Finesse and Elegance – Clonakilla’s O’Riada Shiraz

Finesse and Elegance – Clonakilla’s O’Riada Shiraz

Clonakilla Winery

Australian primary producers are a resilient bunch who are well accustomed to the vagaries of their trade and the wrath of mother nature. From drought to bushfires and sometimes even floods, our sunburnt country throws just about every imaginable challenge at our vignerons. Add to that lot the impact of a global pandemic and the financial consequence of lockdowns for cellar door operations, you’d have to be brave, foolhardy, or perhaps just an unrealistic optimist to choose this trade; but they do it. And they do us proud.

Amongst those to recently suffer the brutality of our land of “beauty and terror” (to borrow from Dorothea Mackellar) is one of my favourite wineries, Clonakilla. The Murrumbateman based winery in the Canberra Wine District is probably luckier than some but lost the entire 2020 vintage to smoke taint from the 2019 bushfires – an estimated 15,000 – 20,000 cases of wine. Their 35 acres of vineyards typically produce 100 tonnes of grapes; a loss which, according to the winery, extends to a “seven figure” sum. Winemaker Tim Kirk says that in 50 years of winemaking, 2020 was the first time that they had no option but to write off an entire vintage. At least the local birds and wildlife would have been well fed that season!

The loss of an entire vintage has meant that the winery has had no option but to delay the release of the 2019 edition of their top end red, the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. The postponement is a strategic ploy to try and fill the hole left by the absence of any stock to sell from the 2020 season – though I’m told that the 2021 vintage will be released on a “normal” schedule in September this year.

In the face of such challenging times I was touched when their General Manager, David Reist, recently volunteered to donate and send a magnum of their top end drop for a Lifeflight fundraiser I was organising; it seems that a confronting season in the vineyard has done nothing to dampen their generosity of spirit!

Praise and accolades are nothing new to Clonakilla’s winemaker Tim Kirk who was named Gourmet Traveller’s Winemaker of the year in 2013. He crafts a range of cool climate wines that includes shiraz, viognier, chardonnay, pinot noir and even a bit of grenache, mourvèdre, counoise, cinsault and roussanne (low quantities which are used to make their “Ceoltoiri” blend).

The Estate’s Shiraz Viognier might be the wine that put it on the oenological map and it ruthlessly continues to hog the headlines, but there’s a little brother in the stable that is quietly achieving and (if you ask me) is punching well above its weight. The 2021 O’Riada Shiraz is currently on the bottle shop shelves and is selling at a very reasonable $35 – $40 a bottle. It’s not your deep, dark and brooding style of Australian shiraz but rather an expression of finesse and elegance. Perhaps more in a European style, the bright red fruits that grace the front palate play second fiddle to the poise, allure and charm of the amalgam of spice, clove and gaminess that cavort across the middle and embrace satiny tannins on a lip-smacking conclusion. It’s gamey, savoury and herbaceous at times but so lively and luscious that you’ll find yourself topping up the glass well before entrée has arrived! A delightful cool climate syrah.

The ragged mountain ranges of the Canberra wine region are proving to be one of the premier cool climate wine regions of the southern hemisphere. One can’t help but wonder if Dorothea Mackellar had the district in mind when she famously wrote of a “land of the rainbow gold, for flood and fire and famine, she pays us back threefold”?


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