Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On the list but definitely no cellar door

If you're browsing some of the cellar door lists for Canberra, you might come across England’s Creek and Four Winds Vineyard. Both grow grapes and Four Winds does produce wine under its Alinga label, but neither are open to the public.

England’s Creek grows contract grapes for the local wine market so chances are you’ve already gargled some of their produce.

Four Winds has deal with the Arc Cinema at the National Film and Sound Archive but I haven’t been tempted by their screenings lately, so I haven't had a chance to try any (although Our MIC tells me he's spotted them on sale at the Kingston IGA). You can order their wines online and you can also follow them on twitter.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A long time between drinks

Forgive the above title, it's colloquial and catchy but aside from that complete bullshit. Our self-assigned mission to visit all the cellar doors in the Canberra region has meant that casa notional has been awash with local vino for more than 12 months.

What it has been a long time between, is fresh posts - something I'm aiming to rectify very soon. In the meantime, I've noticed Bryan Martin, winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, is now blogging a selection of his Canberra Times food columns and it's well worth a look. Finally, if you're after thoughtful wine reviews and reports* then Chris Shanahan's site is the one to bookmark.

*On the other hand, if you enjoy too many footnotes and weak jokes, then head straight to our notional archives.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jargon Hunting

Canberra is the national headquarters of stakeholder engagement, thought leadership and the run-on sentence. This city is awash with jargon, wherein words such as actionable, facilitate and silo are ceaselessly smashed into phrases like core competencies, value chain and driving innovation, to make even the most mundane task sound weighty with deliverables.

Unfortunately, this habit of loading sentences with empty emphasis has slopped over into every day conversation and is now the ambient noise of television. Here are six of the worst.


Unless you fight, fuck or breastfeed someone it isn't a passion. It could be an enthusiasm, it might even be a career or the sort of hobby that gets you a spot on Collectors but rarely does it require the dreaded 'P' word.


Is worth approximately 20 cents and if you really need to shift one I will happily put it in my pocket.

At the end of the day

It gets dark and I can go home without listening to any more of this bullshit.


It's not a journey unless you change your mailing address. Try using process, experience or, in the case of reality television contestants, 'transitory moment of lessened obscurity'.


If you use this word it's a fair bet you haven't.

May I just say

Absolutely not. Just because you're in front of a camera, flanked by a journalist and sitting under television lights in no way indicates an interest in your opinion.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

POTUS Guide to Canberra

POTUS Briefing Document #1029 Subsection (W)

Local Guide to Canberra

Mr President,

As requested by Agent Leiter and Mr Ballweight from the Australian Taxation Office, I have provided a few notes about Canberra... although there seems to be some confusion about this (our man in Canberra is a pen-name, not an indication of actually being your... no Mr Ballweight, I didn’t know an Australian taxpayer could be on double secret probation... anyway...


It’s almost impossible to spend any time in Australia without a nickname. Luckily, you’ve used Barry before (Aust. Bazza) and it’s one of this nation’s most revered names. Bazza is more popular than Ned or Mick, although on Friday night in the bars around Civic ‘Oishitforbrains (Wideyaspillmedrink)’ gives it a strong run for its money.

North and South

Canberra’s version of the Mason–Dixon Line is Lake Burley Griffin (Aust. Lake Curly Gherkin). Depending on what side of the lake you live on, the opposite side is a toxic location full of bad drivers, inconsiderate cyclists, druggies and (worst of all) bogans. The US Embassy is on the Southside, so as far as you're concerned these descriptors apply to the Northside.


Let’s face it Mr President, you’re probably safer here than at home. This is not to say Australia doesn’t have racial problems - we just prefer to goad our black fellas into a miasma of despair and then hope they’ll quietly crawl into a bottle rather than shoot them (Aust. anymore).

Nor do we have a tradition of violence towards politicians - in fact just the opposite – which means if a certain parliamentarian *koff* Belinda Neal *koff* offers to buy you a beer, politely decline, signal security and move briskly towards the nearest exit. My notes don’t mention you playing soccer so you should be fine.

Finally, like most small to medium cities, Canberra has its less than salubrious neighbourhoods, but as you have bodyguards and an armoured car, Kambah should be pretty safe, perhaps even Charnwood.


Many of Canberra’s workers are public servants (Aust. pubes) and the population predominantly middle-class. Despite this the citizens of Canberra are beset by bogans. They’re everywhere, apparently, and are identifiable in a number of ways.

