Paddling up Cannibal Creek

Cannibal Creek winery is one of the shining lights of the Gippsland region, owned and run by Pat and Kirsten Hardiker. Situated just east of Pakenham in Tynong North, the small and pokey cellar door I first ventured into almost eight years ago has been well and truly superseded by a large and modern restaurant, with a bright and spacious deck and a charming tasting room downstairs. I’ve dined in the restaurant many times over the years and the quality of the food is superb (I’m looking at you, chocolate mousse).

Being Gippsland, there is a big focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although other grapes, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, are also grown in the five-hectare vineyard, which is farmed as sustainably as possible in this difficult climatic area. If you’re visiting and don’t mind a bit of exercise before lunch, take a hike up the nearby Mount Cannibal, which has stunning views of the surrounding area.

Pat and Kirsten sent me six wines to try, both new releases and some current but older vintages, offering a great cross section of the range and an example of the immense quality available from Cannibal Creek.

2019 Cannibal Creek Blanc de Blancs – $45 – 93 points

It’s great to see sparkling wines from small, local producers that rival the quality attained by some of the bigger houses. This 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs, from vines planted in 1997, spent several years on lees, and was disgorged in September 2022. There’s a discernible note of pastry as soon as you pop the cork, while giving the wine a good sniff reveals the citrus, apple and stone fruit. The palate shows intense citrus characters, with a fine bead, autolytic flavours and good acid amounting to a refined and refreshing sparkling.

2021 Cannibal Creek Sauvignon Blanc – $34 – 92 points

Gippsland has made a name for itself as a region that can produce some fine Sauvignon Blanc. Cannibal Creek’s 2021 is a world away from what you might find in Marlborough, with more savoury elements and complexity. Aromas of grass, asparagus and green capsicum show themselves first, and there’s also some gunflint, passionfruit and citrus in the background. The palate is quite silky, salty and even oily, and the Sauvignon Blanc went really well with savoury food.

2021 Cannibal Creek Chardonnay – $42 – 93 points

Chardonnay is one of the stars of Cannibal Creek, with two options available: the Estate and the Reserve, reflecting two very different styles that are possible with this versatile grape. The Estate shows pronounced lemon and lime characters on the nose and palate, with a touch of struck match, nectarine and hay, as well as some lees notes. The fruit absolutely sings, with a touch of sourness on the back palate that quickly melts away when the wine’s consumed with food. For a bit more opulence, try the Reserve Chardonnay.

2021 Cannibal Creek Pinot Noir – $45 – 93 points

Pinot Noir is one of the original plantings from 1997 (alongside Chardonnay), so it’s no surprise that it receives a lot of love at Cannibal Creek. The Estate release is quite fragrant, showing mainly red cherry, raspberry and violet, with some peppery spice, plus earth and bacon fat now developing. It’s particularly nice with food, and given that this is Pinot Noir, some air time really benefits it, as the fruits then become a bit more playful. Of the two Pinot Noirs, this one sits quite firmly in the pretty, red-fruit spectrum, meanwhile…

2019 Cannibal Creek Reserve Pinot Noir – $75 – 95 points

The Reserve Pinot Noir is a dense, dark yet high-toned “beast” (in a good way). There is so much going on aroma-wise and, like the Estate, the characters change dramatically as it breathes. The nose shows a mix of raspberry, red and black cherry and plum fruits, with some savoury rhubarb, musk, stems and pepper, and tertiary soy and mushroom from bottle age, adding enormous depth to the wine. As delightful as the nose is, the palate is sublime: silky and mouth filling, and with some tannin grip that lets you know this Pinot means business. The Reserve is further proof that Gippsland is capable of producing some shockingly good Pinot – on the second night, it’s just incredible.

2019 Cannibal Creek Merlot – $45 – 94 points

If you weren’t put off the grape by the film ‘Sideways’, then Merlot is a very good choice from Cannibal Creek, one of their unsung heroes. This is the kind of wine that evolves right in front of you, starting with fruit tones but then becoming more savoury. There was a burst of strawberry and raspberry as soon as I opened the bottle, with a confectionery-like, ripe edge to the fruit, and some rhubarb and plum. Slowly tomato leaf, cigar box, vanilla and meatiness came through. This is not your run-of-the-mill, thin and insipid Merlot but a juicy and bright-fruited one with finely integrated tannins – a smooth and delicious wine.

Reviewer:

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