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Category Archives: Wine
The Rhone Valley white variety, viognier, is and will remain a niche variety, representing around two per cent of total white plantings in Australia. Nevertheless, it remains an important variety, principally because of its close relationship to our national red hero, shiraz.
The relationship is both genetic and vinous. In Wine Grapes (Penguin Group, 2012), Jancis Robinson writes, “Through DNA parentage analysis, a parent-offspring relationship has been discovered between viognier and mondeuse blanche, which makes viognier either a half-sibling or a grandparent of syrah”.
The vinous connection comes because in its northern Rhone home, vignerons co-planted and co-fermented viognier with shiraz – notably in the aromatic silky reds of Cote-Rotie.
But largely because of its susceptibility to fungal disease, the variety almost disappeared from France. Plantings had shrunk to just 14 hectares in the northern Rhone by the late 1960s.
However, it staged a remarkable comeback to 4395 hectares in France by 2009. By that time, viognier, with its viscous texture and distinctive apricot-like aroma and flavour and spread around the world, including Australia.
James Halliday reports it as present in the CSIRO’s collection at Merbein, Victoria, under the care of the late Allan Antcliff. Halliday writes, “It was from Antcliff that Baillieu Myer of Elgee Park obtained the first vines for a single-vineyard planting on his Mornington Peninsula vineyard in 1972, around the same time as the late Dr Bailey Carrodus interplanted a small number of viognier vines with shiraz at Yarra Yering”.
Later in the seventies, Heathcote winery in central Victoria probably trialled the variety. And, in the Barossa, Yalumba acquired cuttings from Montpellier, France in 1979. Yalumba propagated these cuttings and planted 1.2 hectares on the Vaughan vineyard, Eden Valley, in 1980. They claimed this as the first commercial viognier planting in Australia. The distinctive and lovely whites subsequently made by Louisa Rose stimulated consumer and winemaker interest in the variety.
As the Yalumba viognier vines matured, Dr John Kirk planted the variety at Clonakilla, Murrumbateman in 1986. In the next decade his son Tim combined grapes from these with vines shiraz to create Australia’s most influential take on the classic Cote-Rotie shiraz-viognier style.
Yalumba’s success with white viognier and Clonakilla’s with the red blend stimulated interest in the variety and plantings took off early in the new century.
Viognier, first showed up in Australian Bureau of Statistics figures in 2003 at 541 hectares, including non-bearing vines. This had increased to 1401 hectares in 2008 (representing about two per cent of Australia’s 72 thousand hectares of white varieties).
However, Winemaker Federation of Australia surveys pre-date ABS data on viognier. The federation’s 1999 survey indicated a total viognier crush of 254 tonnes. The crush peaked at 13,338 tonnes in 2009, then declined slightly in 2010, 2011 and 2012. But the declines probably relates to vintage conditions rather than any decline in plantings.
If we assume a productive capacity of around 13 thousand tonnes, then Australia’s vignerons might produce a little under a million dozen bottles of viognier a year. However, much of the production goes to blends with shiraz (and sometimes other red varieties) and also with other whites, principally viognier’s Rhone relatives, marsanne and roussanne.
Just what goes where is anybody’s guess. But a search of “viognier” on the website of Australia’s largest wine retailer, Dan Murphy, brought up 73 wines – 48 shiraz viognier blends; 19 straight viogniers; one dessert-style viognier; one rose (a blend with grenache); and four white blends.
If this sample is representative, then much of Australia’s viognier goes to blends with shiraz – with one caveat, the blends usually contain only about five per cent viognier.
On its own, viognier’s exotic apricot and ginger flavours and viscous palate perhaps deliver too much flavour for regular drinking. As with other assertive whites – gewürztraminer, for example – a little goes a long way.
But these can be delightful drinks and indeed our winemakers, notably Yalumba and Clonakilla, now produced highly polished versions that retain varietal character without overwhelming the senses.
I review below five examples that recently came across the tasting bench, including three superb wines from Yalumba, true masters of the variety with 29 hectares of viognier on hand.
Yalumba South Australia Organic Viognier 2012 $18.95 Yalumba’s entry-level viognier – pure and apricot-like with smooth texture and fresh, dry finish
Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2012 $24.95 A more opulent expression of viognier, incorporating the creamy texture of barrel fermentation and maturation. This is exceptional at the price.
Yalumba The Virgilius Eden Valley Viognier 2010 $49.95 Yalumba’s barrel-fermented flagship introduces an exotic ginger note to the varietal apricot character. This is a sumptuous but restrained, distinctive and delightful wine to savour slowly. Classy.
Mount Avoca Pyrenees Viognier 2010 $24 When first opened, this revealed the distinctive “bacon rind” character of barrel fermentation, a character that overshadowed the fruit. Oaky flavours then cut through the palate, a flavour quite separate from the good fruit.
Quartz Hill Pyrenees Viognier 2011 $32 Shane Mead’s is another fine expression of viognier. While the oak influence is apparent it sits well with the fruit, if not as completely integrated as it is in Yalumba’s wines. The spritely, slightly leaner palate appeals very much.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 19 June 2013 in the Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
The recent release of Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace at record prices raises the age-old question of what they’re really worth. The short answer is, they’re worth what people pay for them. And as Penfolds and Henschke sell out every year, the answer has to be that they’re not overpriced, notwithstanding substantial domestic discounting in the case of Grange.
The discounting reminds us that we don’t all pay the same price. Indeed the gap between recommended retail and price on special may run to $100 or more a bottle. But over time, both wines tend to appreciate in value, though not at an even or predictable rate. So whether or not a purchase stacks up as an investment, as many buyers hope, depends on paying the right price at the right time (and not drinking it while you wait). Achieving this is no easier than picking stock price movements.
A story published in the Canberra Times on 30 May provided a real-life glimpse of Grange as an investment. The story reported prices Jackie Chan is said to have paid on a buying spree at Jim Murphy’s Fyshwick store in 1999.
Chan’s purchases included four vintages of Grange – 1991, 1990 and 1989 at $390 a bottle each and 1983 at $300, according on an order form retained by a former Murphy employee. Based on the current retail prices of those wines in the same store, the report concluded, “at least some of his purchases may now be proving a savvy investment”.
Unfortunately for Chan, though, it doesn’t work like that. A private owner has little chance of selling at retail prices. Why? Because people wanting to buy old Grange don’t phone Jackie Chan. If they’re in a rush, they’ll visit a retail store. And if they’re not, they might go to auction and save a great deal of money.
Collectors wanting to sell wine, generally don’t have customers, so they go to auction or to an upmarket retailer. In other words, they sell into a wholesale market. And from my experience as one of those retailers, auction prices continue to provide the best guide to current wholesale value.
So if Chan took the Granges he bought in 1999 to auction today, the result could be sobering. In nominal terms, he’d be ahead on the 1990, 1991 and 1983 vintages and behind on the 1989 vintage. However, after inflation adjusting his 1999 dollars, he’d be seriously behind on all four vintages. The position would be even worse were we to calculate the opportunity cost of money tied up without return for 14 years. The table below shows the detailed estimates.
The same table shows the net price you’d pay as a buyer at auction after adding the auctioneer’s quaintly named “buyer’s premium” and GST. Comfortingly, these prices, with the exception of the 1983, sit well below the retail prices quoted in the Canberra Times report – underlining the value of auctions.
And to illustrate the importance of timing, those who bought Grange1983 at $50 in 1988 could pocket a tidy profit – nominally $377 a bottle, or $325 after adjustment for inflation.
The top of the table shows Langton’s auction prices for various vintages of Grange and Hill of Grace. The generally high prices confirm their desirability. But it also demonstrates an age-old pattern – you can generally buy beautiful mature old vintages for less than you’d pay for a current release.
For drinkers rather than investors, though, there’s comfort in buying and cellaring a wine on release. That way, as the decades tick by, you know exactly where the wine’s been and how it’s been cellared. I suspect this is where Jackie Chan’s coming from.
And Grange and Hill of Grace sit at the top of the auction pile because they will cellar reliably for decades. I reviewed the new-release 2008 Grange a few weeks back, and last week had the opportunity to taste the just-released Hill of Grace 2008.