Bogans only appreciate sport that requires an internal combustion engine, don’t eat organic produce, drink domestic beer or RTD Woodstock bourbon and generic cola (Aust. piss/turps) and continue to enjoy themselves despite what others think. They also saddle their children with ridiculous monikers like Jaxon, Tailuh and Schappelle, instead of proper names such as Brunel, Gaspard and Antigone.

In short, bogans are the type of people whose first thought, when confronted by a McDonald’s menu, is not to critically note the so called ‘healthy choice options’ and muse sotto voce “Cognitive dissonance, much?” but rather “I’ll go a big mac and medium fries.”


Speaking of which, after dinner with the Rudds at the Lodge (Aust. poor bastard) it might be wise to keep this address in mind.


Undoubtedly you’re aware of the three phases in the evolution of American media: watch dog, attack dog, lap dog. In Australia our press gallery is more cattle dog. They move as a herd, growl briefly on initial contact to prove their independence then, once you’ve shown them some horn, will usually roll over to get their tummy patted. If you do let them inside make sure to put down plenty of newspaper (they’re rather excited about your visit).

Politicians and Dignitaries

OK. Remember the wonky guy who goes overboard with the Decore Magic Silver White and looks like the class swot? You’ve met him a couple of times and he’s the Aussie Prime Minister (Aust. Ruddbot/Kruddy). The Chinese government (Aust. the new landlords) seems to like him and even gave him a honourary Chinese name - Hee Doo Bang-ohn.

Next up – notice the redhead who looks like she could beat the Prime Minister in both events of a chess boxing match? She’s Julia Gillard (Aust. the nation’s senior ranga) and she'll be in charge directly, so lay on a bit of charm.

By the way, the over-enunciating clothes horse with the ageing sex kitten vibe is the Governor-General (Aust. embarassing colonial anachronism). And no, most of us don’t know what she actually does either.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Eden Road

“My dog has no nose.”
“How does he smell?”

There is a point to this ancient gag but we’ll get to it later.

The exterior of the cellar door at Eden Road isn’t visually inspiring – think disused light industrial warehouse rather than timber-panelled rustic winery – but the quality of the wine and the friendliness of Patrick, the CD attendant, more than made up for any dowdiness.

Situated in what was the Kamberra winery, Eden Road has links with South Australia (Eden Valley, as the name suggests) but is now focussing on winemaking in the Canberra region using local grapes as well as fruit from Tumbarumba and up and comers such as Hilltops. This has already paid dividends - last year winemaker Nick Spence and the 2008 Hilltops Shiraz strolled away with the Jimmy Watson trophy in a competition that attracted more than 560 wineries.

Before we started tasting, Patrick, who is also a student winemaker at CSU explained there were three tiers to try – top of the range Eden Road, second tier The Long Road and entry level Grower’s Co-op. The Grower’s Co-op is a great initiative that has managed to turn growers’ surplus parcels of fruit into good quality quaffers selling for around $10 a bottle.

The current wine list is extensive. We tasted only a fraction, but still managed to carry away a carton of wine and sign up for their discount club (as an Eden Roadie you score a 20 per cent discount on all future purchases).

It was just after Patrick explained about the three tiers, we’d worked out what to sample (only the local-ish drops) and I was feeling pretty much in command when my nasal intelligence had a major setback. My nose wasn’t blocked but I was missing the upper register. We were only on the light whites, no need to panic. But taste after taste it was all the same – something was definitely wrong*. It was not until I got to the stronger reds that I started picking up verifiable aromas. And even then nothing more definable than vague spice and earthy smells. Bugger… you never hear about ‘King’ James, ‘Captain’ Hooke or ‘Soupy’ Mattinson having an off day with no sense of smell#.

My nose had never let me down like this before – even with a light case of the flu I can usually detect scents others can’t. Possibly, I should’ve called it quits and returned when my conk was shipshape but hey, this blog won’t update itself and we’re a long way away from finish line.

So, calling to mind the words of Mr Ryan, my grade 10 science teacher (“Oh well, the experiment didn’t work but we all know what happens anyway. Look it up in the book”) I decided to plough on regardless. The takeout was they tasted good and to fill in the blank spots I spent the next two months in research (i.e. drinking copious amounts of Eden Road).

