Canberra’s Ravensworth conquers 2012 International Riesling Challenge

Canberra’s Ravensworth Wines topped the honours list at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge 2012. Ravensworth Riesling 2012, made by Food and Wine columnist Bryan Martin, and owned by Martin and his wife Jocelyn, won a gold medal and three trophies.

The judges rated it best Canberra District riesling, best Australian riesling and, in a first for a Canberra riesling, best wine of the show – against 426 contenders from six countries.

Show organiser Ken Helm, a Canberra riesling legend himself, welcomed Ravensworth’s success, especially for winning best wine of show trophy. He said, “This is exciting as it shows beyond doubt that Canberra is up there with Australia’s best”.

Helm said the chair of judges, Ben Edwards, rated quality across the board as the highest in the time he’s judged there.

The impressive medal strike rate supports this view.  The 426 wines judged won 278 medals (51 golds, 60 silvers and 167 bronzes), for an overall success rate of 65 per cent.

While Ravensworth brought home the bacon for Canberra, our district provided little support for the event, entering just 12 wines in total across five categories, and underperforming the overall field with a medal strike rate of 58 per cent. We won one gold, one silver and five bronze medals.

In the important class for 2012 vintage dry rieslings (less than eight grams per litre of sugar), Canberra fielded just six wines and won two bronze medals. Compare this performance to the September regional wine show, where 12 Canberra 2012 vintage dry rieslings won nine medals, including three golds.

Admittedly, the class definitions of the two shows vary slightly, so that Ravensworth at 11 grams per litre of sugar, moved from “dry” in the regional show to “semi-dry” at the challenge. But the change of classification doesn’t explain the startlingly different ratings – bronze at the regional, gold and ultimately trophies at the challenge.

As well, Gallagher 2012, Nick O’Leary 2012 and Mount Majura 2012 – all medal winners in the regional show – failed to rate in the challenge, a variance that’s hard to understand.

Perhaps the high acidity of the Canberra rieslings worked against them in this broader environment. Certainly our wines tend to blossom with age as the fruit comes through. And it’s worth considering the top gold medallist in the regional show, Clonakilla 2012, and the top Canberra wine of the challenge, Ravensworth 2012, have a sugar levels of 10 and 11 grams per litre respectively – sufficient to take the edge off the acid and not taste sweet.

If we look only at the classes for 2012 dry rieslings, several regions outperformed the overall medal strike rate of 65 per cent.  This supports the growing view of 2012 as an exceptional riesling vintage.

Western Australia’s Great Southern region, for example, won 16 medals (two gold, five silver and nine bronze) from 19 entries, an 84 per cent strike rate.

Clare Valley, the traditional heartland of dry Australian riesling, entered 38 wines for a strike rate of 76 per cent – four golds, six silvers and 19 bronzes. I’ve tried many of these wines and they really are delicious and well priced. Most are already soft and ready to drink.

The Eden Valley, Clare’s southern neighbour on the Mount Lofty Ranges, fielded 25 wines to win five gold, four silver and nine bronze medals – a 72 per cent strike rate.

And tiny Tasmania entered 10 dry riesling from the 2012 vintage to win two golds, two silver and three bronze medals – a 70 per cent strike rate.

While riesling remains a perennially niche variety in Australia, its sales a fraction of those of sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, it offers wonderful drinking, great cellaring and quite often amazing value for money.

The trophy winning Ravensworth 2012, for example, sells at just $20 and its podium mate, Richmond Grove Watervale 2011, often specials at around $18. These are bargain prices for such beautiful wines – the latter with proven long-term cellaring potential; the Ravensworth untested, but likely to do the distance.

From a drinker’s perspective then it’s worth downloading and trolling through the full results. They’re available at rieslingchallenge.com

The honours list includes dry, half dry and sweet styles from many different regions and, indeed, from other countries, and from a spread of vintages. The successful older wines provide some guidance to the cellaring ability of younger wines. Indeed some of the most cellarable rieslings perform poorly at shows in youth, but blossom after a few years’ bottle age.

Canberra International Riesling Challenge 2012
Trophy winners

Wine of the show
Ravensworth Canberra District Riesling 2012

Best Australian riesling
Ravensworth Canberra District Riesling 2012

Best Canberra District riesling
Ravensworth Canberra District Riesling 2012

Best current vintage dry riesling
Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2012

Best dry riesling
Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 2011

Best sweet riesling
Heggies Eden Valley Botrytis Riesling 2011

Best Tasmanian riesling
Bay of Fires Riesling 2011

Best European riesling
Weingut Georg Muller Stiftung Hattenheimer Hassel Riesling Spaetlese Trocken 2011

Best museum riesling
d’Arenberg The Dry Dam McLaren Vale Riesling 2008

The champ – born in adversity
Ravensworth Canberra District Riesling 2012
Fruit source: Bryan and Jocelyn Martin’s Ravensworth vineyard, Murrumbateman
Gold medal and three trophies: Best Canberra District wine; best Australian wine; best wine of show
Canberra’s first grand champion of the riesling challenge almost didn’t exist. Winemaker Bryan Martin says hail stripped the vines almost bare, then 200mm of rain threatened the remaining crop with botrytis cinerea, a potentially destructive fungal disease.

But he sprayed the vines, spread anti-bird netting over the top and waited. The grapes ripened at comparatively low sugar levels and high acidity; and the missing leaves allowed the sun in and moisture out, defeating the botrytis spores.

Almost every bunch, however, included withered berries, the result of direct hail hits. So the picking crew cut the damaged fruit from every bunch before delivering it to nearby Clonakilla winery, where Martin works as a winemaker. The labour intensive work pushed Martin’s harvesting cost out to $1200 a tonne, he says.

In the winery he chilled the fruit to below 10 degrees Celsius in small, broad, flat bins. The shallow bins helped keep the berries intact, thereby avoiding release of phenolics, or tannins, into the juice. And chilling the whole bunches before crushing them in a gentle air-bag press, helped extract fine, phenolic-free juice.

Martin says he held back the last 100 litres – the product of the final, firmest pressing – as unfermented juice to blend back into the finished wine.

A cool fermentation captured the delicate riesling flavours in a bone dry and very acidic wine – a result of the unusually cool ripening period. Martin balanced the acidity by blending a small amount of unfermented juice into the wine.

The addition gave the wine a natural grape sugar content of 11 grams per litre. This subtly fleshed out the middle palate, without being discernibly sweet, reducing the impact of the potentially mouth-searing13 grams per litre of acid.

Until this year, says Martin, he sold his riesling grapes to Clonakilla. He made just 150 dozen bottles. Alas, the wine sold out at just $20 a bottle on withing days of the trophy presentation.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 17 October 2012 in The Canberra Times

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