Ainslie Cellars hosted a customer tasting of Henschke wines, including the two single-vineyard flagships, Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2009 ($115) and Hill of Grace 2008 ($650).
I’ll review the range over the coming weeks. For today, though, let’s consider just the majestic 2008 Hill of Grace, sourced from 150-year-old shiraz vines in the Eden Valley. It’s deeply coloured but limpid and just beginning to show a little age at the rim. The complex, multi-faceted aroma suggests a big, powerful wine, built on intense, ripe black-cherry-like fruit, laced with sympathetic oak. The palate surprises after the aroma as it’s ethereal and elegant in structure, though waves of intense fruit and tannins sweep across the palate. It’s a classy and idiosyncratic shiraz, as gnarled and stately as the ancient vines it springs from.Penfolds and Henschke blue-chip reds – market prices Wine RRP Mean hammer price Seller gets Buyer pays Grange 2008 $785 No sale No sale No sale Grange 2007 $425 $383 $537 Grange 2006 $550 $495 $695 Grange 2005 $445 $400 $562 Grange 1996 $475 $427 $600 Grange 1990 $555 $500 $702 Grange 1986 $550 $495 $696 Grange 1983 $475 $427 $600 Hill of Grace 2008 $650 No sale No sale No sale Hill of Grace 2007 No sale No sale No sale Hill of Grace 2006 $445 $400 $562 Hill of Grace 2005 $400 $360 $506 Hill of Grace 1999 $365 $328 $461 Hill of Grace 1990 $480 $432 $607 Hill of Grace 1986 $360 $324 $455 Hill of Grace 1983 $220 $198 $278 The Jackie Chan Granges What Jackie paid 1999* What he’d get now What you’d pay now Grange 1991 $390/$575 $450 $632 Grange 1990 $390/$575 $500 $702 Grange 1989 $390/$575 $320 $449 Grange 1983 $300/$443 $427 $600 Auction price sources: langtons.com.au Seller’s price assumes 10% commission to Langton’s Buyer’s price assumes 15% commission to Langton’s and GST *Nominal price/inflation adjusted price in brackets © Chris Shanahan 2013 June 2013
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 5 June 2013 in the Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
This story of oysters and wine links France’s Languedoc coast to Bateman’s Bay, half a world away, and to Cowra, on the warm floor of the west-flowing Lachlan River.
The man joining the dots is Steve Feletti, owner of Moonlight Flat Oysters, Bateman’s Bay. His website borrows the language of wine – “Just like premium wines and cheeses oysters reflect their context of finish and provenance with a unique flavour profile”, it says. On the website, Feletti recommends wines that “balance the saline strength of our structured rock oyster brands” and “smoky finish end palate of the angasi”.
Feletti’s eclectic list includes a chardonnay from Orange, NSW, and a chardonnay, a gewürztraminer and a cortese (an Italian variety) from Victoria’s Yarra Valley, Mansfield and Mount Tallarook, respectively. The limited list suggests Feletti finds few wines that really do the trick with oysters.
But during a 2008 French tour, Feletti tasted picpoul de pinet with oysters farmed nearby on the Languedoc coast. “No single wine rang my bells up until this experience”, he says.
For the locals, however, the bells rang centuries ago, says Feletti. And today wine producers within the picpoul de pinet appellation promote their inexpensive, acidic young white under the slogan son terroir, c’est la mer (it’s territory is the sea) – with images of wine, oysters and the sea.
The picpoul de pinet appellation stretches from Pezenas, in the hinterland, southeast to Sete on the Mediterranean. The region’s white grape variety, officially piquepoul blanc, produces acidic, lemony, dry whites – its high acidity the key to a successful pairing with oysters.
But piquepoul blanc remains a small-scale specialty, with French plantings totalling just 1,455 hectares in 2009.
Two years after discovering piquepoul, Feletti asked French grape grower, Guy Bascou, for vine cuttings to take back to Australia. Bascou obliged, and after three years in quarantine, the cuttings arrived in Cowra, where Feletti owns a farm.
Shortly after, the local state member, minister for primary industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, planted what Feletti believes to be Australia’s first piquepoul vine.
Feletti intends to follow this symbolic planting with a commercial venture in August, establishing 1,000 vines on the O’Dea family’s nearby Windowrie vineyard. He expects Jason O’Dea to oversee the first vintage as early as 2015. We should then taste the first Australian piquepoul some months later, under the Borrowed Cuttings label.
Feletti hopes in future to establish vines on the south coast and, over time, establish piquepoul as “part of the oyster experience”, much as French vignerons and oyster farmers have done for centuries. He agrees with one US description of the variety as “the default wine for oysters” as it forms a “backdrop, allowing the oyster to shine”, he says.
Feletti’s idea of oysters, though, may not be the same as those of us who belt down the coast for the weekend, picking up a hessian bag full from Batemans Bay, Tuross, Narooma or wherever.
He raises flat (angasi) and cupped (Sydney rock) oysters year round in the Clyde River, near Batemans Bay. He sells most, under his patented brands, including Claire de Lune, to restaurants– where they sell at around $7 each. Feletti says he finishes each brand differently in response to different markets.
They’re not in any Canberra restaurants. But where you do find them – for example at Sydney’s Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay – they’ll be shucked on demand by trained staff. And in the years ahead they’ll no doubt be served with Feletti’s piquepoul.
Feletti says he sells to 20–40 restaurants in long-term partnerships. He expects restaurants “to do something for my brand” and, in return, he provides staff training, as well as a year-round supply of succulent oysters. He also writes a regular newsletter and conducts master classes for consumers – all in the cause of better appreciation of live, shucked-on-demand oysters.
This is a far cry from popular consumption; or indeed of heroic efforts like those of Henry IV, who reputedly swallowed three hundred before dinner; or of a customer of Brillat-Savarin’s 32 dozen pre-dinner snack.
In my own experience, the strong seaside flavours of oysters overwhelm many wines. But I’ve found several up to the task over the years, each in it own way. At a little café in the dunes of Cap Ferret (near Bordeaux), a tart, fairly neutral young Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, from the Loire Valley, refreshed the mouth but allowed the briny, oyster flavours to sing.
Years later in Bordeaux, a local, partially oak-fermented semillon sauvignon blanc blend sat happily with plump, juicy, ice-cold oysters.
On many occasions, young Chablis (cold climate French chardonnay) proved itself perhaps the most reliable of all oyster wines. Its high acidity, desert dryness and subtle flavour easily balanced the saline, iodine-like twang of the oyster. To date, this is my favourite oyster match up. Costco, Dan Murphy’s and First choice all offer inexpensive imports from the region.
And one Australian riesling remains in the memory – a success of wine, oyster, location and occasion. On a cold, rainy dusk at the Steingarten vineyard, Eden Valley, huddled under umbrellas, we slurped down fresh-shucked Coffin Bay oysters with wine from from the vineyard we stood in. Steingarten Riesling 2007’s brisk lime-like flavour simply replaced the traditional squeeze of lime.
Amanda Yallop, chief sommelier at Sydney’s outstanding Quay restaurant, leans more towards high acid, savoury-to-neutral whites. She says in the days when Quay offered oysters, she recommended aromatic young whites, including riesling, and also Champagne, which she sees as a classic match for its tangy, zesty finish.
Proprietor of Canberra’s Mezzalira and Italian and Sons restaurants, Pasquale Trimboli, says his customers moved away from dry white to prosecco – a fresh but neutral sparkler that offers a refreshing backdrop to the briny oyster flavour. Trimboli says it’s been 10 years since he offered pre-shucked oysters and currently offers Sydney rock oysters from Pambula. He rates Steve Feletti’s oysters, “the best I’ve ever tasted in Australia”. He hopes to offer them in future and has been in discussions with Feletti for some time. He says Feletti “is very fussy about storage and service”.
But matching wine with oysters isn’t a science and oysters, like personal taste, vary widely. Piquepoul can only add to the choice. Tim Stock’s Vinous Imports offers picpoul de Pinet from Chateau Petite Roubie, though he’s sold out at present. And Randall Pollard’s Heart and Soil Imports, Melbourne, currently offers Domaine de la Majone 2011 for $2 (phone 0408 432 456.
