Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, celebrating 20 released vintages this year, captures the essence of Australian ingenuity, egality and sense of country. Two years ago this ethereal and evocative wine was classified “Exceptional” by Langton’s. Its extraordinary performance on the Australian secondary wine market reflects huge admiration from winemakers, wine critics and collectors.
The remarkable Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier is “one of the most important advances in the development of Australian Shiraz since the release of 1952 Penfolds Grange Hermitage.” Its story is steeped in imagination, risk, a love of wine, a little science, generosity of spirit and luck. It began with a research scientist’s modest dream to build roots in his newly adopted country.
In 1968 Dr John Kirk, a research scientist, moved to Canberra with his young family to start a new life working with the CSIRO. As a child during the Second World War he was evacuated to a farm where a lifelong love for country life developed. While growing up in post-war England as a teenager he became interested in wine and read all of the literature he could find. These two obsessions converged, when in 1971 Dr John Kirk planted a vineyard at Murrumbateman near Canberra. Until the 1990s, Clonakilla was just one of many struggling small boutique wineries. Its trajectory changed with the return of his fourth son Tim Kirk, a theologian rather than a scientist.
It seems only yesterday that I was enjoying the 10th anniversary of Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. The wines were filled with so much promise and interest. With a further ten years of evolution, it possesses a strong and convincing voice with controlled power, elegance and longevity. The wines have a beautiful perfume, lovely weight and silky, supple texture. The Viognier lifts the Shiraz aromas and mollifies the tannins. The oak is present but lies under the fruit. The wines are also about light and shade; one of the critical components of fine wine narrative.
The use of Pinot Noir in the earliest vintages certainly gave the wines fruit complexity and a loose knit structure. Although no longer a component there is still a familiar weight and texture; a result of Burgundian style winemaking. Not a single vintage is the same, yet there is a vineyard voice and a house style. All of these things are impossible to achieve without a great vineyard site, technical excellence, intuition and love. Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier belongs to Australia’s ultra-fine wine canon. It is a continuum of intellectual and imaginative winemaking championed by Maurice O’Shea, Max Schubert and Brian Croser, to think of a few. This body of work is a huge achievement and a testament to family endeavour, open-mindedness, generosity of spirit and faith.
This 20th anniversary tasting will be remembered as one of the defining moments of Australia’s fine wine journey. The reputation of Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier will continue to soar.
1992 – 2011 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier Tasting – 10th September 2012
This was a wonderful tasting that showed a remarkable evolution of style. The earliest vintages represent a period of trial and error. By 2001, the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier was on course with a distinct voice and character. A glorious period for almost the entire 2000s allowed a pattern of consistency to emerge. Only the 2011, a dog of a year, lacks the precision and ethereal beauty of better years; yet it is still a lovely drink. I am glad the wine was released, because it gives an important reference point to the wine. Ultimately the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier legacy represents a journey of accumulation; vine age, winemaking philosophy, maturation and wisdom.
1992 Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Mataro, Viognier
Medium crimson. Redcurrant, tobacco leather aromas. Fresh supple wine with surprisingly sweet buoyant fruit, touch tobacco, tar notes. Finishes chalky firm long and sweet. 12.5% Alc. Fresh, but at its peak of development. 86 points
“Pinot Noir, Mataro and Viognier were fermented with the Shiraz which was
picked in three lots, one at 11.0 Be, one at12.7 Be and one at 14.0 Be. The grapes were destemmed and crushed with the ferments finishing in barrel. The wine was matured in second use American oak barriques for fifteen months before being filtered and bottled in July 1993. 12.5% Alc/Vol”
1993 Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Viognier
Medium colour. Strawberry, roasted capsicum aromas with some leafy/ smoky notes. Sweet slinky-textured with fine tannins and tangy acidity. Builds juicy and crisp. Interesting rather than beautiful. Drink soon. 85 points
“Very ripe Pinot Noir (14.0 Be) and a small amount of Viognier were again added to the Shiraz. The Pinot component and a third of the Shiraz were fermented as whole bunches and foot-trod. The rest of the Shiraz was crushed and destemmed. Both lots finished fermentation in French and American barrels.
