
Clovely Estate Left Field Semillon 2006 – Left Field is a bottle aged (museum) release, built for the long haul. It’s a delicious, complex, waxily textured wine. More forward, sweeter and plusher than its Hunter Valley equivalent, it shows a sweet, honeyed nose with a hint of lemon meringue pie and cinder toffee which notes follow through on a zingy lemon curdy palate with hints of spicy tangerine peel. Very moreish and I preferred it to the 2003 which was looking significantly more tertiary, with bitter pithy notes and smoky bergamot. 11.5%
Clovely Estate Grenache Rose 2011 – a deep colour (thanks to a splash of Shiraz) with a subtly textured palate of ripe strawberry and red cherry, dried roses and red cherry bite to the finish (a splash of Sangiovese). Wears its dash of residual sugar well. 12%
Clovely Estate Left Field Nebbiolo 2009 – Fitzpatrick is mates with Luke Lambert who is a Nebbiolo nut whom I caught up with in the Yarra. Lambert persuaded Fitzpatrick to stop making his wine look like Shiraz (by fermenting it on Petit Verdot skins to compendate for Nebbiolo’s colour). So this wine is pale and there’s much else which smacks of the real Nebbiolo deal – cherry lips, roses, firm tannins, liquorice, (rooibos) tea leaf and polished leather. Like unpolished leather, it’s a little creaky and unforgiving right now, but I’d be interested to see where it goes. Good stuff.
Clovely Estate Left Field Barbera 2010 – this deeply coloured wine has a really good intensity of sweet but sour dark cherry and plum fruit with dried herb/sasperilla savoury notes, a hint of dark chocolate too. High acidity gives it good line and makes for a food friendly wine. Well done. 14.2%
Clovely Estate Double Pruned Shiraz 2005 – this is the first and best vintage of this wine, not one they make every year. It’s a deep inky colour, rich and oaky on the nose with coconutty oak (though only 10% of the oak was American). In the mouth it’s densely packed, savoury and sour with damsons, plums and cherries, savoury coffee, tar and liquorice. Bony tannins lend support, while juicy acidity cuts through any sense of fat – a T bone steak kind of wine. 14%
Toppers Mountain Petit Manseng 2011 – made by Symphony Hill’s Winemaker Mike Hayes this was the second Petit Manseng to impress on my trip – the first made by Crittenden Wines (see here). This wild (barrel) fermented wine from a vineyard at 960m is very pure, intense and sprikey, with bright pink grapefruit, lemon zest and minerals. Tightly focused and long. Impressive.
Toppers Mountain Wild Ferment Pinotage Viognier 2009 – an attractive wine, with chocolate-edged fleshy blood plum and juicy blackberry fruit, supported by ripe but present tannins. A bitter chocolate finish lends a dark, savoury note.
Toppers Mountain Nebbiolo 2010 – an interesting nose and palate, a touch gamy with dried herb, slightly bitter, Campari notes. A firm hug of tannins surrounds a sweet and spicy core of fruit with an edge of orange peel. This dry, powerful Nebbiolo needs time in bottle of bottle and I’m not sure if it will come around (i.e. the fruit will outlast the tannins), but I liked its pull.