Steve Feletti offers Moonlight Flat oysters live by courier to Canberra customers. Email email@example.com for details.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 29 May 2013 in the Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
A few strokes on Lisa Perotti-Brown’s laptop – 100 points – gave the world its headline – “The perfect Grange”. And like catatonic chooks, eyes glued to a single point, the world’s editors obsessed on one wine of the seven Penfolds released on 2 May.
What a lot of fun they missed. But Grange makes the news every year one way or another. It’s always controversial and always delivers in the robust, long-lived style Max Schubert developed in the early 1950s.
Successive winemakers over the decades refined Grange, so that today its fruit is probably a bit brighter and the oak more refined. But it remains inky blank, powerful and layered with winemaking inputs that add more aroma, flavour and textural dimensions than fruit alone could give.
And it’s always released in good company nowadays – alongside remarkable wines, some inspired by Schubert, some created long after his death in 1994, but all made by winemakers who knew him and his wine styles well. Schubert retired in 1973, but he maintained an office at Magill winery for the rest of his life and enjoyed regular contact with his successors – Don Ditter, John Duval and Peter Gago.
The new red releases include St Henri, an elegant, supple counterpoise to Grange, but equally long lived and created by John Davoren, not Schubert. Bin 707, or Grange Cabernet as some call it, is essentially Grange made from cabernet sauvignon instead of shiraz. It’s Grange’s match in power and individual character and as good a wine at half the price. Schubert made the first vintage in 1964.
In 1983, Don Ditter made the first vintage of Magill Estate Shiraz, the single-vineyard wine that saved Penfolds’ Adelaide vineyard from urban subdivision. In late 1982, Max Schubert hand wrote a business plan, including details of the wine, for a board meeting of the Adelaide Steamship Company, then owners of Penfolds. Penfolds Managing Director Ian Mackley (ISM in the document above), and General Manager Jim Williams (JLW), convinced the board to retain the vineyard on the basis of Schubert’s proposal.
RWT Barossa Shiraz arrived in 1997, following John Duval’s quest (the ‘red wine trial’, hence RWT) for an elegant, aromatic Barossa Valley Shiraz, matured in French oak. The wine contrasts starkly with the power and American oak character of Grange shiraz.
And the newest arrival, Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is to Bin 707 what RWT is to Grange. Its creator, current winemaker Peter Gago, says Bin 169 and RWT take the pressure off Bin 707 and RWT. Gago believes the two new styles deflected criticism from some quarters that Grange and Bin 707 needed “modernising” – lightening up and moving from American oak to less aggressively flavoured French oak.
The lone chardonnay in the line up began as the “white Grange” project in the early nineties, under John Duval. Duval’s team sought a white equivalent of Grange. With no restrictions on grape variety or region, the winemakers initially sourced semillon, riesling and chardonnay from a diversity of regions. The search quickly narrowed to chardonnay, initially from mainland regions, including Tumbarumba, the Adelaide Hills and McLaren.
The first vintage released under the new flagship chardonnay label, Yattarna 1995, combined fruit from the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale. However, the continuing search for suitable fruit soon took Penfolds to Tasmania – just as Hardys had done for its flagship, Eileen Hardy. The just-released 2010 vintages combines fruit from Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills.
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2009 $95 Modern St Henri reveals something of Australia’s massive vineyard expansion of the nineties. Fruit from Robe and Wrattonbully on the Limestone Coast and the Adelaide Hills now joins material from the warmer, traditional Clare Valley, Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. But the style remains unchanged. St Henri 2009 is a little lighter coloured than Grange or RWT, a tad less crimson than RWT and a tad more crimson than Grange – precisely reflecting their ages. St Henri fruit is chosen for its elegance and, as well, it’s aged in old 1,460-litre vats – meaning maturation without picking up woody flavour. St Henri seems gentle and soft compared to RWT and Grange. And its supple, sweet, plummy fruit comes layered earthy and savoury notes and fine, silky tannin. This is a big, warm St Henri but still elegant and built for long cellaring under good conditions.
Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010 $175 In 2005 I judged the Barossa Valley wine show with Huon Hooke and Lester Jesberg. Over dinner one night, we concluded Penfolds RWT 1998 was perhaps the best Barossa shiraz any of us had tasted. It now has a rival in the 2010. Tasting it alongside Grange accentuates RWT’s heady, floral aroma and opulent, chewy, juicy palate. It’s a dense and concentrated wine, saturated with aromatic shiraz character that’s beautifully complemented by sweet and spicy French oak. While it’s harmonious and easy enough to drink now, the sheer concentration and youth of the fruit flavour suggest a beautiful flavour evolution ahead.
Penfolds Grange 2008 $785 Max Schubert’s encounter with magnificent 50 year-old Bordeaux reds in 1950 inspired Grange. And tasting the inky deep, tannic wines of the new vintage, he realised Grange would have to be similarly powerful to last the half century he had in mind. He realised great wine requires more than just good fruit. And so, the 2008 Grange, like those before it combines the inky deep colour, flavour and tannins of fully ripened shiraz. And the fruit’s layered with the flavour and tannin of American oak and a distinctive hint of volatile acidity, deliberately encouraged during winemaking to give extra lift to such a huge, powerful wine. A description of the parts, though, can’t adequately convey the sense of a remarkable and unique wine. From tasting every vintage back to 1951, some of them many times, I conclude that age is perhaps the best fining agent of all. Over time Grange becomes finer – in the words of Max Schubert, “it has a similar elegance [to those ancient Bordeaux reds tasted in 1950], even after starting from a big, rough Australian red”. 2008 is a particularly powerful expression of the style, destined to evolve for decades.
Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2010 $130 With Yattarna, Penfolds aim for finesse, harmony and longevity – a style inspired by the elegant chardonnays of Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy. Suitable fruit comes from the coolest growing regions – in 2010 from Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills. Fermentation and maturation in French oak barrels, 57 per cent of them new, produced a fine, complex wine, its rich but delicate fruit meshed through with barrel-derived character. It seems very young and fresh at three years and should evolve well for another five or six years.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 22 May 2013 in the Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
After the cool, wet, disease-ravaged 2011 and 2012 vintages, the drier, warmer 2013 season saw a return to generally healthy fruit and reasonable yields across the Canberra district. Quality appears to be very good for both reds and whites, with lovely, clean, disease-free fruit arriving at wineries.
Hall vigneron, Allan Pankhurst, offers unconditional praise for the vintage, describing it as “fabulous, really amazing”. He continues, “We’ve had dry conditions, beautiful fruit, no disease and it’s all in except for semillon”. (He’s hoping for noble rot and a chance to make a luscious dessert wine).
Pankhurst’s neighbour, Roger Harris of Brindabella Hills winery shares the enthusiasm. He says, “the quality’s fantastic for reds and whites”.
Pankhurst describes grape yields as “more measured”, referring to a dry period during flowering that held back crops and vineyard management techniques aimed at improving fruit quality.
After heavy shoot and bunch thinning (literally cutting and dropping shoots and bunches on the ground), sangiovese vines, for example, yielded less than three tonnes to the hectare but produced “amazing fruit”, he said.
Overall Pankhurst rates 2013 as “one of the best for more than 10 years. The beauty of 2013 is that it had some cooler periods as well [as a heat wave in January]”.
Harris rates sangiovese from both his own and Pankhurst’s vines (he makes both wines) as “the pick of the lot”. He says, “ripening conditions for reds were fantastic”, delivering terrific sangiovese, tempranillo, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon – the latter completely ripe in the “fresh blackcurrant” spectrum, with no trace of green characters.
He says shiraz cropped perhaps a touch heavier than normal, with “lovely flavours not reflecting the heat of January”. Fortunately, the January heat wave arrived pre veraison (that is, before the grapes began to soften and change colour) and good water supplies prevented vine stress.