No fining or filtration was used and the wine was bottled in September 1994.
1994 Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Viognier
Medium deep crimson. Fresh leafy, sous bois, red currant dried plum aromas. Fresh redcurrant, leafy, tobacco flavours, fine grained leafy tannins. Firm with mineral acidity at the finish. Frosts in 1993 decimated yields but the quality of fruit is evident in the concentration and “carry through.” Drink soon. 91 points
“A severe frost in October 1993 decimated yields for the ’94 vintage. The Shiraz
yielded less than a tonne per acre. The quality of the fruit was superb; ripe and concentrated. Again Pinot Noir (14%) and Viognier (4%) form part of the blend. 100% whole bunches were foot-trod and fermented in open fermenters. The wine finished fermentation and was matured in French Oak (Seguin Moreau), two thirds of which was new. No fining or filtering before bottling in September 1995. 13.7% Alc/Vol”
1995 Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Viognier
Medium crimson. Fragrant capsicum, red currant aromas. Quite claret-like in structure with some dried roses, capsicum notes and fine chalky touch leafy tannins. Drink soon. 87 points
“Good ripening conditions. The Viognier in its tenth year finally yielded a decent crop. This year’s blend: 80% Shiraz, 10% Pinot Noir and 10% Viognier. The Pinot component and a third of the Shiraz were fermented as whole bunches. The wine finished fermentation and was matured in new and second use French oak (Seguin Moreau and Francois Freres – Allier and Troncais) together with some old American oak. The wine was neither fined nor filtered before bottling in April 1996. 13.0% Alc/Vol”
1996 Shiraz, Viognier, Pinot Noir
Medium crimson. Perfumed wine with red cherry, sage, herb aromas. Light Rhonish style with white pepper, red cherry, stone fruit flavours and fine slinky tannins. A touch of mint/menthol at the finish. Pretty wine. Will hold for some years. 93 points
“A cool season and a large crop meant it was a struggle to attain ripeness. The Pinot component (6.4%) was picked on April 11. The Shiraz and Viognier (10%)
were picked on the 2nd to the 4th of May. Average Baume, 12.34°. Pressed on May 13. An average of 10 days on skins. Seguin Moreau providing the new oak component. 12 months in wood. 12.5% Alc/Vol”
1997 Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Viognier
Medium Crimson. Fragrant redcurrant, cedar, herb, paper bark aromas. Medium concentrated with red cherry, tobacco, herb flavours and plentiful chalky tannins. Finishes minerally. Touch of charcoal. Drinking well now. 90 points
“A steady, warm summer followed good winter rains. Moderate yields. Grapes picked 11th and 12th April at an average of 14.2 Be. 5% Viognier co-fermented. Approximately a third of the Shiraz was included as whole bunches. 6.5% Pinot Noir in the blend, made as a separate wine and blended in pre-bottling. 12 months in oak, 30% new Sirugue.. 14.0% Alc/Vol”
1998 Shiraz Viognier
Medium deep colour. Redcurrant, red cherry, herb aromas. Supple sweet redcurrant, stonefruit, herb flavours and plentiful loose-knit fine tannins, underlying savoury notes. Finishes chalky and savoury long. 94 points
“A warm year with a long series of very warm days leading into harvest. Shiraz
Viognier harvested from the 13th to the 17th of March, the earliest vintage on
record at that point. High sugars and rich, ripe flavours. Baumes between 14 and 15°. 5% co-fermented Viognier, one third whole bunches. 12 months in oak, 30% new Sirugue and Francois Freres. 14.0% Alc/Vol New South Wales 1999 Wine of the Year.”
