Canberra wine region — a judge’s perspective

In the last few years the very best Canberra district wines have increased in number and quality. Importantly, more wines have streaked away from the me-too ranks to stand comparison with the best of similar styles from Australia and, in one instance, the world.

Having judged the local regional show for some years the lift in quality has been palpable – as shown in a comparison of the results from last week’s event with those from 2005.

The number of entries increased by eleven per cent from 207 to 230. But the number of medal winning wines soared by forty-four per cent from 63 to 91 and the medal strike rate lifted from thirty per cent of wines entered to forty per cent.

Shiraz, to me, remains the greatest strength, not just for Canberra but for neighbouring districts eligible for the show. The 2005s in particular offer pure drinking pleasure in a generally supple, plush, elegant style.

We revelled our way through eleven 2005 vintage shirazes and awarded a remarkable four gold, two silver and four bronze medals.

Two of the gold medallists – Meeting Place and Mount Majura — are from Canberra, with one each from Gundagai (Paterson’s) and Young (Chalkers Crossing).

Meeting Place, our top ranking of the four gold medallists went on to win trophies as best shiraz, best red of the show and best wine. It’s simply stunning. Unfortunately, Hardy’s, owner of the Meeting Place brand, say they plan to release it late next year – a decision completely out of touch with the drink-now pleasure of this wine style.

The 2004 and earlier vintage shirazes were a joy to judge, too, producing thirteen medals, including two golds, from twenty-eight entries. Mount Majura’s delicious 2004 topped this group, followed closely by McWilliams Barwang Shiraz Viognier (Young) with silver medallists Meeting Place 2003, Chalkers Crossing 2004 (Young), Lambert Reserve 2004 and First Creek Shiraz Viognier delivering lovely flavours.

Canberra held a monopoly on the riesling honours and did it with real class. Surveyor’s Hill and Brindabella Hill, both from Hall and both made at Brindabella Hills, earned gold in the 2006 field, with Ravensworth (Murrumbateman) a tad behind on silver. And Helm of Murrumbateman earned gold and silver for a couple of delightful 2005s.

Those top rieslings easily bear comparison with the best from Clare or Eden Valley – the usual Aussie benchmarks. With a bit more attention to winemaking detail some of the poor performers in this year’s show – oxidation was the main problems – could be on the winners’ podium. Clearly our district suits this variety.

The top chardonnay of the show McWilliams Barwang 2005 came from Tumbarumba – continuing a consistent winning thread for this very cool area. The other gold-medal chardonnay was Centennial Vineyards Woodside 2004 (Southern Highlands).

Three very attractive cabernets earned gold. The deep, rich trophy-winning McKellar Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc 2005 (Murrumbateman) came in a nose ahead of Grove Estate The Partners 2005 (Young) and McWilliams Barwang 2002 (Young). As a group, however, the cabernets lacked freshness and generosity.

A couple of exciting viogniers – Meeting Place 2005 (silver) and First Creek 2005 (gold & trophy) – showed yet again Canberra’s great potential for this variety. And the success of Ravensworth Sangiovese 2005 (gold and trophy) suggests a good future with this Italian variety.

For the full list of results go to

Ravensworth Canberra District Sangiovese 2005 $22
I recommended this now gold medal winner back in March as a wine that “just needs a little time in bottle to emerge as a vibrant and sophisticated expression of the variety”.  As noted earlier this is one of the best Australian shots I’ve seen with this Italian variety, standing out for its bright, pure fruit aroma and flavour and taut, fine tannin structure. It’s developed beautifully with six months in the bottle and should continue to build in complexity and interest for many years. It bowled us judges over at last week’s Canberra Regional Wine Show.

Surveyors Hill Canberra District Riesling 2006 $25
Leigh Hobba’s Surveyors Hill vineyard produced the fruit for this stunning trophy and gold medal winning riesling. It was made for Leigh at Roger and Faye Harris’s Brindabella Hills Winery, about a kilometre from the Surveyors Hill vineyard. Leigh tells me that each year Roger gives trainee winemaker, Brian Sinclair, a project wine of his own and in 2006 this was it. The wine shows pristine varietal aromatics and intense but delicate palate with beautiful, fresh acid balance. It’s classic riesling and could hold its own in any company. Release is imminent, enquiries to Leigh Hobba 6230 2046

First Creek Canberra District Viognier 2005 $20
Expatriate Canberran, Jim Chatto, makes First Creek Viognier at the Monarch Winery, Pokolbin, from fruit grown on the Fischer family’s Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman. It was one of two outstanding viognier’s exhibited at the Canberra Regional Show. In contrast to the purely varietal silver-medal runner up, our gold-medallist was a notably more complex wine showing the textural, aroma and flavour impacts of barrel fermentation beautifully integrated with the plush, distinctive, apricot-like viognier flavour. Like most top-notch viogniers, it’s a wine of huge flavour impact and should be savoured in small, intense doses. Cellar door phone 02 4998 7293.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2006 & 2007