Canberra wines fare well at National Wine Show of Australia

Canberra and surrounding districts fared sensationally well in this year’s National Wine Show of Australia, judged between 15 and 18 November. By my count, local wines won 31 awards – one trophy, 13 gold medals, four silver medals and 13 bronze medals.

The tally includes wines from most of the regions covered by the Canberra Regional Wine Show – Canberra District, Hilltops, Tumbarumba, Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven Coast. And the results are generally consistent with previously perceived regional strengths.

Local entries were up on previous years, thanks to two changes to entry requirements –  a halving of the amount of stock producers are required to have on hand when entering some classes, and the inclusion of the Canberra Regional Show as a qualifying show. The show organisers made the changes to encourage more entries from high-quality, small regional makers. For Canberra, the benefits of the quantity change become apparent in the results from the very first class in this year’s judging.

Helm Canberra District Classic Dry Riesling 2010 received one of two gold medals awarded in the 2010 riesling class. Ken Helm says he’s delighted at the rule change, and the result. He recalled that last year he couldn’t enter because his riesling production fell short of the show’s quantity test – despite qualifying with a medal from the regional show.

The success of Helm’s rieslings (his Premium 2010 won gold in another section) points to a solid judging performance in these classes. Often, when young, the high-acid, comparatively austere Helm style lose out to softer, fruitier, more accessible wines in long line-ups.

And if we scroll through the 96-page catalogue of results, we find a feast of good drinking among the medal winners. We can always quibble with the results when the wrappers come up off. But, as a buying guide it’s reliable, revealing the current trend for judges to rate purity and fruitiness over winemaking inputs.

The judges spell this out in their comments on Class 17 2009 Dry Red Shiraz, “Young, fresh and vibrant wines seduced the judges where the oak handling was not excessive. This was not always the case. Heavy-handed winemakers clouded the expression of many wines that had delicate floral fruit to offer. Less oak please.”

The positive comments could’ve been penned especially for one of the class gold-medallists – the locally made Eden Road Wines The Long Road Shiraz 2009, a Hilltops-Canberra blend.

This is the follow up vintage to the highly successful 2008 vintage, both made by Nick Spencer. Spencer ages portions of wine in large old oak and adds another completely unoaked component to the final blend. Thus, the wine has some of the mellowness and complexity of barrel ageing, but little oak flavour, and a main emphasis on vibrant, fresh, juicy, fruity flavours.

A move to more sympathetic oak treatment has been underway in the industry for more than a decade. But, as the judges commented, we still see too many potentially exciting wines blemished by poor oak treatment. Comments like these in the show system (and awarding fruity rather than over-oaked reds) encourages winemakers to look again at what they’re doing.

Occasionally, though, the focus on purity and fruitiness in reds rewards simplicity over complexity, as we saw to some extent in this year’s regional show.

Eighteen of the 31 National Show gongs won by Canberra and surrounding districts went to shiraz and riesling, reflecting widespread strength in these varieties. Tyrrell’s won the highest of these awards with a gold medal and trophy for its one-off 2008 Canberra District Shiraz.

However, the strengths of our local districts extends beyond these varieties, with medals awarded to two Shoalhaven Coast semillons (made by Tyrrell’s for Coolangatta Estate), chardonnays from Canberra, Tumbarumba and the Southern Highlands, tempranillo from Hilltops and Canberra and Mount Majura’s lovely Canberra District tempranillo-shiraz-graciano blend.

I’ve listed details of the successful local wines, awards and districts in the table below.

But despite the overall credible results, the show, like all shows, presents several dramatic anomalies. And they’re hard to explain. How, for example do we reconcile a 41 point score (out of 60) for a wine that earned 55.5 and a gold medal two months earlier at the regional show.

In the regional show, the judges wrote of Coolangatta Estate Savagnin 2010, “the savagnin had lovely bright fruit with depth of flavour and should be received with some excitement in the region”. In the National, judges dismissed the same wine and its peers as “mostly non-descript”.

Similarly, the National Show judges bagged Eden Road Wines The Long Road RHE 2009 (a white blend) as “non-descript” and worth a paltry 41.5 points. Two months earlier, in the regional show, the wine earned 56 points, a gold medal and a trophy. The judges enthused, “The two top wines were benchmark examples of their varieties”.

While these two anomalies go far beyond normal variability in wine show performance and beg the question of why they’re not up there sharing the glory, the list of winners across Australia’s many regions and wine styles is truly impressive.

This is an independent and high-quality appraisal of wines coming through the show system. It can’t pretend to be a grand final, as the National’s often billed, for the simple reason that so many of Australia’s very best wines of all styles never see a judge’s tasting bench and never will.

However, the depth Australia has to offer is truly extraordinary and well represented in this show. So it’s worth logging on to and studying the catalogue of results class by class. The winners aren’t all expensive wines, as the gold-medal $21 Eden Road Long Road Shiraz 2009 demonstrates.


Murrumbateman’s Helm, Yarrh and Ravensworth wines all won gold medals in the National Show’s new classes for single vineyard wines. The classes are open to medal winning wines sourced entirely from a single vineyard named on the commercial label.
In the riesling class, Yarrh Wines won bronze for their 2010 and gold for their 2009 riesling. Helm Premium Riesling 2010 topped the class, qualifying for the taste trophy taste-off for best single vineyard wine of the show.

In the single vineyard shiraz class, Bryan Martin won gold medals for the 2008 and 2009 vintages of his Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier. The 2009 topped the class of 41 wines and joined Helm’s riesling in the trophy taste off.

The winner of the taste off was Oakridge Yarra Valley Van Der Meulen Vineyard Chardonnay 2009.


Gold medal and trophy

Tyrrell’s Canberra District Shiraz 2008

Gold medal

Helm Canberra District Classic Dry Riesling 2010
Helm Canberra District Premium Riesling 2010
Barwang Estate Chardonnay 2009 (region not stated, probably Tumbarumba)
Barwang 842 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2008
Barwang Granite Track Riesling 2010 (region not stated, probably Hilltops)
Eden Road Wine The Long Road Hilltops-Canberra District Shiraz 2009
Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast Semillon 2006
Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast Semillon 2003
Yarrh Canberra District Riesling 2009
Mount Majura Canberra District Chardonnay 2009
Ravensworth Canberra District Shiraz Viognier 2009
Ravensworth Canberra District Shiraz Viognier 2008

Silver medal

Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Reserve Shiraz 2009
Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Lock and Key Shiraz 2009
Shaw Vineyard Estate Canberra District Winemakers Selection Shiraz 2008
Shaw Vineyard Estate Canberra District Premium Shiraz 2008

Bronze medal

Barwang Estate Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2008
Gundog Estate Canberra District Shiraz 2009
Barwang Hilltops Shiraz 2008
Westend Hilltops Tempranillo 2008
Yarrh Canberra District Riesling 2010
Moppity Vineyard Hilltops Lock and Key Riesling 2010
Moppity Vineyards Hilltops Estate Riesling 2010
Centennial Vineyards Southern Highlands Reserve Chardonnay 2008
Centennial Vineyard Southern Highlands Bong Bong Australian Dry Red 2009
Lerida Estate Lake George Chardonnay 2009
Mount Majura Canberra District Tempranillo 2009
Mount Majura Canberra District Tempranillo Shiraz Graciano
Pankhurst Canberra District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010