While riesling and sauvignon blanc ripened fully at fairly low sugar levels, a violent storm arrived right on harvest time – a year to the day after a comparable event in 2012. The storm destroyed half of Harris’s riesling and sauvignon blanc crop, but the surviving grapes remained in excellent condition.
At Murrumbateman, Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk, sidesteps fermentation pots littering the winery floor, and reports his biggest crop ever. Kirk’s winemaker, Bryan Martin, puts this year’s grape crush at around 290 tonnes (250 for Clonakilla, the rest under contract to other growers). Martin says in 2008, the previous biggest year, the winery processed 240 tonnes, 180 of it for Clonakilla. By my estimate, 2013’s 290 tonne crush equates to roughly 20 thousand dozen bottles.
Kirk estimates a 20 per cent increase in yields overall, with wide variation from block to block. He says, “the quality is amazing” with “close to perfect numbers [for acid and sugar levels]”.
“After the challenging 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages, the question has become where to put all the amazing quality fruit rather than where’s all the fruit?” he adds.
As we walk around the catwalks, the winery floor and even in the concrete driveway, fermentation vessels, including picking bins drafted to the cause, occupy every inch of space. Each has it thick cap of red grape skins at the surface. And the press dribbles its last precious drops of old-vine viognier juice, ready for fermentation.
Kirk says he expects the crush to remain at around 300 tonnes in future years and plans to extend the winery area by 50 per cent and add more fermenters before next vintage.
On vintage quality, Kirk says, “I struggle to think of a variety that didn’t look fantastic”.
While I’m there we seize the opportunity to try barrel samples of pinot noir, each of the four from a different clone of the variety. These are distinctive wines, a couple of them pretty exciting. But we’ll have to wait about a year to try the final blend – a follow up to the silky, juicy 2012 shortly being released to mailing list customers.
We taste, too, barrel components of the soon-to-be-blended 2012 Shiraz Viognier and the 2012 Syrah – Clonakilla’s two flagship reds. The Shiraz Viognier components point to a highly fragrant, elegant final blend, somewhat bigger than the lighter and pretty 2011. There was no 2011 Syrah. But anyone who tried and tasted the previous release will love the 2012, a real knockout.
Clonakilla’s O’Riada 2012, now blended and ready for bottling, like the shiraz viognier, offers a lift in body and depth over the charming but early-drinking 2011.
Kirk’s Murrumbateman neighbour, Ken Helm, reports exciting quality from a vintage that “will go down as one of the greats”. Helm expected to receive 35–40 tonnes of riesling from his own vineyard and local growers. But he received just 25 tonnes, prompting a search for additional material in Tumbarumba, where he sourced six tonnes.
Helm says riesling quality in 2013 reminds him of the 2008. And the best parcel in his expanded winery, he says, comes, as it always has, from the late Al Lustenburger’s vineyard.
When I spoke to Helm, his red specialty, cabernet sauvignon, remained on the vine, ready for picking a few days later. He said the small berries were perfectly ripe and ready for picking, with the best material being on the Lustenburger vineyard.
At Mount Majura vineyard, winemaker Frank van de loo tempers enthusiasm with caution, commenting, “quality of course is excellent overall, because winemakers always say that. Actually I don’t usually rush to judge these things, but I’m pretty excited by the riesling and chardonnay already, so we’ll see how we feel later on when everything is in barrel”.
Like others across the district, van de loo reports a disease-free vintage, allowing him “to pick to ideal ripeness rather than rushing fruit off early as we had to last year”. But he adds, “The flipside of that is that with the very cool summer last year we had flavour and phenolic ripeness early/at low sugar levels, whereas this year we’re giving the reds some extra time to get phenolics and seeds ripe. Tempranillo is coming off today [3 April] and looks fantastic, though if we were to pick only on sugar we could have taken it a couple of weeks ago”.
He reports solid yields as “a relief after the small crops in the last two years”.
At Lerida Estate, Lake George, Jim Lumbers rates vintage 2013 as a cross between the outstanding 2008 and 2009 seasons, but leaning more to the warmer 2009. He expects to crush a record 100 tonnes of grapes after a previous vintage crush of around 85 tonnes in 2008.
From Lark Hill, Canberra’s highest and coolest vineyard, at 860 metres, Chris Carpenter calls 2013, “a pretty spectacular vintage”. However, yields at both Lark Hill and the Carpenter’s Dark Horse vineyard, Murrumbateman, came in at about 70 per cent of expectation. Carpenter attributes this partly to vines adjusting after delivering large crops in 2011 and 2012 and to “shaky weather during flowering”.
When we spoke, riesling and chardonnay had already been harvested from Lark Hill vineyard, along with marsanne, roussanne and viognier from Dark Horse. Pinot noir and gruner veltliner (an Austrian variety) and pinot noir at Lark Hill and shiraz at Dark Horse were about a week from harvest – and all looking disease free.
While winemaker excitement in 2013 rises partly from relief after two wet, diseased seasons, the ripeness and balanced natural acidity of the grapes harvested to date point to pretty good quality. But as the proof of the wine is in the drinking, we’ll have to wait to see if the promise turns to reality.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 17 April 2013 in The Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
Penfolds 2013 release of its much-loved “Bin” wines includes two whites from the outstanding 2012 vintage and nine reds from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages. The reds remain the most traded of any in the country and are the foundation of many Australian cellars. And the whites, though they live in the shadow of the reds, mix it with the best of their styles.
The retail prices of both vary considerably as eager discounting trims the prices considerably, as demonstrated in the price ranges given with each wine. These are simply the recommended price and the lowest price I could find as I wrote, just before Easter. The prices can and do change weekly, so it pays to Google around.
The Bin 51 riesling and Bin 311 show the extra flavour depth of a great white vintage. And they show the polish of a company committed to all the fine detail in the vineyard and winery. You can’t go wrong with these, provided, of course, that you like the styles.
The reds can be split into long-cellaring and early drinking styles (noted in the reviews) and can also be separated by vintage. The lone 2012 wine, Bin 23 pinot noir, gives a unique Penfolds take on this classic variety in a very good year.
The 2011s all show the effects of the cold, wet 2011 vintage, but they succeed nevertheless, albeit with a caveat on the Bin 138. But they’ll never reach the heights of the brilliant 2010s – all exceptional wines.
I make no comment on the investment potential of the wines, other than to direct readers to the price guide on langtons.com.au for the latest price realisations on past vintages.
It’s safer to simply buy the wines for drinking pleasure, knowing that the good vintages have an outstanding cellaring record.
Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2012 $23.75–$29.99 Sourced from the High Eden and Woodbury vineyards in the Eden Valley, Bin 51 shows the class of the 2012 riesling vintage. It offers riesling’s delicacy. The aroma shows floral, citrus and apple-like varietal character. And all of these show on the delicate but intensely flavoured palate. Although the sweet fruit softens the palate, the season’s brisk acidity gives the wine real backbone and a clean, refreshing finish. It drinks well now but should age well for many years if cellared in the right conditions.
Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2012 $31.90–$39.99 Like the three chardonnays reviewed in Quaffers today, Bin 311 is a sophisticated, barrel-fermented style, focusing on fruit flavour. Penfolds came to Tumbarumba through its sister company Seppelt, which went there initially in search of chardonnay and pinot noir for sparkling wine. However, the cool region’s chardonnay proved excellent for table wine, too. The latest vintage lies at the subtler end of the chardonnay spectrum. It’s pale coloured and combines high acidity with varietal flavour reminiscent of a blend of fig, nectarine and grapefruit – a wine of considerable finesse to enjoy over the next five or six years.
Penfolds Bin 23 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2012 $32.29–$39.99 Bin 23 sits squarely in the Penfolds’ rich, solid mould. But it also captures the unique character of pinot noir, albeit at the bigger end of the spectrum. The ripe, varietal aroma comes liberally anointed with savoury and earthy notes – characters that come through on the juicy, multi-layered, firmly tannic palate. This is high quality pinot in a distinctive style and probably capable of ageing very well in the medium term.
Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2011 $27.90–$37.99 For an old company with such deep Barossa roots and a long history of multi-region blending, Penfolds came late to producing straight Barossa reds on a regular basis. But it now offers several, including the sub-regional Bin 150 (below) and Bin 138. In the cool, wet 2011 vintage, shiraz dominates the Bin 138 blend, grenache provides aromatic high notes and bright fruitiness to the palate and mataro adds spice and structure. The three combine into a big, earthy red with firm, chunky tannins; but a little too much so for my taste. One of the rare Penfolds reds I don’t enjoy drinking.
Penfolds Bin 2 South Australia Shiraz Mourvedre 2011 $34.19–$37.99 Bin 2 has been an on-again, off-again wine for Penfolds, made initially in 1960. Originally marketed as shiraz mataro, Bin 2 adopts the French name “mourvedre” for the latest release. Confusingly, Bin 138 (above) made the change from “mourvedre” to “mataro”, leaving Penfolds with a bet on both names. Sourced from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, the medium-bodied Bin 2 2011 offers a combo of ripe berries, spice and savouriness on a supple, soft palate.
Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2011 $27.90–$37.99 Bin 128 succeeds in the difficult 2011 season. It’s a tad lighter bodied than normal, but that comes hand in hand with the lovely, sweet perfume of cool-grown shiraz. This carries over to a lively, elegant palate, cut through with fine tannins and a sympathetic spiciness from the French oak. Drinks well now and should evolve for five or six years.
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2010 $27.55–$37.99 Bin 28 combines shiraz from the war Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek and the slightly cooler Wrattonbully and Robe on the Limestone Coast. Clearly it’s an excellent year, though I sense also a tweak to the Bin 28 style, too, principally in the brightness and freshness of fruit aroma and flavour and less obvious oak. The colour’s deep red-black and the aroma combines bright, ripe-cherry varietal character, seasoned with spice. The plump, ripe palate reflects the aroma and it’s layered with ripe, assertive-but-soft fruit tannins. This is an outstanding Bin 28 with good cellaring potential.
Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2010 $59.75–$74.99 The Barossa Valley’s Marananga sub-region produces outstanding red wine and has long been favoured by Penfolds. Not surprisingly their first sub-regional label, Bin 150, came from this area. The fruit has the power to handle maturation in 50 per cent new oak (a mix of French and American). The lively, deep, sweet-spicy fruit absorbs the oak and has a special buoyancy and depth. It’s a very special expression of Barossa shiraz and probably capable of long-term cellaring, though it hasn’t been around long enough to say that with certainty.
Penfolds Bin 8 South Australia Cabernet Shiraz 2011 $29.90–$37.99 Winemaker Peter Gago says he made this early drinking blend (62per cent cabernet, the rest shiraz) in response to international media interest in the traditional Australia blend of cabernet and shiraz. He sources fruit from McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Upper Adelaide, all warm regions. The wine captures fruit aromatics and vibrant fruit flavours, with sufficient tannin to provide red wine structure, as you’d expect from Penfolds. Berry and leafy cabernet characters dominate the flavour and shiraz fattens out the mid palate. An early drinking style.
Penfolds Bin 389 South Australia Cabernet Shiraz 2010 $55.45–$74.99 The finessing of the Penfolds style apparent in the Bin 28 shows, too, in a particularly lively Bin 389 – a true multi-regional blend (51 per cent cabernet, the rest shiraz) from Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, Robe, McLaren Vale, Padthaway and the Adelaide Hills. The cabernet component generally dominates Bin 389, but in 2010 the two become inseparable. Instead we smell and taste a juicy, supple red with an attractive spicy-sweet character from the oak weaving through the fruit. Cabernet finally asserts itself in the firm but finely textured finish. What a classy wine – and built long cellaring. The oak is all American, 40 per cent of it new.
Penfolds Bin 407 South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $55.55–$74.99 Bin 407 provides an expression of ripe, but not overripe, cabernet sauvignon – blackcurrant-like with no discernible leafy or herbal characters. To achieve this, winemaker Peter Gago selects suitable fruit from Coonawarra, Wrattonbully and Padthway on the Limestone Coast and McLaren Vale, a few hundred kilometres to the north. The oak used for maturation comprises French and American barrels of various ages, a little under half it new. Impressively vibrant, dense, pure-varietal fruit fills the palate, cut with ripe, fine-textured tannins. This is an exceptionally complete, well balance cabernet with long cellaring potential.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 Firsts published 10 April 2013 in The Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
Masked tastings became part of my life 36 years ago when I joined the liquor trade. The tastings take many forms, involving anything from one or two wines, to competitive wine games, right through to judging hundreds of wines over several days.
Retailing and tasting brought me into contact with many wine lovers outside the trade. Some became life-long friends. Indeed, one group I met through my retail tastings more than twenty years ago, welcomed me, in turn, to their tastings, which they continue to hold every two months.
Needless to say, the people in the group love their wines. But they’re not so dippy that wine nudges everything else aside. So the group’s tastings became dinner parties, attractive even to a few spouses who’d rather drink wine than talk about it.
Everyone brings a plate and their own glasses and chip in for the wine. The host provides a main course and selects and sources the wines. The guests know nothing about the wines being served.
Stripping away the label, bottle and price, leaves tasters little but their senses to rely on. So as the wines come out, the group, prompted by questions from the host, gradually work out what the wines are.
Without the label to guide us, we first note the characteristics of the wine. Whether this leads to identification depends on many factors. Is the wine a good example of its style (better wines are easier to recognise)? Does the wine go beyond our frame of reference, leaving us wondering or guessing? Are our palates in good shape tonight? And, importantly, what do we know about the host’s likes and buying habits?
The latter point comes up in all wine games and naturally becomes part of the fun. But the knowledge can backfire.
In our most recent tasting, we quickly identified the mystery bubbly as Australian, not French and a vintage rather than non-vintage. Where in Australia, asked the host? Well, a wine this fine and delicate had to come from one of the cool-climate specialty areas – not Tasmania as it was too fruity. Tumbarumba became the front-runner, simply because our host almost always spruiks the area.
Wrong, but close he said, derailing our thoughts. With no sparkling area of note immediately north Tumbarumba, we headed south of the Murray to the Whitlands vineyard, in the high country above the King Valley. Yes, he confirmed, you are drinking Brown Brother Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2006 ($40). Bingo.
Two very young whites arrived next, the first light, floral and musk-like in its gentle flavour; the second fuller bodied and firmer, with an unappealing touch of grey to the colour. The vintage came easily – 2012– but not the variety, with only one female and no males suggesting the correct answer, riesling.
These were OK wines, from a stellar riesling vintage, but not ones I’d be buying or recommending, although they enjoyed some support from other tasters. They were Peter Lehmann Eden Valley Portrait Riesling 2012 ($15–$19) and Robert Oatley Great Southern Riesling 2012 ($17–$18)
The identity of the next two wines proved equally elusive, explained largely by their obscurity and the cold, wet, difficult, 2011 vintage they came from. We eventually found ourselves in Victoria’s King Valley again, guessing at obscure grape varieties.
With some difficulty (and prompting by the host) we unveiled the first wine as Pizzini King Valley Arneis 2011 ($23) – a dry white with distinctive jube-like fruit flavour and savoury finish. It was OK, but I’ve tried better vintages of this wine.
Gapstead King Valley Petit Manseng 2011 ($22) beat us all. In the 2011 vintage this variety, originally from south-western France, produced a full bodied, deeply coloured sweetish wine with the distinct, and likely unintended, flavour of botrytis. Not my cup of tea at all.
Luckily a thrilling and distinctive bracket of reds followed, instantly recognisable as Canberra district shiraz from the cold 2011 vintage. These were beautiful wines, showing the intense spicy, lightly peppery character of cool-grown shiraz, just on the edge of ripeness – evidenced, too, in the light-to-medium body and fine-boned, tight tannins.
Wines one and three in the group were Nick O’Leary Canberra District Shiraz 2011 ($28) and Nick O’Leary Canberra District Bolaro Shiraz 2011 ($55) – both gold medal winners. Their stories are worth recounting.