The best way to get a handle on the tiers is to try the pinot noir as they’re all worth the bottle price. The Eden Road 08 Pinot ($30) is the more complex of the three with lots of silky tannins and some earthy notes while at the other end of the spectrum the 08 Growers Coop ($10) is lighter and very drinkable with bright cherry flavours. My favourite is the middle tier 08 Long Road Tumbarumba Pinot ($16) – it’s not as intense as the Eden Road but has lots of flavour.

On the day the 2008 Hilltops Barberra Nebiollo stood out ($16.50). It’s dark and earthy on the nose, juicy and luscious with savoury notes but could benefit from some cellar time. From all this it was easy to make up a mixed dozen (for which we paid around $160 – not bad as we included more than a couple from the top tier). Our haul included two chardies (08 Growers Coop & 08 Eden Road Tumbarumba), a riesling, a rose and a cab sauv, the three tiers of pinot noir and the barberra nebiollo.

The surprise pick was the 2008 Growers Coop Viogner that thrown in without tasting to make up the numbers. I can’t remember what we drank it with, probably something like pizza or pasta, but I do know we should have bought a few more bottles. It was a lovely quaffer – honeydew and apricot on the nose and that deliciously distinct viogner flavour. Refreshing, with good acidity it tasted better than the $10 bottle price.

My nose may have deserted me on the day but nothing could spoil the sheer enjoyment I got from this visit. Having a friendly and engaging cellar door attendant who is enthusiastic about the product makes all the difference. I’m looking forward to a return visit, allergy free and with a wider tasting brief to tackle the rest of the road.

*It was only later when my nose started feeling delicately sandblasted that I realised it was an allergy.

# Or perhaps they’re smart enough not to go wine tasting if they have a cold or an allergy. Please note any complaints regarding the nicknames foisted on some of our most respected wine writers should be addressed to our man in Canberra.

Eden Road

Cnr Northbourne Ave & Flemington Rd
Lyneham ACT 2602
12 noon to 4:30pm     Friday
9:30am to 4:30pm     Saturday
11am to 4pm                Sunday
(02) 6220 8500

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Doonkuna Estate

There are many words to describe Canberra district wines: ‘boutique’, ‘cool-climate’ and ‘intimate scale’ are popular in tourist brochures, while the phrase ‘that’s bloody big’ less so*. Thus my first impression on driving up to Doonkuna was a slightly industrial feel compared to other Canberra wineries.

The cellar door is a little barn-like, with ample space for large parties. It wouldn’t do for a cosy meal but looks like a great place for an old-fashioned knees up or getting quietly stonkered on a warm afternoon, safe in the knowlege the tour bus will take you back to your hotel.

Meanwhile, at the business end of the winemakers bulb, Doonkuna produces a couple of notable wines and some good value quaff, if you time your buy right. Like many wineries targeting a broad market, Doonkuna offers a fruit salad range, the aim being to bottle something for most imbibers.

As usual there are two price lists – by the bottle and by the dozen. Doonkuna’s price per dozen is great value, and a good way to stock up on some tasty/versatile summer quaffers. Mind you, the latest summer price of a 25% discount by the dozen (see website to download price list) isn’t quite as good as the 1/2 price bargain we snaffled up in September**.

Leaving aside beardy pro wine writers, I made copious notes on Doonkuna and its wines for you lot but it comes down to this, the standout wine was the 2008 Cian Sparking. Lovely straw colour, yeast/bread on the nose, fine persistent bead giving it great texture with delicious fruit/pear flavours. It’s not hard to find around town and we’ve spotted it on the wine list at Grazing.

Although one or two of the reds were a bit jammy for my palate, some others made for enjoyable, easy drinking. We liked the dry finish and liquorice flavours of the 05 Cabernet Merlot so much we bought three bottles - lots of spice on the nose. We didn’t buy the 07 reserve shiraz, which we thought was a bit pricey at $40 a bottle*** but my notes recall dark cherry jam and vanilla, sweet pepper but with a good, dry finish. The latest price list pegs it at $30 per bottle in any mixed dozen. Now we’re talking.

The still whites were also competently put together and included a riesling, crisp with hints of apple, and two styles of chardonnay. We nabbed two bottles each of the 2005 chardy and the 2008 Rising Ground unwooded. I liked the second tier (Rising Ground) better than the first tier offering. At the time we got it for $7 a bottle but even at the current price of $10.50 it’s good value compared to big brother 05 chardonnay – full price $25 – which to my mind tasted disappointingly like…. well, like chardonnay… big fruit, butter-rich and almost diabetically plush from the Australian sun****.

