Dame Mint Pattie endures a long time between drinks

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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.

Meanwhile, 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.

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

Cross-posted from Our Notional Capital, where Dame Mint Pattie blogs with Our Man in Canberra; the rest of the series is here.


Late Winter Vineyard lunching action

My dear friend Katie recently had the decency to move from Dangar Island to the same suburb I live in. We loved visiting them on Dangar, which is in the Hawkesbury river near Sydney and very beautiful, but it really is much more convenient to live around the corner and see each other several times a week.

It was her birthday recently, and she wanted a nice lunch out. Well, actually she wanted dinner but what with her and partner Aneal’s three year old, our children, two sets of babysitting arrangements and a desire to drink wine we ended up at lunch at Shaw vineyard’s Flint in the Vines in Murrumbateman, about a half hour drive out of Canberra. It’s being run by Grant Kells, one of the guys behind the swanky but by some reports over-promising and under-delivering Flint Dining Room and Bar in Canberra, and front of house is run by former Longrain sommelier Jai Dawson.

And don’t worry, I am not missing the irony of my first post in forever being a restaurant review, which I never do.

Aneal eats fish occasionally, but not meat or gluten, and Flint’s menu seemed pretty flexible. There’s a very decent kid’s menu and there were well behaved and charming children of all ages enjoying lunch in big family groups.

The wine list is very, very reasonable, particularly if you stick to the Shaw wines. We had some shampoo to start, the Shaw sparkling semillon for $26. I was enjoying the slightly sweet lemon-y and biscuit-y flavours until Owen said “lemon cheesecake!” We had the Isabella Riesling, $33, with mains and it had the same lemon myrtle kind of flavours – must be the house style, hunh?

It’s a comfortable but unponcy joint, a dining room with an open fire adjoining the vineyard’s cellar door tasting area.
We were planning to take our time, so all had entrees and mains and shared a couple of desserts.

Katie had “Pork Belly and Toasted Hazelnut Terrine, Red onion jam, toasted brioche”

The terrine was just past nicely crumbly and heading towards dry, but as you see it was tasty.

Aneal had Seared Yellow Fin Tuna Green asparagus, baby herb mix, white truffle dressing

I Do Not Approve of white truffle dressing in Canberra in August. For quite a few reasons. Or asparagus, really, but the tuna separated softly to the tooth and was quite delicious.

I had a special, tempura prawns with a something sauce and nori

I don’t know what’s happened to me, but I’m losing my tolerance for sweetness. I can remember thinking as I tasted it that I should have known from the menu description it would be too sweet; cloying. Lovely bouncy prawns, though.

The final entree was Owy’s Quick Fried Spiced Calamari, Blue cheese aioli, lemon.

This is one of those “Masterchef Aaron YumYuk” things. Horrible and wonderful at the same time, although I’m not sure it’s on purpose.

For mains, Katie and Owy had the Wood Fired Weekend Roast

It’s pretty cheap at $26, but even for that you don’t want the beef cooked beyond medium. The yorkshire puddings, on the other hand, were perfect.

Aneal had beautiful Wild Barramundi Meuniere , brown lemon butter, steamed Kipfler potatoes

and I had “Master Stock Braised Pork Belly, Sautéed king scallops, Ginger soy mirin glazed wild mushrooms

again, too sweet, and again, beautifully cooked lovely fresh seafood.

I’m over sweets, but I was really looking forward to some cheese – but they were out. Sniff. The desserts we shared aren’t on the current menu, so I’m struggling to remember how they were described. We had a pannacotta with a chocolate and hazlenut gelato

The other, much less successful, dish was a trio of chocolate desserts:

On the left was a chilli-chocolate mousse, which was fine. In the middle was a chocolate and banana brulee. There is no reason, however, to put banana in a chocolate brulee. Or any other kind of brulee. If I’m going to have a hot banana, I want it flaming in rum, goddamit. The final element was a large, crumbly dry cakey type arrangement that seemed liked it should have been served up by someone wearing a nosering and birkenstocks.

The service was brisk enough, and the waiter responded very well when I replied to his question about how our mains were by holding up a long, curly blonde hair. We’d all thought it was unfortunate but no big deal, but as expected the cost of the dish was removed from the bill. If I was the owner, I would ask that in future he not carry it suspended from his hand, face aghast, all the way back to the passe and shout out “Chef! A hair!” quite so loudly. The other staff were an endearing mix of country girls with painstakingly dishevilled updos.

For a long enjoyable lunch and plenty of wine, the bill came to under $100 a head. If you’re going, I’d stick to the seafood and pick up a bottle of the sticky on the way home. It was a very nice lunch, and we all had a lovely time.