Nick O’Leary Canberra District Shiraz 2011 201 $28 O’Leary says this wine demonstrates the benefits of good vineyard management and liaison between the growers and makers. Good growers, especially after the destructive 2011 season, realised the need for intense vineyard management and crop reduction to suit the season. At Nanima vineyard, “driving force of the wine”, a well-drained site helped, but “great also great management” produced the goods, says O’Leary. The Fischers shoot thinned, and at veraison dropped half the fruit off the vines, enabling greater flavour concentration and quicker ripening. He sourced the remaining high quality grapes from Wallaroo Wines, Hall, and Long Rail Gully, Murrumbateman. The wine contains about five per cent viognier, though this is not obvious in the aroma or flavour. Judges awarded a gold medal in Canberra as well as Melbourne.
This is magnificent cool-climate shiraz – revealing Canberra berry fruit, spiciness and even a touch of pepper, emphasised by the cold vintage. The medium bodied palate presents, too, a savoury element and a pleasing, lean, dry palate – though the fine tannins provide adequate flesh.
Nick O’Leary Bolaro Canberra District Shiraz 2011 $55 By a strange quirk of fate, this wine shares more than an equal billing at the Melbourne show with Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz. O’Leary explained, “In Canberra Hardy’s recommended clones from their experience in South Australia. Most didn’t work. It’s expensive but more suitable once are being introduced”. In this instance the Fischer’s grafted the Great Western clone onto the roots of a lesser clone. “It’s one of the great shiraz clones for Canberra”, says O’Leary.
And its first outing tends to confirm that. The Melbourne judges ranked it slightly ahead of the standard shiraz –perhaps noting the extra savouriness, flavour depth and firmer structure of a very classy, cellarable wine indeed. “I made Bolaro for the future”, says O’Leary.
O’Leary’s two wines flanked Alex McKay’s Collector Reserve Canberra District Shiraz 2011 ($58). On its release almost a year ago, the wine showed hints of sulphide character which, at a low-level, complements cool-climate shiraz flavour. At our recent tasting, however, the sulphides initially dominated the aroma, although we all noted the beautiful silky depth of the palate. The sulphides had largely dispersed two hours later, though some tasters still disliked the character. By this time the wine (sourced from the Kyeema and Fischer vineyards) was unbelievably luscious and silky on the palate – suggesting it simply needs time in bottle, or a very good splash if you’re drinking it now.
On the other hand, cool-grown shiraz, especially one with as a high whole-bunch component as McKay’s, can included an earthy, burned-rubber note not derived from sulhpides. McKay believes this is the case with his very complex wine.
After this the host took us through two very good 2010 vintage Coonawarra cabernet sauvignons (Wynns and Redmans). But the other great and easily identified wine of then night proved to be a sweet, unique German riesling – Schloss Vollrads Auslese 2009 (half bottle $40). Fragrant, light, delicate and just seven and half per cent alcohol, it could only have come from the Rhine or Mosel Rivers – in this instance from the Rheingau region on the Rhine River.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 13 March 2013 in The Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
Depending on how you view wine shows, Canberra region is either blessed or burdened with a disproportionate number of nationally significant events. These include the National Wine Show of Australia, Winewise Small Vignerons Awards, Winewise Championship, Canberra International Riesling Challenge and Canberra Regional Wine Show.
The national show, billed as the grand final of Australia’s capital city shows, limits entries in many classes to medal winners from other shows it recognises.
Taking this concept a step further, our homegrown Winewise Championship, sets a gold-medal entry standard. Event organiser, Lester Jesberg, says only gold medallists in non-commercial classes of decent wine shows may enter. Acceptable events include Australia’s capital-city and leading regional shows as well as the international riesling challenge, Winewise Small Vignerons awards and wines awarded gold-medal scores in the show-style tastings Winewise conducts throughout the year.
On establishing the championship in 2010, Jesberg commented, “While the National Show has now revised its eligibility criteria to recognize the Winewise Small Vigneron Awards and selected regional shows, many smaller producers still find the criteria hard to meet and confine their wines to the regional shows, thus missing out on valuable benchmarking across the national spectrum. This competition brings all the wines together for the benefit of both winemakers and consumers.”
This year’s event – judged, appropriately, in the Black Opal room, overlooking Canberra racecourse – brought together about 300 wines from producers of all sizes. Three days of tasting by Lester Jesberg and Deb Pearce of Winewise and a shifting panel of senior show judges, myself included, produced an exciting range of category winners from small, medium and large producers.
Tasmania alone of the wine producing states missed out on a gong (the Canberra district also missed out). And Queensland’s Granite Belt earned a rare moment of glory on the national stage. Symphony Hill Reserve Granite Belt Petit Verdot 2009 topped the “other red variety” category in a close taste-off against Rosemount Nursery Mataro 2011.
And in a rare achievement at a racecourse, a conventional form guide, albeit a regional-varietal one would’ve predicted almost all of the winners.
The best chardonnay came from Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula; the best riesling from the Clare Valley; the best sauvignon from the Adelaide Hills; the best sauvignon blanc semillon from Margaret River; best viognier from the Eden Valley; best sweet riesling from the Eden Valley; best cabernet sauvignon from Coonawarra; best cabernet merlot blend from Margaret River; best classic Australian red blend from Coonawarra; best grenache blend from McLaren Vale (it was either there or the Barossa); best pinot noir from the Adelaide Hills; and best fortified wine from Rutherglen.
A form guide might not have picked the successful wineries. But that’s the beauty of masked judging: remove the biases and all that counts is what’s in the glass.
However, some of the exceptions to conventional regional-varietal wisdom point to gaps in the ranks. For example, Centennial Vineyards Blanc de Blancs NV, wonderful wine that it is, isn’t Australia’s best sparkling wine; not by a long shot. A perennial problem in Australian wine shows is the dearth of really top sparklers winning the top awards.
And when it comes to emerging varieties like lagrein and tempranillo, we’re a long way short of knowing which regions perform best. The results, therefore, might be a pointer to the future, though it’s too early to say yet.
But to me the biggest surprise of the show came with the success of a Bathurst shiraz. After a number of shiraz heats, Winburndale Bathurst Solitary Shiraz 2009 competed in the final against wines from Coonawarra, the Barossa Valley, Swan Valley and Adelaide Hills.
I judged the shirazes, voting in the heats and the final for a plush and velvety wine that turned out to be Shaw and Smith Adelaide Hills 2009. However, the other judges disagreed, and the Winburndale shiraz (my second choice), edged into first place, on 34 points, ahead of Brands Laira Coonawarra Tall Ship Shiraz 2010, on 32.
This was a tight and high quality competition, so there can be no caveats about the virtues of Winburndale. The lovely wine says Australia’s versatile signature red has yet another home, and another expression, in the high country of the Great Dividing Range.
Shiraz is Canberra district’s flagship wine, but Eden Road 2011 was the only one entered. It looked light and simple in its group – a decent wine, but showing the shortcomings of the cold, wet 2011 vintage. We would hope to see more Canberra shiraz and higher rankings with future entries from warmer, less challenging vintages.
Three Canberra district rieslings from the 2012 vintage were entered – Clonakilla, Ravensworth and Four Winds. Clonakilla topped its group, but came second to Leo Buring Clare Valley Riesling 2012 in the taste-off of 2012 rieslings. The Buring wine went on to win the riesling medallion. This was no surprise given the exceptional quality of Clare and Eden Valley rieslings in 2012.
Unlike other shows where any number of wines can win bronze, silver or gold medal wines, the Winewise Championship awards only one wine in each category (results below). Each category winner receives a gold-plated medallion struck by the Australian Mint.
The wines are assessed in small groups – a maximum of seven. The judges know only the class definition – for example, “Shiraz group 1 vintages 2006–2009” and all they see is the glasses lined up in front of them on grids, marked A, B, C and so on.
Without any discussion, the judges rate each of the wines on a ballot paper – 9 points for the favourite, 6 for the second favourite, then 4, 3, 2, 1 and 0. Where there are less than seven wines, judges simply don’t use the bottom scores. The winner of each group is the wine with the highest aggregate, though some weighting may be given to the number of first and second places each receives where the aggregates are close.
