Ken Helm and his supporters launched Canberra’s riesling challenge in 2000, opened it to New Zealand wines in 2002 and then to the world, as the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, in 2005. The number of entries grew from 137 in 2000 to 512 from six countries this year, a record.
The results, announced on Friday 17 October and available at www.rieslingchallenge.com, contain few surprises and reflect the considerable diversity of wine styles made from this great variety – from luscious and sweet, to steely and austere, to dust-dry and delicate.
Its ability to age, too, is shown in two of the award winners – a sweet 1991 Rauenthaler Baiken Riesling Eiswein from Germany’s state-owned Kloster Eberbach and Peter Lehmann’s dry Eden Valley ‘Wigan’ Riesling 2003.
Kloster Eberbach’s wine topped the honours list, leading an impressive charge from Germany’s delicate semi-sweet to sweet styles. And Lehmann’s showed yet again Australia’s dominance in the dry styles.
For the first time this year the judges assessed the wines in regional groupings – making it easy to compare medal strike rates. Impressively, in the classes for 2008 vintage dry rieslings, Canberra’s strike rate of 60 per cent compared favourably with the established champs Eden Valley (62 per cent) and Clare Valley (60 per cent) and Western Australia’s Great Southern region (60 per cent).
Nothing, however, beats Clare’s 93 per cent strike rate (although Eden Valley looks respectable on 80 per cent) for the combined 2007 and 2006 vintage dry rieslings.
With five positions, these two regions dominate the Challenge’s list of Australia’s top ten ranked rieslings. But these two neighbouring regions now face serious competition.
Canberra’s Brindabella Hills 2008 (from Roger and Faye Harris’s vineyard at Hall) and Graeme Shaw’s Shaw Vineyard Estate Semi Sweet Riesling 2008 (Murrumbateman) pushed their way into this elite group – the first time Canberra rieslings have been in the front running at the event.
The list also includes one wine each from Tasmania, Mudgee, New South Wales, Great Southern, Western Australia, and one that’s probably a multi-regional blend.
And if you’ve counted eleven wines in the ‘top ten’, you’re correct. How can this be? I don’t know, but the full list is: Peter Lehmann Eden Valley ‘Wigan’ 2008, Roche Eden Valley 2008, Pipers Brook Tasmania 2007, Brindabella Hills Canberra District 2008, Neagles Rock Clare Valley 2008, McWilliams Hanwood 2007, Peter Lehmann Reserve Eden Valley 2002, Robert Stein Mudgee 2008, Shaw Vineyard Estate Canberra District Semi Sweet 2008, Tim Adams Clare Valley 2008 and Trevelen Farm Great Southern 2008.
The dark horse in that race is McWilliams Hanwood Riesling 2007, a wine that sells for less then $10 a bottle. It was judged in the ‘various’ category alongside wines like Jacob’s Creek and other mainly multi-regional blends that don’t qualify for a particular region. They’re generally very good because even though blended to meet a price, they contain high proportion of fruit from leading areas like Clare and Eden.
These wines often drink beautifully when they’re young and regularly outscore prestigious names in wine shows, a fact previously commented on in this column. There are several examples in the Challenge, for example, Jacob’s Creek 2008 and Jacob’s Creek Reserve 2008 earned bronzed medals with scores of 49 and 50 respectively, the latter just one point under a silver. But Leo Burings two fabulous 2008 ‘Leonay’ flagships, on the other hand, failed to rate. I’ll back them for gold a few years down the track.
All that says is that we should take the results of the Challenge with a grain of salt – as we should with any wine show. No show on its own is definitive. But the high scoring wines are very, very good, so a close look at the results, especially of current vintages, makes a useful shopping guide.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008