Canberra international riesling challenge 2010

The Canberra International Riesling Challenge, held in October, fielded a record 364 Australian entries, up from 352 in 2009. But the solid support from local makers wasn’t matched by international vignerons. Organiser Ken Helm says the number of overseas entries declined slightly.

France (Alsace), the Czech Republic, South Africa, Argentina and Chile each submitted a small number of wines. And in a quick flick through the catalogue of results, Germany and New Zealand seemed to have about three dozen entries each, and the United States around 20.

In one respect the Challenge remains out of step with Australian wine shows by awarding the trophy for the best South African wine to a silver medal winner. The general rule is, no gold medal no trophy – it sends the wrong message. How can a silver medallist win a trophy, the highest accolade in the show? Doesn’t make sense.

Entries came from every corner of Australia across three broad style categories – dry, semi-dry and sweet – with the main focus on dry wines. South Australia’s Clare and Eden Valley’s cemented their positions as leaders of this style, while Canberra looked the poor cousin – a result at odds with praise pouring in from other sources.

The judges awarded only three bronze medals to the 11 Canberra wines entered in the 2010 vintage dry classes. And the nine local wines entered in the combined 2008 and 2009 class tallied three medals – gold for Helm Premium Riesling 2009, plus two bronze medals.

In contrast, the Clare Valley fielded 40 dry rieslings from the 2010 vintage and 28 earned medals – four gold, 10 silver and 14 bronze. In the 2008-2009 class, 17 of Clare’s 21 entries won medals – two gold, three silver and 12 bronze.

The Eden Valley, a little to the south of Clare on the Mount Lofty Ranges, enjoyed similar success, with 14 of 23 wines from the 2010 vintage winning medals – three gold, three silver and eight bronze; and 21 of 26 wines in the 2008-2009 class succeeding, with three gold, four silver and 14 bronze medals.

Western Australia’s Great Southern region and Tasmania also showed good form with dry rieslings. Nine of Great Southern’s 2010 vintage wines won medals – one gold, one silver and seven bronze.

And Tasmania revealed that its rieslings might hit best form after a year or two in bottle. The state’s 2010 vintage wines earned four medals from ten wines (one gold, three bronze). But in the 2008-2009 class 17 wines yielded 12 medals – two gold, two silver and eight bronze.

While the wines were judged mainly in regional classes, some regions, with low entry numbers, were bundled into mixed classes – pitting contrasting styles against one another. Even so, the “various” class of 27 dry 2010 rieslings yielded three gold, six silver and 11 bronze medals. One of the gold medallists came from Central Victoria and the other two were large company blends, almost certainly from the Barossa-Clare-Eden Valley.

In this class, gold medals for Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling 2010 and Wolf Blass Yellow Label Riesling 2010 demonstrates what tremendous value big-company rieslings offer. Both can be found on special from time to time at around $11.

Some of the most exciting drinking, though, bubbled to the surface in the “museum” classes – for wines from the 2007 and earlier vintages. Their success sends three important messages – good riesling blossoms with age; the screw cap makes cellaring reliable; and the wines that age well are often fairly modestly priced on release.

Of the Clare Valley’s 18 museum rieslings, four won gold medals, five won silver and five won bronze. The gold medallists were O’Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2006, Paulett’s Aged Release Polish Hill River Riesling 2005, Stone Bridge Wines Clare Valley Riesling 2006 and The Wilson Vineyard Polish Hill River Riesling 2004.

The oldest wine in the line up, Richmond Grove Watervale 1998, won a silver medal. Made by John Vickery, Phil Laffer and Bernie Hickin, from fruit grown on the historic Florita vineyard, this was the first modern, commercial-scale Clare wine sealed with a screw cap, setting the scene for the Clare winemakers larger-scale roll out of the seal two years later.

Eden Valley’s 11 museum wines showed good form, too, winning three gold, three silver and three bronze medals. The gold medallists were Peter Lehmann Wigan Eden Valley Riesling 2004 (current release is the sensational 2005 at $30), Trevor Jones Reserve Eden Valley Riesling 2005 and Wolf Blass Icon Eden Valley Riesling 2002.

A mixed museum class from various region yielded two gold medallists – Trevelen Farm Great Southern Riesling 2002 and Chartley Estate Tasmania Riesling 2007.

The judges found some excitement among the semi-dry Australian rieslings, awarding gold medals to two Tasmanian wines – Bream Creek VGR Riesling 2008 and Kate Hill Riesling 2009. This is a not unexpected result and cool climates produce the combination of fruit intensity, delicacy and high natural acidity needed to make this style well. Germany, of course, sets the pace.

Several vintages of sweet riesling attracted the judges, too, with gold medals awarded to Holm Oak Vineyards Tasmania Riesling TGR 2010, Pooley Late Harvest Tasmania Riesling 2010, Brown Brothers Patricia King Valley Noble Riesling 2006 and Ciccone Estate King Valley Botrytis Riesling 2006.

The catalogue of results is available at www.rieslingchallenge.com

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

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