1999 Shiraz Viognier
Medium crimson. Intensely fragrant black pepper aromas with herbs, tobacco, and spices. Well concentrated with red currant, salted liquorice, briney flavours and loose knit savoury tannins. Some medicinal, sappy notes at finish. Still holding well. Touch rustic. 91 points
“A frost on October 28 made a mess of things. This wine is made from the second
growth fruit. The Shiraz was picked in two batches. The first on April 4, a scrambled effort to beat forecast rain (50 mm as it turned out). The second was picked on April 24. 5% co-fermented Viognier, one quarter whole bunches, 12 months in 36 % new Sirugue and Francois Freres barrels. 13.5% Alc/Vol”
2000 Shiraz Viognier
Medium crimson. Red cherry, vanilla, caramel, leafy herb aromas. Surprisingly concentrated and fresh with supple sweet red berry, mocha flavours and loose knit savoury tannins. Powers off at the finish. Quite mouthwatering at finish. Drink soon. 89 points
“Cold and wet through March and April. Some botrytis in the vineyard meant that
careful picking was required. A more ‘European’ vintage perhaps. The Shiraz was picked between April 17 and April 30. 6% co-fermented Viognier, one third whole bunches 12 months in 30% new wood. 12.6% Alc/Vol, pH 3.63, 6.0 g/L TA”
2001 Shiraz Viognier
Medium deep colour. Gorgeously scented redcurrant, apricot, paneforte aromas. Lovely chalky textured wine with red currant, red cherry, apricot, with chocolaty tannins. Finishes fruit sweet and minerally. Has a briskness and volume that is really compelling. Delicious wine. Now – 2025 97 points
“The first in a run of warm years. A benchmark Clonakilla. Picked between March 31 and April 10. 7% Viognier and 30% whole bunches included in the ferment.
9 – 13 days on skins including three days pre- ferment maceration. 12 months in oak, one third new Sirugue, Francois Freres and Bossuet barrels. 14.1% Alc/Vol, pH 3.77, 6.1g/L TA”
2002 Shiraz, Viognier
Medium crimson. Red cherry, sous bois, orange spices aromas. Very fragrant. Sweet supple sweet fruit flavours, plentiful chalky tannins. Minerally and long. Has buoyancy and elegance. Now – 2025 95 points.
“A moderate year with good, progressive ripening. Fruit was picked in excellent
condition between March 22 and April 6. The first vintage to incorporate fruit from the new, adjoining, north-east facing T & L vineyard. 6% Viognier, 30% whole bunches. Average of two weeks on skins including 2 – 4 days pre-ferment maceration. 12 months in oak, one third new Sirugue, Francois Freres and Bossuet barrels. Our most Burgundian vintage? 14.2% Alc/Vol, pH 3.66, 6.7g/L TA”
2003 Shiraz Viognier
Medium crimson. Intense dark cherry, savoury, spice aromas. Sweet and round with lovely density of fruit, pepper spice flavours and plentiful chalky tannins.
Lovely length. Impressive. Now-2020 94 points
“A drought year. Crops were down due to the big dry. Smaller berries meant more
polyphenols (colour and tannins); less juice in proportion to the skins and seeds where the tannins are. The wine manages to avoid the drying finish that many Australian reds exhibit from this vintage. Grapes were picked between March 18 and March 29. 6% Viognier, 30% whole bunches. Average of two weeks on skins including 2 – 4 days pre-ferment maceration. 12 months in oak, one third new Sirugue, Francois Freres and Bossuet barrels. 14.2% Alc/Vol, pH 3.65, 6.1g/L TA”
2004 Shiraz Viognier
Medium crimson. Redberry, cranberry, mulberry aromas with some apricot vanilla notes. Fresh beautifully concentrated palate with red cherry, apricot vanilla flavours, spice/ clove nuances and plentiful slinky dry tannins. Persistent flavourful finish. Wonderful Wine. Now-2030 98 points
“Another warm year, this time with some good Spring rain leading up to it.
Rich, ripe fruit characters and fine tannins are the hallmark of this vintage. Supremely drinkable even from the barrel. Picking started on April 3 continuing
until April 15. The fruit was in excellent condition. 3 to 4 day pre-ferment
maceration on most batches with total maceration between 9 and 16 days.