Dame Mint Pattie’s Canberra wineries A2Z winds up the year and the letter “D” at 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 winemaker’s 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

Dame Mint Pattie’s Canberra Wineries A2Z – Brindabella Hills

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I wasn’t in the best mood for wine tasting the day we visited Brindabella Hills Winery. It was a bitter Canberra winter’s day and Our Man and I had a wide-ranging argument discussion about the best way to spend the afternoon.

Brindabella Hills was on our list but didn’t offer food, so he suggested taking along a picnic. I pointed to the level of the mercury cringing in the thermometer bulb and hastily threw a few items together, thinking that I’d be able to persuade him into going somewhere with tablecloths and waiters.

Upon arrival, however, things started looking better. I like parrots and when I spotted a small posse of Crimson Rosellas as we rolled up to the cellar door, I took it as a sign that the afternoon was about to improve.

Brindabella Hill

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Dame Mint Pattie’s Canberra Wineries A2Z – Barton Estate

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Strictly speaking Barton Estate shouldn’t be in the A2Z because it isn’t open to the public – I was thrown by a couple of web entries that suggested you could arrange tastings by appointment. Unfortunately, tastings aren’t offered but you can order the wines via the website (a word of warning, at the time of writing the wine list on the web is from 2005 but apparently the site is soon to be upgraded).

When we spoke to co-proprietor Julie Chitty she also suggested trying the Kingston Hotel bottle-o and Jim Murphy’s Airport Cellars for a limited selection and Braddon Cellars for a fuller range. We struck out with the Kingston Hotel and Braddon Cellars but we did find a few varieties on sale at Jim Murphy’s, all around the $16 mark and all from the 2003 vintage.

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Canberra Wineries A2Z – Affleck Vineyard

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Who’d have guessed acclaimed actor, writer and director, Ben Affleck has further cemented his claim to renaissance man status with a foray into Canberra winemaking.

Okay, he hasn’t really, I made that part up (hey I’m a blogger and apparently it’s what we do). Fact is, there is no Affleck, Ben or otherwise, at Affleck Vineyard. It’s Susie and Ian Hendry who are responsible for the 4-hectare vineyard that was established at Millynn Road, Bungendore in 1976.

The name Affleck doesn’t refer to a person but to an Anglicised version of the Gaelic achadh-nan-leac which means a field of flagstones. You do get a hint of the rock field as you negotiate the gravel drive and pass an imposing dry stonewall.

The cellar door is unpretentious. There’s no attempt to charm you into liking the wine because a small fortune was spent on the decor. Instead the tasting area overlooks the engine room of the winery and the stainless steel vats have an honest, hands on appeal.

Affleck cellar door

Sue Hendry and Ellie, (the obligatory friendly winery dog), were on duty the day we visited. Affleck offers basic wine tasting – there’s no food but plenty of tables and chairs on the verandah and Sue says visitors are welcome to bring their own provisions. An idea I squirreled away for future visits to smaller establishments.

Ian Hendry’s 30 plus years of experience as a vintner was evident in the wines. I tried a particularly good 2008 rosé, which had a pinot noir base, fine structure and a nice dry finish. There’s now a bottle on the rack at home waiting for a warm day and a picnic.

The 2005 pinot noir was just as good. It had a lighter mouth feel with a good flavour profile – a smoky, spicy quality that would go well with pan-fried duck breast. Showing admirable disregard for our advice we drank it with a spicy goat stew and the dregs with a rather more pedestrian home cooked burger a day later. While some of the smoky qualities were suppressed by the spiciness of the goat stew, it held up well, with a few savoury notes coming to the fore. The next day what remained was still drinking well and the smoky/spiciness evident at the tasting was enhanced by the simple flavours of the hamburger.

I also enjoyed the Affleck Vineyard sticky – a late picked sauvignon blanc – odd because I’m not a big fan of dessert wines. Even the chardy was good. While not the crisp chablis style I favour, it avoided the big overblown, over-oaked style that for many pushed this variety onto the shun list.

affleck vines

Also available for tasting, was an 04 merlot cabernet, a 2003 cabernet shiraz, a 2008 semillon, a sparkling pinot, as well as some fortified wines that we didn’t try. They were all priced between $10 and $20 – and represent good value if you’re cheap careful with money like our man in Canberra.

Not knowing what to expect, Affleck Vineyard was a good place to start our exploration of Canberra wineries. The drive was pleasant, the wines were good and the owners friendly.

Affleck Vineyard

154 Millynn Road, Bungendore NSW 2621

Ph 02 6236 9276
Mob 0415 484 113


Open 9am – 5pm Friday to Wednesday and public holidays. NB, during July and August 2009, open by appointment on so make sure you phone first.