Judges’ eye view of Canberra District wine show 2005

Results of last week’s Canberra Regional Wine Show confirm shiraz as the district’s outright star. Various delicious examples won four gold medals and, for the sixth consecutive year, the variety earned the ‘champion wine of the show’ trophy.

But for the first time since I’ve been judging at the event, shiraz met a serious challenger for that top award. In a two to one vote, Kamberra Shiraz 2004 narrowly pipped Helm Premium Riesling 2005 for number one spot. In truth, however, it was an apples and oranges comparison. Each wine is top-notch example of its style.

Shiraz, overall, delivered more highlights than riesling. The 2004s in particular look good and offer a diversity of styles from the intense, silky and elegant Kamberra 2004 to the bigger, more robust traditional Grove Estate Hilltops 2004 (Young, NSW) to the savoury, refined Wallaroo 2004 (Hall, NSW) – the other two gold medallists.

The 2004 shiraz class also produced two silver medallists, Ravensworth (Murrumbateman) and Chalkers Crossing (Young); and three bronze medallists, Meeting Place (Canberra), Wimbaliri (Murrumbateman) and First Creek (unknown fruit origin).

While the 2003 and older shirazes provided fewer highlights, Long Rail Gully Granite Stone 2003 really shone, winning another gold for Murrumbateman while Gallagher Wines 2003 (Murrumbateman) and McWilliams Barwang 2002 (Young) won silver medals.

As judge Tim Kirk commented during the show the best of the shirazes from the Canberra region show a fruit flavour not dissimilar to that of wines from Great Western, Victoria. In general local shiraz is well removed from the big and burly styles of warmer areas and, at its best, shows a great intensity of supple, soft fruit without excessive oak.

In the very hot 2004 vintage even the most attentive riesling makers struggled. The cleanest, freshest wines simply lacked fruit flavour. But in 2005, we saw two beautiful and different gold medallists in Helm Premium, from Al Lustenberger’s Murrumbateman vineyard and Gallagher, from Graeme Shaw’s Murrumbateman vineyard.

Silver medallists Ravensworth, Mount Majura and Chatto Wines, too, displayed flawless winemaking but not quite the fruit intensity for gold.

The two gold and three silver medal wines show that after decades of glimpsing greatness in Canberra riesling, we have, as a district, finally arrived. The best is as good as anything in the country. But the challenge is to eliminate the serious winemaking faults in those that failed to make the honours list.

The tasting supported, too, the belief that cabernet sauvignon just doesn’t work in our district, nor in the greater area within the wine show’s catchment. The contrast between the bright, generous fruit flavours in shiraz and the mean, fruitless cabernets couldn’t have been greater.

The pinot noir classes, too, yielded little joy. And chardonnay proved surprisingly weak, although I was impressed by Kamberra Tumbarumba 2004, a bronze medallist. I think we’ll see stronger product from this cool area in future years.

Tumbarumba argued its case well, though, with the gold medal winning Kamberra Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2000. It’s a ripper – and available at Kamberra cellar door for $30.

Of the emerging varieties, the bright, fresh Mount Majura Pinot Gris 2004 earned silver. Given these are from very young vines, we can expect to see greater flavour concentration in the years ahead. And Kamberra Viognier 2004 from Holt delivered sufficient plush, juicy ‘apricot’ flavours to earn a silver medal. This looks to be another natural from the district.

A FEW GOOD CANBERRA DISTRICT WINES

Helm Canberra District Premium Riesling $ $33
Ken Helm’s been talking the riesling talk for decades. Now, deservedly, he’s walking the walk with this stunningly good wine. It’s the product of years of incremental adjustments to a winemaking regime applied to the very best grapes from Al Lustenberger’s fastidiously managed Murrumbateman vineyard. All it took was thirty years’ hard work, fuelled by vision, and a benign 2005 growing season that seems to have brought out the best in the variety. This is a wine with a seriously long future: it has the classic citrus and mineral aromatics and taut, intense, steely-yet-delicate palate of classic riesling. This is a great achievement for Ken and a very significant wine for the Canberra district, too. Cellar door phone number is 6227 5953.

Gallagher Canberra District Riesling 2005 $17
Greg Gallagher’s riesling, sourced from Graeme Shaw’s Murrumbateman vineyard, earned the second gold medal (half a point behind Helms) amongst sixteen 2005 vintage rieslings at the regional show. It’s a delicious drop and quite different in style from Ken’s, with a greater volume of floral aromatics and a rounder, more overtly fruity palate. It also has vibrant, fresh acidity and the delicacy essential in riesling. Canberra benefits greatly from the presence of an experienced, accomplished winemaker like Greg. He not only recognises good fruit but also has the skills and attentiveness necessary to take it all the way to the bottle we drink. The Murrumbateman cellar door is open weekends and public holidays, phone 6227 0555.

Kamberra Canberra District Shiraz 2004 $30
Put this one in your diary and be sure to buy a bottle or two when it’s released. A gold medal and three trophies won at this week’s district show confirm how good it is. But what the gongs don’t convey is what style of wine it is. It’s not one of those inky, oaky Aussie monsters. That’s not what Canberra does. It’s a limpid, seductively fragrant red with a juicy, succulent, silky palate. It’s soft and lovely to drink now. But there’s a layered depth to it that almost certainly ensures good medium to long term cellaring. It’s sourced principally from Andrew McEwin’s vineyard at Murrumbateman (with a few other components including a splash of viognier) and sensitively made by Alex McKay at Kamberra.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

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