7% Viognier and 23% whole bunches were used in the ferments. 12 months in 35% new wood: Sirugue, Francois Freres, Taransaud and Mercurey barrels.
14.3% Alc/Vol, pH 3.74, 6.0g/L TA”
2005 Shiraz Viognier
Medium deep crimson. Cherry stone, strawberry, white pepper aromas and flavours. High tensile cherry stone, pepper flavours, fine lacy touch bitter tannins and mineral touch tangy acidity. Finishes faintly al dente firm but long and peppery. Drink early. Now -2018 93 points
“Close to a perfect season. Harvest commenced on April 6 and finished on
April 14 after a warm late summer. 3-4 day pre-fermentation maceration,
achieved through the chilling of the fruit immediately after de-stemming. All fruit from the T&L block was fermented on its native yeasts. 6% Viognier and around 20% whole bunches were used. Two to three weeks on skins by now the norm.
14.2% Alc/Vol, pH 3.62, 6.0g/L TA”
2006 Shiraz Viognier
Medium crimson. Fragrant red currant/ cranberry, touch ginger oak. Some savoury notes. Richly flavoured but medium concentrated cranberry, apricot, savoury, spicy flavours, fine al dente long tannins. Powers off at the finish with a long tail of lacy dry peppery tannins. Really nice. Now – 2020 95 points
“Excellent Winter and Spring rains set up another very good growing season and a larger than average crop. Harvest began on March 27 continuing until April 15. Total maceration times stretching out closer to three weeks. 32% new wood this year, with Sirugue, Francois Freres, Taransaud and Mercurey again being our preferred coopers. 12 months in wood, over which time the wine was racked aeratively twice. 14.5% Alc/Vol, pH 3.63, 5.8g/L TA”
2007 Shiraz Viognier
Medium deep crimson. Intense pepper, mulberry stone fruit aromas. Surprisingly elemental with mulberry, juicy fruit and brambly dry tannins. Has good volume and richness but has a touch of rusticity in its structure. Acid quite striking at the finish. Best to drink early. Now – 2018 91 points
“A frost on November 16 was unprecedented for its lateness in the season and the
amount of damage it inflicted. Seven barrels of Shiraz Viognier were produced
from two vineyards that escaped the carnage. Around 70% new oak was used. 6% Viognier and 22% whole bunches. 1800 bottles in total were released. Many
regular customers missed out. 14.1% Alc/Vol, pH 3.59, 5.9g/L TA”
2008 Shiraz Viognier
Medium crimson. Cranberry, sweet fruit, strawberry, mocha aromas with some herb notes. Sweet fruit supple almost slinky structured wine with black cherry, strawberry, herb, pepper flavours and touch sinewy notes. Finishes chalky firm and tight. still surprisingly young. Now – 2025 94 points
“A cool February lead into a very warm March with numerous days reaching 35°.
After the devastation of 2007 the vines came back with a vengeance producing
large crops of beautifully ripe fruit. 6% Viognier and 20% whole bunches were
included in the ferments. A three day cool, pre-ferment maceration lead into largely un-inoculated ferments with temperatures peaking around the 33° mark. Twelve months in wood, 30% new, with Francois Freres, Sirugue, Taransaud and Mercurey. 14.3% Alc/Vol, pH 3.63, 6.1g/L TA”
2009 Shiraz Viognier
Beautifully scented wine with black cherry, star anise, garrigue aromas. Lovely sweet-fruited wine with juicy black cherry, aniseed, liquorice, flavours. Incredible clarity of fruit with stone fruit, firm loose knit bitter sweet tannins. Lovely chinotto black cherry notes at the finish. Superb integration of fruit, oak and tannins. Finishes minerally and long. Stunning wine. The magnum opus year. Now – 2030 100 points.
“Canberra’s greatest red year? Many excellent reds produced across the district.