Jesberg, a former statistician, says the scoring system attempts to ensure that a wine can win only if it has at least one score of nine (or first place) from one of the judges. In practice, most the better wines received two or more first places. But in very high-quality groupings, ratings tended to be more dispersed.
Group winners move on to taste offs, ultimately for the category winner. In the shiraz class, for example, we tasted eight groups of wines, with two mini taste-offs, before assessing the final five outstanding wines, any of which I’d be happy to have on the dinner table.
The honours list, then, includes household names like Wynns, Leo Buring and Yalumba as well as small makers at the cutting edge of their craft.
Winewise Championship 2013 – medallion winner
Chardonnay Paringa Estate Mornington Peninsula 2011
Riesling Leo Buring Clare Valley Riesling 2012
Sauvignon blanc Shaw and Smith Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Sauvignon blanc blend Warner Glen Estate PBF Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2011
Semillon Meerea Park Hunter Valley Terracotta Semillon 2006
Other white varietal Yalumba The Virgilius Eden Valley Viognier 2010
Sweet white Heggies Vineyard Eden Valley Botrytis Riesling 2011
Cabernet Sauvignon Brands Laira One Seven One Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Cabernet Bordeaux-style blend Mandoon Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2010
Classic Australian Blend Wynns Coonawarra Estate V and A Lane Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2010
Grenache or blend Rosemount Estate McLaren Vale GSM (grenache shiraz mourvedre) 2011
Italian red variety Geoff Hardy Hand Crafted Limestone Coast Lagrein 2010
Other red blend Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2010
Other red varietal Symphony Hill Reserve Granite Belt Petit Verdot 2009
Pinot Noir Tim Knappstein Riposte The Sabre Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2010
Shiraz Winburndale Bathurst Solitary Shiraz 2009
Tempranillo Centennial Vineyards Reserve Southern Highlands Tempranillo 2011
Fortified wine Morris Rutherglen Rare Liqueur Muscat
Sparkling white Centennial Blanc de Blancs NV
Sparkling red Quelltaler Watervale Sparkling Shiraz NV
Judges by class
Day 1: Lester Jesberg, Deb Pearce, Ian McKenzie, Jane Faulkner, Peter Nixon, Tim James. Sparkling white, sparkling red, riesling, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, other red varietal, other red blends, classic Australian red blend, fortified.
Day 2: Lester Jesberg, Deb Pearce, Ian McKenzie, Tim James, Chris Shanahan Semillon, other white varietals, shiraz, sweet white.
Day 3: Lester Jesberg, Deb Pearce, Tim Knappstein, Nick Bulleid, Tim Kirk. Sauvignon blanc-semillon blends, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, grenache and blends, Italian red varietals, cabernet Bordeaux-style blends.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 6 March 2013 in The Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
Winewise’s Lester Jesberg writes about the championship
The concept of the Winewise Championship was born in the years I judged at the National Wine Show. The founders of that show had displayed considerable vision over 25 years ago in bringing together some of the best wines from the state capital shows, but I felt the concept needed a revamp.
Even though shows like Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide still receive strong industry support, having judged at them, I began to view them as “medal factories” with very large classes that are impossible to judge properly. I decided that regional shows (i.e. wine shows confined to the wines of single regions) produced more reliable results and provided a more accurate picture of wine quality. Put them all together, and we have a good representation of the complex mosaic that is Australian wine.
That formed the basis of my approach to a national wine show. Invite all the gold medal winners from the regionals and a few speciality shows like the International Riesling Challenge to enter, and wait and see what happened.
The response has been fantastic, and instead of spending days dealing with seemingly interminable line-ups of wines from different and contrasting regions, we would taste the wines in groups no larger than seven and simply rank them in order of preference, awarding nine to the best, six, four, three, two, one down to zero for the last. The grouping would be left to the stewards and would be based on grape variety, vintage and origin. In the case of large numbers of entries, there would be a number of heats and a final. Forget scoring out of 20 or 100. It simply wasn’t necessary.
Shiraz and chardonnay stand out Every medallion-winner is a wine of excellence, but the strongest classes were chardonnay and shiraz. Both showed considerable diversity of style, and the wines that rose to the top were world class. The chardonnay heat winners were:
2011 First Creek Wines Winemakers Reserve Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2011 Gralyn Wildberry Springs Reserve Margaret River Chardonnay 2011 Paringa Estate Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2011 Seville Estate Reserve Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2010 Barwang Estate 842 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2010 Seville Estate Reserve Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2009 Wolf Blass White Label Chardonnay 2008 Seville Estate Reserve Yarra Valley Chardonnay
Shiraz 2009 Saltram No.1 Barossa Shiraz 2009 Winburndale Solitary Shiraz (Bathurst, NSW) 2009 Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2010 Honey Moon Vineyard Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2010 Brands Laira Tall Vine Coonawarra Shiraz 2010 Fox Gordon Hannah’s Swing Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010 Rojomoma Red Art Barossa Valley Shiraz 2011 Voyager Estate Margaret River Shiraz 2011 Mandoon Old Vine Swan Valley Shiraz
The chardonnay final presented us with a difficult task. The wines were so good that four different wines received first place points from the five judges. The end result was so close that it was unanimously agreed any of the four could have won without complaint from any judge. Chardonnay has taken great steps forward in the past decade, and the finalists were all complex and barrel-fermented, but at the same time driven by fresh, intense fruit. The coarse, oaky style of chardonnay is thankfully disappearing.
The fact that a shiraz from a small producer 20 km east of Bathurst won the shiraz medallion may surprise some, but not the crew at Winewise. Winburndale has done very well at the Small Vigneron Awards and the National Cool Climate Wine Show. The result was again very close, with each of the five finalists receiving a first place vote.
Riesling also deserves a special mention, and the high quality of the 2012 South Australian vintage was reinforced by the Leo Buring Clare Valley Riesling that just edged out the 2006 Peter Lehmann Wigan.
The Winewise Championship was judged over three days, and recognised the fact that it’s often difficult for judges to commit to that amount of time. Consequently ten judges participated, two doing the full three days, the others two or one. It’s an approach some shows would do well to consider.
On Valentine’s Day, Canberra vignerons took the district’s white darling, riesling, on a date. Not a romantic, love-you, can’t-get-enough-of-you fling, but a forensic examination, under the stark spotlights inside Mount Majura’s squeaky-clean cellar.
Critics, show judges and increasing numbers of drinkers love our rieslings. But they’re enjoying mainly youthful, fresh, just-released wines, within months or maybe a year of bottling.
But it’s often said our rieslings require bottle age to soften their sometimes-austere acids and allow the underlying varietal flavours to emerge.
And it’s true that if you taste Canberra’s 2012 rieslings alongside those from the Clare Valley (a long-established specialist in the variety), our wines tend to be swept aside by Clare’s generally fruitier, softer versions.
Certainly I’ve rated Clare and some Eden Valley rieslings from this stellar vintage ahead of their Canberra counterparts – largely for this reason and in full recognition that the best Canberra wines may catch up or pull ahead in the years to come.
To some extent, then, we can only enjoy what’s before us in the glass now – not what might be there in two or ten years. But we can’t ignore riesling’s potential to blossom with age – nor the youthful austerity of Australia’s and the world’s greatest.
Germany’s great Rhine and Mosel river rieslings age in all their pristine glory for decades. They achieve this on the back of intense fruit flavour and the high acidity that makes them sometimes forbidding in youth.
Likewise Australia’s very finest rieslings tend to be slow out of the box, but to finish strongly. For example, one of Australia’s largest riesling makers, Jacob’s Creek, tends to win show medals in the year of vintage for its cheaper Classic Riesling. But the company’s flagship, generally begins hauling in the medals years after vintage.
The more established, austere but long-lived rieslings of the Clare and Eden Valleys can get away with austerity. Why? Because they have a proven capacity to age well – the best for decades.
If Canberra’s to match these wines in the market place, then our makers need to demonstrate how well the wines age – especially the driest, most acidic versions. Producers can’t expect drinkers to buy wine as an act of faith.
Hence, Canberra’s Valentine’s Day gathering looked at older Canberra rieslings – 27 wines in total, 26 dry; one sweet, the youngest five years old, the oldest 19 years.
