Starks score two thumbs up for beat­ing the heat

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

WINE has been made con­tin­u­ously in Queens­land since 1863, when Bas­sett’s Ro­mav­illa Win­ery was es­tab­lished, then and now stand­ing in the scorch­ing sum­mer heat of Roma, an area ar­guably bet­ter known for its oil.

It was briefly of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance, with 180ha of vines in the late 1890s, and in 1901 won 10 of the 11 medals awarded at the Royal Bris­bane Wine Show. Th­ese days the epi­cen­tre of Queens­land’s qual­ity wine pro­duc­tion is the Gran­ite Belt, al­though South Bur­nett (like the Gran­ite Belt) is a for­mally recog­nised Ge­o­graphic In­di­ca­tion. There are seven other ge­o­graph­i­cally sep­a­rate re­gions, which pri­mar­ily de­pend on tourism, the wines mostly ad­e­quate but not mag­nets in them­selves.

Sir­romet, the largest vine­yard holder in the Gran­ite Belt, its mod­ern win­ery (built in 1998) more than 100km away on the coast, is the ob­vi­ous leader, with the older Bal­lan­dean Es­tate sec­ond in size of pro­duc­tion. Then there is the im­mac­u­lately tended and per­ma­nently net­ted (like a gi­ant aviary) Robert Chan­non vine­yard and the proud fam­ily-run win­ery of Komi­nos. At var­i­ous times th­ese mak­ers have pro­duced wines of real qual­ity, recog­nised with a smat­ter­ing of gold medals in show fo­rums here and over­seas.

But one jewel shines more brightly than the oth­ers, mak­ing wines ef­fort­lessly ca­pa­ble of stand­ing on equal terms with the very best of the rest of Aus­tralia. It is Boire­ann, es­tab­lished by Peter and Therese Stark in 1998, an ex­er­cise in the mode of an ex­quis­ite minia­ture paint­ing.

Their 1.5ha vine­yard is planted with 11 va­ri­eties, the only link be­ing that all are red, with the ex­cep­tion of a few vines of viog­nier, which they al­ways ded­i­cate to a union with shi­raz. The va­ri­eties range from the tried and true through to barbera, neb­bi­olo and tan­nat, those three planted sim­ply be­cause Stark was curious to find out what their po­ten­tial was.

Thus the pro­duc­tion fig­ures for the seven dif­fer­ent red wines the Starks make are ex­pressed in bot­tles, not cases. The 2006 vin­tage reds range from a max­i­mum of 1000 bot­tles (83 cases) to a min­i­mum of 630 bot­tles (52.5 cases).

The cen­tre­piece, year af­ter year, is the shi­raz viog­nier. Un­for­tu­nately, there were only 650 bot­tles made in 2006, and al­though its price is twice as much as the other wines in the range, it al­ways sells out first.

How is it that Stark can pro­duce such per­fectly pro­por­tioned, tex­tured and struc­tured red wines with such seem­ing reg­u­lar­ity? It can­not be done with­out in­fi­nite at­ten­tion to de­tail in both vine­yard and win­ery, green thumb in the for­mer, a red thumb in the lat­ter. It is a rare tal­ent for those with for­mal train­ing, rarer still for the self-taught. But it leaves open the ques­tion how much of the qual­ity comes from the vine­yard and how much from the win­ery.

The 2007 vin­tage may pro­vide some in­sight. Frost de­stroyed all but a few bunches of caber­net sauvi­gnon, petit ver­dot and mourve­dre, which pro­duced 150 litres of (the first and pos­si­bly last) rose. The re­main­der of the 2007 wines came from grapes pur­chased from more for­tu­nate Gran­ite Belt grow­ers and will be re­leased later in the year. I’m pre­pared to wa­ger they will be good, but how good only time will tell.

Re­vert­ing to 2006, the mourve­dre shi­raz grenache ($27, 94 points, 1000 bot­tles) is be­hind only the shi­raz viog­nier in qual­ity. The per­cent­ages are 40-30-20, the last 10 per cent be­ing tan­nat. It has a vo­lu­mi­nous, lifted bou­quet, with spice and licorice aro­mas, the in­tense, al­most pun­gent palate a Joseph’s coat of mul­ti­ple dark fruit and spice flavours, sup­ported by su­per-fine tan­nins.

On the same plane is the Lurnea ($27, 94 points, 900 bot­tles), a Bordeaux blend of mer­lot (40 per cent), caber­net franc and petit ver­dot (30 per cent each). Bril­liant pur­ple-crim­son (bet­ter than Cullen’s Man­gan, a sim­i­lar blend), it ra­di­ates power and per­son­al­ity, with a puls­ing ar­ray of blackcurrant and cas­sis fruit, the tan­nins fine but per­sis­tent.

The caber­net sauvi­gnon ($22, 93 points, 900 bot­tles) is an eye­lash be­hind, the colour per­fect, as is the very pure and clear ex­pres­sion of va­ri­etal cas­sis fruit on the mid-palate, fol­lowed by au­thor­i­ta­tive tan­nins on the fin­ish. The silky tex­ture of the other top wines means they are as en­joy­able now as they will be in a decade; the caber­net will re­pay three or so years of cel­lar­ing. (In­ci­den­tally, Diam corks have been used for all the ’ 06 reds.)


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