A blistering February produced impressive maximum temperatures in the high
thirties. Murrumbateman’s continentality worked in our favour: 15° to 20°
temperature drops at night enabled the vines to recoup, and importantly, hang on to precious natural acid. SV batches picked from March 22 to April 7. Moderate yields. 5% Viognier, 22% whole bunches. 14.2% Alc/Vol, pH 3.69, 6.1g/L TA”
2010 Shiraz Viognier
Medium crimson. Fresh raspberry, white pepper, star anise aromas. Well concentrated and fleshy with raspberry, stonefruit, herb flavours and peppery notes and fine lacy dry tannins. Finishes powdery firm with a long black cherry/ anise aftertaste. A lovely compact wine that will evolve further. Now –2030. 96 points
“The year the drought broke. The rain started on Christmas Day 2009 and
continued on and off into vintage. We picked the Shiraz Viognier from 23
March to 30th March, playing cat and mouse with the weather. Interestingly,
given the cooler season and slightly earlier picking, the sugars were not lacking. 5% Viognier, 20% whole bunches. 14.3% Alc/Vol, pH 3.84, 5.6g/ L T”A
2011 Shiraz Viognier
Light medium. Fragrant light cherry, pepper, mint aromas. Medium to lightly concentrated raspberry, peppermint flavours and fine chalky dry al dente tannins. Touch hollow, but will fill over time. High-pitched acidity blows out at the finish. A difficult year, but still drinking well. Now – 2016 87 points.
The most ‘challenging’ year we have had to deal with, a number of blocks were left unpicked as they were not going to achieve the standard required. Managing mildew and botrytis in the vineyard was a major undertaking. Sprays were carefully timed and mercifully, the tractors didn’t get bogged. The fruit was hand-picked with great care between April 19 and April 30. Very few ferments had whole bunches/stems included. Slightly less new oak used (28%). 5% Viognier. Just over 1000 dozen bottled – less than half the average volume. No Syrah made this year. 13.1% Alc/Vol, pH 3.72, 5.5g/L TA
About Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier
Winemaker Tim Kirk's ethereal and evocative Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier is perhaps one of the most important advances in the development of Australian Shiraz since the release of 1952 Penfolds Grange Hermitage. Clonakilla, meaning "Meadow of the Church" and located in a gently south facing fold of the cool southern tablelands at Murrumbateman near Canberra, was established by CSIRO research scientist John Kirk in 1971. Fourth son Tim is a theologian turned winemaker, learning his craft from his father and mentors Bailey Carrodus of Yarra Yering and Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip.
A visit to the Rhone in 1991 and a barrel tasting of Marcel Guigal's single vineyard Cote Roties from the 1988 vintage was a pivotal experience – much in the same way as Max Schubert's visit to Bordeaux in the autumn of 1949. At a "sub conscious level" the discovery of these compelling fragrances and textures of co-fermented Shiraz-Viognier was a religious experience; here at play were heavenly forces that showed "the goodness of creation". With considerable foresight, Tim's father had planted a small plot of Viognier in the mid-1980s. In 1992 Kirk co-fermented the fruit with Shiraz. He also included a tiny proportion of Pinot Noir and Mataro (Mourvedre) in the nascent blend.
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier is sourced from two adjacent estate-owned vineyards. The original vineyard has south-east and south-west aspects whereas T & L Block faces north-east. Lying at 600 meters above sea level, the soils are granitic with sandy brown and red loams over friable clay.
Traditional 'Burgundian' winemaking techniques are employed "to highlight the inherent flavours in the fruit". After a short pre-ferment maceration, partial whole-bunch fermentation is kicked off in stainless steel open vats. After completion of fermentation the wine is left to soak on skins for one or two weeks. It is then racked into 1/3rd new, seasoned French oak for around one year for maturation before bottling. The aim is "to produce wines with natural balance and roundness". Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier is medium to full-bodied with highly aromatic ginger/ white pepper/ apricot fruit, underlying savoury French oak and fine slinky dry tannins. The Viognier component melts into the Shiraz and is rarely more than a "subliminal influence". The style captures the essence of contemporary winemaking philosophy and regional expression.
Written by Andrew Caillard MW
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