Individual producers donated bottles from their own cellars, in Roger Harris’s case, literally displaying a life’s work.
The tasting comprised five brackets – four from individual producers, the final a mixed group. The wines weren’t masked and didn’t include any samples from other regions. So we could call it a Canberra-only benchmarking. I chaired the tasting. The format was: taste the five or six wines in each bracket in silence; call on the maker for comments about style, viticulture and winemaking; offer my own views; call for questions on comments from all tasters.
One big conclusion: the adoption of screw cap by Australian winemakers is one of the great quality breakthroughs of modern times. As the adoption began only from 1998 (and more broadly in Canberra from 2002), our tasting took in both cork- and screw-cap sealed wines. The tasting suffered only one screw-cap casualty (the maker, Roger Harris, called it his only dud bottle in eleven years), but most of the cork-sealed wines suffered, some fatally.
Makers said in some cases they opened several cork-sealed bottles to find one good one – a luxury most drinkers don’t have. Any tasting of older cork-sealed riesling, then, becomes a lottery. Indeed, the likelihood of cork damage, through taint or oxidation, prevents reliable assessment of older rieslings unless we’re dead lucky or have access to half a dozen bottles.
That caveat aside, the cork-sealed Brindabella Hills Riesling 1997 proved one of the most loveable wines of the night – maturing but still lively and fresh after 16 years.
We can also conclude Canberra doesn’t have a single riesling style. If fact, we could argue winemaker preferences probably outweigh the notion of terroir. That is, we have the right climate for riesling (arguably the biggest single factor in terroir). But, for example, winemaker preferences for complete dryness or including residual grape sweetness or picking grapes riper or less ripe strongly influence wine style.
We also observed a trend over the last 20 years to lower alcohol riesling – from a widespread realisation that riesling develops ripe flavours at comparatively low sugar levels. Alcohol levels still vary from maker to maker and from vintage to vintage – the 2012 vintage, for example, producing some of the lowest alcohol wines ever.
A couple of style differences I noted: Brindabella Hills makes soft, easy-drinking styles, a conscious decision by maker Roger Harris to suit his own palate. Clonakilla makes a richer style but with an assertive acid backbone, ameliorated in high-acid years like 2011 and 2012 by back-blending a small amount of unfermented grape juice. And Ken Helm opts for delicate, bone-dry, low-alcohol styles – his Classic slightly fuller and more approachable in youth; his Premium, minerally and austere as a youngster and probably the strongest contender in the district for an element of terroir.
Most importantly, within the individual style differences, Canberra’s best rieslings age deliciously – offering different characteristics as they age. The tasting didn’t include all of our top riesling producers. But the sample was wide enough and good enough to say Clare and Eden Valley have a challenger.
I rated many of the 27 wines very highly. In descending order of preference they were: Helm Premium 2005 and 2008, Brindabella Hills 1997, Clonakilla 2006 and 1997, Centenary Riesling 2008, Nick O’Leary 2008, Mount Majura 2008 and 2005 and Helm Premium 2006.
I rated each of these highly not just for freshness and drinkability now, but for potential to continue drinking well (with that big cork caveat hanging over the two 1997 wines, the only cork-sealed wines in the line up).
For a future masked tasting, Canberra makers should include aged rieslings, vintage for vintage, from the very best Clare and Eden Valley producers. This will help form an objective view of where we stand in relation to the acknowledged best. The best winemakers tend to build this very broad frame of reference.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 27 February 2013 in The Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
I favour a simple like-dislike button, comparable to Facebook’s thumbs-up icon, as a credible wine-rating system. Failing that, a five-star rating, in half-star increments, or the Australian wine-show system’s bronze, silver and gold medal ratings, based on a 20-point scale, both give a broad quality ranking without splitting hairs.
However, the 100-point scale, popularised by America’s Robert M Parker, increasingly dominates the global scene and will inevitably become the standard for Australian wine shows (and already adopted by many critics). Brisbane Show and the Canberra International Riesling Challenge adopted it last year. Sydney trialled it in 2012 and intends going the whole hog this year.
Fortunately, Brisbane and Sydney at least settled on the same rating scale: 84–89 points for bronze medals; 90–95 for silvers and 96–100 for golds. And since both shows intend sticking with medals, consumers may not, at first, notice the difference between the 100-point system and 20-point scale it replaces.
That is, until successful producers begin adding scores to the gold, silver and bronze medals adorning their wines. The temptation may prove irresistible, especially for those with scores in the nineties – and a wine consumer now well and truly exposed to the 100-point system.
As well, wine show catalogues, now little read outside the industry, may attract wider consumer readership, if only because of greater familiarity with 100-point ratings. The old 20-point system probably meant nothing to the average wine lover.
Indeed, this is one of the points argued by supporters of 100-point rating – that the scores will help make wine shows more relevant to the consumer.
Part and parcel of 100-point ratings, is the dubious perception that only wines scoring 90 or above deserve attention.
While producers, traders and critics often slam this attitude, it’s completely understandable given the confusing number of wines available. And it’s little different, in principle, than a phenomenon observed for decades by producers and retailers – that gold medals and trophies sell wine; silver and bronze medals do not.
This says only that an insecure consumer, faced with a bewildering choice, takes the impartial advice of wine shows or critics and plumps for the best. Since they can always find a 95-point wine at any price point, why buy the 89-point one?
This desire to help readers buy well also explains why publishers, including The Canberra Time and the larger Fairfax group, demand ratings from their wine reviewers.
While Fairfax overall embraces the 100-point system, this magazine chooses five-star ratings – my preferred system.
This seems more in tune with the percipient English writer, Hugh Johnson. He once commented after judging at the Sydney wine show, “I judge wine by loving it or hating it … and there’s not much in between. I love vitality in a wine, the sort of wine where one bottle is not enough… giving wines points creates a spurious sense of accuracy and if you can believe it means something when someone gives a wine 87 points out of 100 then you would believe anything.”
Like Johnson, judges, critics and consumers all seek exciting wines. And I believe he’s dead right about the spurious sense of accuracy in 100-point ratings – hence, my preference for a broader scale.
I don’t see how wine shows, or anyone who’s judged in wine shows, can adopt the scale with a straight face. Scoring always involves compromises by individual judges and either aggregate or average scores across a panel of three. That’s how committees work and how a truly democratic system should – allowing full expression of individual views, but finally reaching a decision.
Under the 20-point scoring system, wine shows award medals on the aggregate scores of three judges: 46.5–50.5 for bronze medals, 51.0–55.0 for silver and 55.5–60 for gold.
Under the 100-point system, however, shows will award medals based on the average score of three judges – for example, if one judge rated a wine at 83 points (one point below bronze), another gives it 86 and the third awards 89 (the highest bronze score), the aggregate is 258 points for an average of 86.
In the argy-bargy following each judging session, I can already see judges madly adjusting scores to achieve just the right average. Now that will be an exercise in futility.
There’s little difference in principle between the two systems. However, in the past if consumers saw the results at all, they probably saw the medals, not the aggregate score that led to it.
Under the new system, if shows and exhibitors publicise the points, then we’re likely to see scores, as in the example above, that no judge actually awarded. And could anyone interpret the relative merits of wines rated, say, 86 and 88 – by a committee of three? Sounds spurious to me.
And while some argue for the merits of a standard 100-point system, ratings among critics may vary considerably, not necessarily reflecting the wine-show bronze, silver and gold categories. Already, ratings by individual critics vary, as you’d expect of individual opinion, underlining the fact that that’s all it is.
Most consumers will continues to feel insecure about wine and, quite sensibly, take advice from wine shows and critics with due scepticism. I, for one, see the supposed precision of the 100-point system as a distraction from wine’s infinitely variable hues and tones.
Surely it’s better for readers if critics attempt to give some sense of a wine’s style, then a broad view of its quality – whether gold, silver or bronze; somewhere on the five-star scale; or even categorised, as Canberra’s Winewise magazine does, as highly recommended, recommended, agreeable, acceptable or unacceptable.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 30 January 2013 in The Canberra Times