After kicking off the Canberra Wine District Challenge at Mount Majura Vineyard, Jess and I roped two more wine fanciers into the second stage of the Challenge. Together, the four of us took in a day of excellent wine, a magical fairytale forest of red deathcap mushrooms (left well enough alone by us) and an incredible lunch that we stretched out as long as possible as the light mist turned to heavy rain outside.
There were three very different wineries on the list for the day, all near the pretty village of Bungendore, just over the New South Wales border from Canberra. The wineries around Bungendore sit at a much higher altitude than those around Murrumbateman, which we will visit during future stages of the Wine Challenge. This is reputed to make the wines from this are a little different to the majority of the wineries in the region. The standouts for me were the whites (riesling and gruner veltliner, particularly) from Lark Hill, but we will go into that a little later.
After the four of us crammed into my tiny hatchback (which had just enough room left for a couple of cases of wine in the teeny-weeny boot), we headed straight for Lambert Vineyards. Arriving as we did as the mist turned to spitting rain, the warm and inviting tasting room and cafe with it's fire and sunny staff was a welcome sight indeed.
Although all agreed the Lambert labels were a little average, we learned a little lesson about not judging a wine by its label. Lambert has a broad range of whites and reds, including a sparkling of each colour, and staff that were knowledgable about the range, but also very generous with time and pours. The general consensus was that the Lambert reds were the standouts and Matt described their excellent shiraz (especially their Reserve Shiraz) as "a punch in the face, rather than a polite slap" - just the way he likes it, apparently!
As a white lover, I enjoyed their 2008 pinot gris and 2008 riesling, which was dry and citrusy (just the way I like it). Jess and I have hatched a plan to buy their 2008 riesling - already very drinkable - and taste it against their 2004 and 2005 vintages, which are also available and can be delivered to our door. At $25-30 a bottle, this is a well-priced range for a tasty, dry riesling to enjoy with friends. I was less enamoured with their 2006 riesling, which was sweet and spritzy - not at all to my taste, but we were assured it went down a treat with a nice curry.
As we tasted our way through their range, I carefully watched the food coming out of their kitchen and woodfired pizza oven. Let's just say that a second visit to sit and eat some of Lambert's food in front of the fire will definitely be on the cards, especially if this atrocious weather continues.
Next stop was Lark Hill Winery where, in addition to tasting their excellent biodynamic wines, we also had a lingering three-course lunch in their airy restaurant. While we didn't try it, given the weather, they had a lovely deck overlooking the vines which looked like it would be a great place to spend a summer afternoon. The owners try to source as much of their produce as close as possible to the restaurant (including from the nearby farm owned by their 90-year old dad). Despite the presence of two big group tables around us, the terrific staff provided us with excellent service and the presentation and taste of the dishes was well worth the journey out from Canberra.
We kicked off our lunch with a rabbit terrine and a glass of their sparkling rose, which is on the house if you check-in to their restaurant on Facebook while you are there. I then switched to their incredible 2011 gruner veltliner, which was the standout wine of the day for me. Rush out there and buy this $40 a bottle drop while there are still a couple of cases left. I have bought a few and intend on cellaring one of the bottles for the five years recommended at the cellar door. Bring on 2017!
The others went the steak and red wine route for mains, buying a bottle of Lark Hill's sangiovese which was described across the dinner table as "eminently drinkable". We finished the gluttony off with pears poached in the house's Auslese riesling and drizzled with caramel sauce and creme anglaise. The only disappointing part of the meal was when we realised that the rain hadn't stopped while we ate, so we had to venture into the wet to get to the cellar door!
The final stop of the day was Affleck Vineyard and the magical fairytale driveway, arched with pine tree boughs and studded with red deathcap mushrooms. A small wallaby even greeted us as we turned into the drive and the friendly owners made it well worth the detour off the main road.
Affleck has a neat range of whites and reds at about the $20-25 range, but I really enjoyed their white port, described very accurately by the owner as "christmas cake in a bottle". Matt and Tanya walked away with a bottle and I have regretted not purchasing one of my own since.
As we drove back down the drive and headed out to the highway for the quick trip home, we all agreed that we could think of no better way to spend a rainy Saturday. The three cellar doors we chose all had distinct atmospheres and generous, friendly hosts. And what more can you ask for, really? Four Canberra District wineries down, 31 more to go.