International riesling challenge 2006 points to huge value for drinkers

Ah, wine shows. They seem to be everywhere. Canberra alone has five that I know of: in chronological order, Winewise Small Vignerons Awards, Canberra Regional Wine Show, Murrumbateman Cool Climate Wine Show, the Hyatt International Riesling Challenge and the National Wine Show of Australia.

Different people with different objectives operate them, but each one aspires to improve the breed, promote wine, inform wine consumers and build prestige for itself.

And each of Canberra’s events has a different focus: Winewise on Australian and New Zealand small makers; Canberra Regional on wines from the local and adjoining districts; Murrumbateman on wines from Australian ‘cool climate’ growing regions; the Riesling Challenge on rieslings from around the world; and the National principally on winners from other Australian and New Zealand shows – a sort of wine grand final.

With the exception, perhaps, of the Murrumbateman show, each attracts the cream of Australian wine show judges, suggesting that four of the five are taken very seriously indeed not just by leading judges but by the industry at large.

Being taken seriously by the industry means that a show attracts not only the best judges, but also the highest calibre of entries. This makes the task of judging far more rewarding.

And it means that the gongs go to worthy wines, thus rewarding top-notch makers and, at the same time, delivering first-class buying advice to consumers.

That this virtuous cycle becomes self-perpetuating was apparent at the Hyatt International Riesling Challenge, judged by Yalumba’s Louisa Rose and her team in mid October.

Now in its seventh year, the Challenge this year attracted a record 458 entries from nine countries.

While from a consumer’s point of view it’s unfortunate that probably the majority of superb German rieslings on show cannot be purchased here, it’s clear that many German producers are attracted by the Challenge and the promotional opportunities it presents back home.

In any event there are rich pickings from the very long list of Australian and New Zealand medal winners. These embrace a diversity of styles from dry to semi-dry to sweet across many vintages. In fact, you can scroll through the entire catalogue of results at www.rieslingchallenge.com

Flicking through the catalogue, it’s amazing how many of the top-scoring wines are available at comparatively low prices. The gold-medal winning Hardys Siegersdorf 2006, for example, retails at around $14 and as low as $9.99 on special.

Or the best-wine-of-show trophy winner, Tim Adams 2006 (top drops), sells for just $18 at cellar door. The list goes on.

Even more mouth watering (and a pointer to long-term form) is the list of affordable classics in the museum class for dry rieslings from 2003 and earlier vintages.

Six of the twenty medallists in this group of thirty-one wines came from Orlando – three each under the Richmond Grove Watervale (1998, 1999, 2002) and St Helga Eden Valley (1998, 1996 and 2002) labels. These are utterly delicious wines. They retail at modest prices and have proven cellaring ability.

That little bracket also suggests that a future candidate for the Wolf Blass Award for services to riesling – rightly given this year to Ken Helm — might be John Vickery. Now in his seventies, John created the great Leo Buring rieslings of the sixties and seventies and these days consults to the Orlando white wine team.

Stonier Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2005 $25
Founded by Brian Stonier in 1978, Stoniers evolved slowly at first as it learned the tricks of grape growing on the Mornington Peninsula. During the nineties the quality of its chardonnays and pinot noirs lifted dramatically as, at great expense, Brian brought the exuberant vines under control, restricting yields and achieving a resultant lift in flavour concentration. Now under the ownership of Lion Nathan with winemaker Geraldine McFaul at the helm, Stonier regularly produces some of the best pinot noir in Australia. The 2005, though light in colour, delivers the magic fragrance and fine, silky depth of this most difficult variety.

Fischer Canberra District Riesling 2005 $18
Like so many growers in the district, Wayne and Jenny Fischer, of Mount Nanima Vineyard, Murrumbateman, established vines following the Hardy move to Canberra. In 2005, when a potential sale to Hardys fell through, the Fischers sent their riesling grapes to winemaker Richard Parker at Long Rail Gully. Clearly it was a case of handing good fruit to the right winemaker, because the result is absolutely delicious – a tremendously fresh, citrusy, dry riesling to enjoy now or any time over the next four or five years. It’s available at the cellar door, phone 6227 5638, or at selected retail outlets.

Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2006 $18
Tim Adams 2006 won a gold medal trophies as the best current vintage wine and best wine of show at Canberra’s recent International Riesling Challenge. The success of this modestly priced wine underscores yet again what great value riesling offers. The judges rated it as the best wine of 458 entered from around the world. It’s in the very zesty, tight, refined style of the best from Clare and ought to drink well for twenty years if carefully cellared. Ken Helm, a driving force behind the show, received the Wolf Blass Award for his services to riesling.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2006 & 2007

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