National Wine Show of Australia must fill gaps

There’s something missing from Canberra’s National Wine Show of Australia. It’s touted as the grand final of Australia’s wine show season. But if you look to it as a guide to the best of the best, then you’ll be disappointed. There are gaping holes across most varieties, but particularly in the ranks of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir.

Plugging those holes is a challenge for all wine shows and, to some extent, beyond their control. Shows can’t, for example, coerce a producer to exhibit. And when the maker of a definitive style choses not to, the absence diminishes the benchmarking value of the show – particularly if it’s a regional event. Canberra’s regional show would be enriched, for example, if its organisers could persuade Tim Kirk to enter Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Australia’s leading example of its style.

But if the National is to maintain its status, it really needs to entice some of Australia’s and New Zealand’s best small makers to join the fold – particularly those making sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. That’s where I see the biggest gaps among exhibitors and in the honours list.

Make no mistake, the honours list makes an overall exciting shopping list. Who can argue when judges tell us that Tyrrell’s Belford Semillon 2004 is about as good as Aussie semillon gets, or that riesling doesn’t get better than Peter Lehmann Reserve Eden Valley 2002.

These are credible results and gel with long-term experience. And with a few exceptions, the other wines taking awards this year are recognised regional specialties. Just look at this list of trophy winners, noting their varieties and origins (where known):

Leasingham Bin 7 Clare Valley Riesling 2008, Peter Lehmann Reserve Eden Valley Riesling 2002, Hunters Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Belford Semillon 2004, Penfolds Reserve Bin A Chardonnay 2007, McWilliams Limited Release Riverina Botrytis Semillon 2006, Hardys Sir James Tumbarumba Cuvee 2000, Goundrey Cabernet Tempranillo 2007, Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007, Langi Ghiran The Langi Grampians Shiraz 2005, Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Wyndham Estate George Wyndham Shiraz Grenache 2005, Oranje Tractor Wine Albany Riesling 2003, Morris Rutherglen Premium Liqueur Tokay, Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Stevens Semillon 2004, Brookland  Valley Margaret River Chardonnay 2005, Evans and Tate The Reserve Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and Balthazar Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005.

When you look into the catalogue of results (you can download it from you’ll notice that many of the big names are missing from every category. That’s partly understandable. Obviously no single show is likely to feature every notable name in every wine style.

But where the representation was good enough in the National to ensure that top-notch examples won in the riesling and semillon classes, gaps are more apparent in the shiraz, cabernet and sauvignon blanc classes and even more so for chardonnay and pinot noir.

The award winning wines in these classes are extremely good. But what struck me when I looked through, say, the list of pinot noirs was the absence, or under representation, of top regions and top makers.

And their absence raised doubts. Would Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough have won the pinot noir trophy had the judges been able to compare it with the best from Yarra, Mornington, Tasmania, Macedon, Martinborough and Central Otago?

It’s such an important variety that the organisers of the National, known for its innovations, need to address the dearth of top pinots. They might also look at the gaps in other varieties at the same time.

Copyright  © Chris Shanahan 2008