Cult wines and legends: Clonakilla
As humans go, Tim Kirk is a good one; he is courteous and respectful, is generous with his time and when you talk to him, he genuinely listens. That, and he also makes very, very good wine.
On a personal level, he is deeply spiritual. He doesn’t hide his faith, but is far from preachy. It’s a pure, inclusive belief and he radiates a quiet, confident and contented joy. He’s like a six foot scholarly Friar Tuck who, instead of mead, makes Australia’s best Shiraz Viognier.
Tim grew up surrounded by wine. His father, John established Clonakilla in 1971, Canberra’s first winery, in Murrumbateman after arriving with his wife and six sons from the UK in 1968.
But it was the “word”, not the grape that called him, as his faith and love of scripture led him to the church. After school, Tim moved to Melbourne with his sweetheart Lara, and attended Theological College. He graduated, and began teaching Religious Ed and Biblical Studies at Xavier College.
Tim and Lara married and honeymooned in France. They travelled to the Rhône and visited Guigal, one of the valley’s most revered producers, where he got to try the “La Las;” three of Guigal’s greatest wines from the Côte-Rôtie, where, generally, a small amount of Viognier is co-fermented with Shiraz.
Upon trying this trinity of Las – La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne – he was spellbound.
“I was transfixed,” Tim recalls. “They were extraordinarily beautiful wines and it was a revelatory moment for me.
“Aromatically, they were perfumed, ethereal and complex, and texturally, they were wonderful; fine and silky with flavours that were so long. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”
Back home, he soon found himself thinking more about Shiraz and fermentation than about scripture and eventually returned to Clonakilla and accepted this preoccupation as his calling.
“I was consumed,” he explains. “I read voraciously, particularly about Burgundy and the Rhône. I started to think about what would happen if we co-fermented our Shiraz with Viognier, used 20-30% whole bunches, exclusively used fine grained French oak and slow, 2-3.5 week ferments? So, we trialled it in 1993 and it worked brilliantly.”
A lasting legacy
Twenty-five years on, Clonakilla’s Shiraz Viognier is now considered amongst the best that Australia can produce. It is one of the most collected wines in Australia, with Master of Wine, Andrew Calliard believing the wine “represents the most important advances in the development of Australian Shiraz since the release of 1952 Penfolds Grange Hermitage.”
To share his journey, Tim, along with winemaker Bryan Martin, took Selector and Wine Selectors product head Matt White through the glories of three Clonakilla mainstays: Riesling, Syrah and Shiraz Viognier.
As a grape, Riesling is like a mirror. It has the ability to reflect, unsullied, the characteristics of the soil into the glass. Tim’s Rieslings from the decomposed granite soils at Clonakilla, reinforce why Canberra is fast becoming known as one of our best Riesling regions.
The bracket beautifully illustrated various stages of Riesling development and how appealing each stage can be. The 2017 was a soft and gentle wine with lime, talc and green apple aromatics and a tightly-coiled, complex palate that showed plenty of future promise. The 2012 was just starting to show its true colours with baked apple aromatics and a sprightly palate full of complex lime peel, and bright, fleshy citrus flavours. The still fresh 2006 was showing bright yet honeyed custard apple aromas and a fresh tingly palate of citrus, biscuits and talc.
As wine styles go, Clonakilla’s Syrah are simply delightful – stylish medium bodied wines framed with savoury flavours tinged with herbs and spice. They are concentrated, elegant and closer to the European wines that inspired them than the big ripe and full-bodied wines that dominate the Australian Shiraz market.
The seven wines tasted represented fantastic depth of expression and are all built to last. The oldest, the 2006, is a grand wine with smoky, broody black fruited aromatics laced with herbs and violets. The mouthfeel was opulent, silky and had a fresh acid layer that indicated there was plenty left to come for this wine. The youngest 2015 was just as elegant, but with an intensity across the aromatics and a glossy coiled palate ready to release and develop over the next 20 years.
Shiraz Viognier is the star of the Clonakilla show and arguably the benchmark outside the rocky slopes of the Rhône.
Uncompromising, pure and splendid, these wines are perfumed, complex and elegant with an aromatic range that extends from strawberries and spice all the way through to herbed and spiced blueberries, blackberries and cherries. In the mouth, they are ethereal; beautifully concentrated but driven by discreet, restrained power. Texturally silky, they somehow carry generous intensity without the weight that usually goes with wines of such concentration and length.
The 1998, whilst showing some of its 20 years in bottle, was regal; soft leather, sweet cherry, plums, mocha and blueberry aromas making way to a soft and gentle mouthfeel with fine layers of developed black fruits, smoky cherries and plums.
In the middle of this 20-year spread was the joyful 2008 that, while still quite primary, was showing the beginnings of beautiful development. The aromas were earthy, sweet and juicy with sour cherry, pepper and thyme. Fleshy and generous with soft lines of sweet red and black fruits.
Whilst all wines were magnificent, there were some standouts. For Tim, the 2009 shone for its ‘intensity and swagger,’ and the 2015 for its ‘complex, broody energy’. Matt loved the 2004 for its structure, dark choc and liquorice flavours, the 2010 for its elegance and complete generosity and the 2014 for its delicious, vibrant and creamy red fruits.
The tasting, especially the Shiraz Viognier, represents a distinguished and important contribution to Australian wine. The wines are unquestionably extraordinary, but what makes this contribution special is that Tim and his father have achieved this without any fanfare, have the wines do the talking and have treated others with respect and dignity the whole way. Amen.
Enjoy your own Clonakilla Tasting
Clonakilla Riesling 2017
Complex heady aromas of florals, juicy lemons, sweet limes and green apples. In the mouth, it's soft and gentle with juicy lines of green apple, lemon and lime.
Clonakilla O'Raida Shiraz 2016
This is a rich black Shiraz with great depth of flavour. The fruit, tannins and oak are well balanced and it features a touch of cool climate pepper and spice.
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2016
Aromatically seductive, with a fine, light and silky palate featuring seductive layers of plums, white pepper, mountain herbs and smokey black berries.
$168 for the triple pack
Order code 185008.