Starks score two thumbs up for beating the heat
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.)