It is not often that you are invited to taste a flight of museum vintages of Rieslings and Shiraz from the Clare valley’s second biggest producer. Kirrihill is celebrating their 10th vintage this year and what better way to mark the occasion than a museum tasting of vintages back to 2001. And it was an invitation that this blogger could not resist. Under the nurturing of a passionate winemaking team, led by Donna Stephens, the current vintages reflect the freshness and concentration that make the brand Kirrihill such a great buy at sub $20.
The other reason I was so curious about Kirrihill was the way they led the wine industry, in Australia at least, in utilising Twitter and facebook to engage their wine loving audience. In 2008, Kirrihill and their social networking media partners held what was reportedly the first Twitter wine tasting event plus they sent out tasting packs to Australian bloggers – not necessarily those in the industry- in a blogger outreach programme which still lives on today. And the social conversations are continuing this year with the winners of Kirrihill’s very successful ‘Join us for Vintage’ competition blogging their experiences.
The museum tasting was held in the entirely appropriate barrel room right beside the shiny shiny modern winery, providing some protection for our ears from the very loud, very scary recorded bird calls winging across the valley. A table of Rieslings and Shiraz awaited so I did what I came here to do – taste.
Of course, Riesling by nature responds well to cellaring but I was still pleasantly surprised by the way these wines had developed. The oldest was from 2002 which had developed some deep honey and apricot notes to its lemony zippiness and slightly oily texture. It still had another few years left in it at least.
It was interesting to note that the 06 and 07 vintages share distinctly smoky minerals. The 2009 vintage is their first to have ‘Slate Creek’ in the Watervale sub region on the label. It is slightly off-dry and is certainly as minerally as the name might suggest. (Slate Creek is the creek flowing below the vineyard.) It also has some ripe tropical fruit roundness to it and it matches well with food which softens the slightly bitey acid. The flavours and texture linger in the mouth well into the next sip.
It will be interesting to see the direction Kirrihill take with their Riesling as the team certainly are not afraid of innovation. Currently, their Celestial Riesling is only available through cellar door but perhaps we will see this sweeter style gain enough momentum to be more widely available. It is a sweet little star but well balanced and fresh and has a lot going for it for $15.
To give our palates a little reprieve, we started the Shiraz flight. It became clear just how much the move to screw cap closures significantly extend the cellaring potential of these wines. The 2001 Shiraz set the scene showing lots of secondary characters but there were some earthy plums persisting still. For an eight year old wine in the sub $20 category, it still was holding up admirably and showed more balance than some of the 2001’s that I have tasted recently. But for all that, it was noticeably developed and if it were in my cellar – I would be drinking it all up right now.
The 2005 vintage saw the release of the single vineyard wines and yes, there is enough differences to make having 2 single vineyard wines interesting. The Tullymore (labelled Tulloch Mor in some vintages) seems to age with earthy spice and chocolate whereas the Ballingarry (labelled Baile an Gharraí in some vintages) located near Armagh is a fleshier wine with more fresh fruit to go with that chocolate. The current release Single Vineyard Shiraz ($20) is the 2008 vintage from Tullymore and has all the hallmarks of a Clare Shiraz – black plums, cassis and savoury with earthy chocolate and some nutty oak. While it is good juicy fruit driven drinking now, it can be a tad tight. I would like to see it again in a year or two and I am sure that it will be just coming into it’s own.
Of course, while you can find Kirrihill popping up everywhere, physically and in the ether, make sure that if you are in the Clare Valley that you drop in at the cellar door to see what little cellar door only gems might be on offer. The cellar door is very conveniently located just off the Clare end of the Riesling trail.
Wine Muse fact: Tullymore is one of the highest altitude vineyards in Clare Valley with shallow soils producing around 6-7 tonne/hectare.