The Doonkuna label is easy to spot and features the Striped Legless Lizard. A native of the Canberra region, it resembles a small snake but apparently has remnant hind legs. I found this cheerily reminiscent of certain politicians who regularly migrate to Canberra and seem to have only remnant spines.

*To squeeze any slight comedic effect from this opener, it should be read in the style of Stephen Fry (and apologies for this being in no way as amusing as Stevo’s stuff – must steal more try harder)
**Yes DMP has been a slack correspondent but if you prefer dependable (and somewhat pudgy) then Max Allen is still writing for Gourmet Traveller Wine.
***At the time of our visit there was no by the dozen discount available on this one.
**** If I mentioned our man in Canberra’s contribution was: ‘what did you expect it to taste like’ would you be surprised?

Doonkuna Estate

3182 Barton Highway, Murrumbateman, NSW, 2582
10 am to 4 pm seven days
(02) 6227 5811

, ,, .

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dionysus Winery

It’s been some time since we visited Dionysus, so I’m going to have to rely on my crap scant notes and even crappier less than perfect memory. The mere suggestion that we should revisit the cellar door (and the thought of having to pay for more wine) had Our Man idly speculating whether the national library would accept wallets as part of their delayed release document program.

Which is pretty much bullshit bollocks because Dionysus ticks most of the boxes when it comes to good value local wine. It also ticks the try hard obvious name box* but I came away with a few of their bottles in hand, feeling well disposed towards this pleasant, family-owned winery.

It was an execrable late winter’s afternoon when we trundled out to Patemans Lane in Murrumbateman and they hadn’t long finished bottling for the year. Owners Michael and Wendy O’Dea were away for the weekend and their daughter Lizzie was on duty at the cellar door. Her enthusiasm for the family business was genuine and something of an antidote to the ‘lazy, self-absorbed Gen Y’ meme that seems to be on high rotation these days.

Lizzie was particularly proud of the May Riesling, made in honour of her grandmother who had planted the first vines about 10 years ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available for tasting but if I was looking for a dessert wine, I’d be tempted to buy it for the backstory alone.

As mentioned, the wines were reasonably priced, ranging from a very affordable $10 for the 2008 chardonnay (a little restrained and not too much oak) to $25 for an 08 pinot noir (delicate savoury notes with a bit of grip). Some of the wines available for tasting were from the new vintage and were still a little tight in the glass but there were no seriously bum notes that I can recall.

We brought home a very smooth 08 Merlot ($22) – all silk, with hints of violets on the nose**. It was very drinkable but hard to pin down with a food match. We flipped a coin and tried it with lasagne but this made the fruit taste a little stewed and in the end we decided it stood up best on its own – all the better to bring out the violets.

We also tried a peppery 06 Shiraz ($22) that worked a treat with steak. Did I mention it was peppery? Think white pepper on the nose, a crack of black pepper on the palate and restrained tannins for structure. There were also some enjoyable juicy fruit notes (red berries?) present. I don’t remember much else, other than there was nothing left in the bottle to double check the next day. I also suspect that this style of shiraz could be a love or loathe proposition for some folk and thus the perfect BBQ wine.

There’s still a bottle of 09 Maenads Rosé ($18) on the shelf at home – waiting for the right dish, perfect weather and a moment of weakness on OMIC’s part***. Made with shiraz, it’s a delicate pink colour and smells of Turkish delight, rose water and macerated strawberries. It’s a delightful balance between sweet and savoury –– a very pleasant wine with or without food.

For those interested in other things than wine, Dionysus Winery also sells a selection of locally made foodsuffs - nuts, oils, bush herbs etc – as well as a range of wine accessories. Wish I could tell you more but that's where the notes (and my memory) fade.

* A bit like calling a boatyard Poseidon’s or a courier service Mercury.
** It’s quite possible I just imagined this. I was working pretty hard at willing spring to arrive.
*** Pattie loves rosé. She loved it when it wasn’t kewl and will still love it when (once again) it slips off the wine radar. OMIC finds rosé less than inspiring and believes it exists chiefly so Max Allen has a regular, easy get column every summer (cf. sparkling shiraz, Italian wine, Spanish wine, topics wine writers routinely flog).

Dionysus Winery
1 Patemans Lane, Murrumbateman, NSW, 2582
10 am to 5 pm weekends and public holidays
(02) 6227 0208

, ,, .