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SOUTH BURNETT, QUEENSLAND

G'day from Queensland

Queensland seems to be ever-driven on quests for Holy Grails. Trophies for cricket and strange forms of football now regularly appear in our local cabinets. A Queenslander now even reigns as world darts champion. What's left unattained in the Holy Grail field?

Perhaps an Outstanding wine ? Now that would be something to shock the cool climate southerners. Could it come from the well-established Granite Belt or the new Gold Coast hinterland wineries or maybe the fast-growing South Burnett which I visited recently with a group of Brisbane wine lovers ?

The South Burnett region contains a number of small and large wineries in Kingaroy and the surrounding hills and further north in the rolling plains near Murgon. It is certainly a fertile verdant land and the commitment to wine-growing and marketing in the area is clearly evident.

The vignerons have put a tremendous effort into cellar-door tasting facilities, with several also providing pretty good food and other local products and entertainment. For example, the cellar door at Ziebarth, a beautiful old Queensland house high on a hill with breezy verandahs and views down green valleys, rivals the striking beauty of McLaren Vale icon Coriole. I could happily sit at the Ziebarth bar, newly crafted from one of the property's silky oaks, for some time. All the cellar doors we visited were well appointed and welcoming.

Strangely at odds with the excellent facilities was the meagre supply of tasting wine doled out at some establishments in vessels better suited to holding boiled eggs. I was half-expecting the imminent arrival of a bus-load of drunken footballers to plunder the wine stocks. That didn't happen though. Seriously folks, I think wine culture, even in Queensland, has progressed beyond that. While I appreciate that small wineries don't have excess to give away, a thimble of wine is not going to convince me to allocate part of my wine budget to it.

A number of the wineries also provide attractive B&B style accommodation. We stayed in affordable splendour in a wonderful renovated house full of antiques, in the extensive vineyards (175 hectares!) of Clovely Estate. The attention to detail in this wine-stay is noteworthy.

A fridge chock-full of fresh steak, sausages, salads, cheese, fruit, bacon, eggs, etc is provided for cook-your-own dinner and breakfast. Just perfect after a hard day's wine tasting. Highly Recommended.

Another notable find in the area is the brand new Bell Tower Restaurant which is part of the Booie Range Distillery complex, not far from Crane's winery (the multi-skilled John Crane is also the distiller), a short cab ride from Kingaroy. The restaurant looks like a magnificent bit of Tuscany in a somewhat unlikely place to find it - beautifully appointed with panoramic views and fabulous food presented by a well-credentialled chef ex-Raes-on-Watego (Byron Bay). The wine list showcases good local wines - this level of food should give them something to aspire to. Recommended.

Traditional wine varieties dominate the region but there are new plantings of Italian and Rh�ne varietals which I await with much interest. My gut-feeling for the area is tempranillo, which I did not see on this visit but hope that someone may be trialling. The tastings showed a somewhat surprising regional affinity for merlot - distinctively dense, tannic and aromatic, albeit generally made in the firm cabernet style.

Across the board, most wines tasted on this recent visit would rate Agreeable, very few slipping to Unacceptable and some attaining Recommended. The overall impression is that of clean well made easy-drinking wines displaying strong fruit characteristics. Pretty good for a new region, I thought, giving high hopes for the future.

Most wines tasted were from the 1999 and 2000 vintages; 2000 appears to be much the stronger of the two.

It took Queensland 68 years to win the Sheffield Shield, now it's a regular event. It's early days for South Burnett wines, but one day, when the terroir is better understood, varieties and cropping levels perfected, they may well be worthy and consistent champions.

I'll be taking a patriotic interest in this promising region.

The Wines

Recommended discoveries (all are from 2000)

Sunset Ridge Semillon. Early drinking style with plenty of varietal fruit flavour. Just the thing for the local yabbies.

Clovely Estate Left Field Unwooded Chardonnay. Usually not my style of wine but they got this one pretty right. Abundant peach and nectarine flavours, nice early drinking.

Clovely Estate Merlot. Full-bodied, elegant, rich and savoury.

Crane Merlot. Deft oak handling with good tannin structure. Rich plum flavours.

Stuart Range Goodger Shiraz. A remarkable musky nose, perhaps attributable to the Goodger soil. Medium-full bodied, great balance. (Goodger is a locale 14km south of Kingaroy, producing grapes with interesting sub-regional characteristics.)

Barambah Ridge Cabernet. Complex blend of tobacco through to blackcurrant flavours. Elegantly structured, strong tannins with good aging potential. A slight hollowness on the middle palate prevented a higher rating.

Bob Clancy

Bob is the Queensland correspondent at large for Murrumbateman Winery, and will report from time to time on wine, food and beer matters from the sunshine state.