How I Fell for the Canberra District Wine Region in an Afternoon

It started with lunch. Perhaps it always does.

But this was no ordinary lunch. This was smoked trout from the farm with a glass of Chardonnay from the cellar door. This was Poachers Pantry.

Poachers Pantry is a smokehouse café and the cellar door for Wily Trout wines. It is set in a farm-house surrounded by country-style gardens and was the perfect place to begin my fall into the Canberra District Wine Region.

Poachers Pantry
Poachers Pantry

Canberra is Australia’s capital city and although the Canberra District Wine Region, which is only 30 minutes drive from the city centre, is not as well known as Australia’s Barossa, Hunter or Yarra Valleys, when people ask me what is an iconic Australian wine, I think of a wine from the Canberra District: Clonakilla’s Shiraz Viognier.

Although there are many great wineries in the Canberra District, it was the following three that I visited that put Canberra on the wine map for me.

Clonakilla

Situated in Murrumbateman, Clonakilla produces a range of quality wines, but of those I tasted,  I remember fondly the Shiraz, the Viognier, and the blend of the two grape varieties. Australians hold Shiraz tenderly, as though it’s our grape, our wine, and Shiraz has found a dear home here in Murrumbateman, as has Viognier.

I remember someone in Condrieu, France, once saying to me, “You either like Viognier or you don’t.” I was astounded to hear this comment in the most famous place for Viognier. I don’t like Viognier; I love it. I love the peach and apricot notes and the lavender scent. I like it’s delicateness and it’s richness, even when it’s rather oily. And I like how it ages, smelling like crème brûlée.

Clonakilla’s Shiraz and Viognier make me smile, and for a special occasion, the Shiraz Viognier will make any wine lover grin from here to Côte Rôtie. I clearly remember tasting the Shiraz Viognier in the Clonakilla tasting room and what I remember most of all was the long finish. The Shiraz gives this wine ripe black fruits and the Viognier gives it a beautiful, aromatic quality.

Clonakilla
Clonakilla

Helm Wines

Set in an old school (the 1888 Toual Public School House), the Helm Wines tasting room was a highlight of my afternoon. There is a small desk in the room and photos are displayed of their wines in exotic locations all over the world that people have sent to them.

A tasting at Helm Wines is paradise for a Riesling lover. There are a number of styles to try, but my favourite was the half-dry Riesling, which pairs well with spicy foods like Thai and Indian curries.

The Helm Wine grounds were a lovely snapshot of the Canberra District country-side—perfect to relax in with a bottle of wine shared over a picnic.

Helm Wines
Helm Wines
Helm Tasting Room
Helm Tasting Room

Shaw Vineyard Estate

I had a lot of fun tasting wines at Shaw Vineyard Estate and I bought a lot of wine there too. At Shaw Vineyard Estate there is a variety of wines to try, and that afternoon came to a beautiful close with a joyous flurry of wine-tasting mania.

There is something very Australian about the Canberra District—the dirt roads, the open spaces, the eucalyptus trees—and I was happy to have discovered this region. That happiness was echoed by the bright Riscato wine by Shaw Vineyard Estate, which was one of my favourites.

The Riscato is a pink, low-alcohol wine made from Semillon, Riesling, and Shiraz skins (for colour). It is refreshing with sweet fruit flavours and is perfect for an aperitif or with spicy foods. It’s also perfect to enjoy by the pool in the hot Australian summer.

Shaw Vineyard Estate
Shaw Vineyard Estate

Feature photo: View of Helm Wines

All links correct at time of posting.

More about Christina

I am a psychology scholar interested in what makes life both pleasurable and meaningful. I suppose I am an epicurean in the sense that I like good food and wine; but, like the philosopher Epicurus, who actually advocated for tranquility, my international wine and food adventures are more about finding peace than anything else. They are about connecting with others, connecting with the earth, and practising self-compassion. My favourite grape variety is Nebbiolo, I love the way poetry expresses our common humanity, and I believe it's possible to find love in each micro-moment of life. So perhaps it was inevitable I would create this site called Falling in Wine.

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