Yearly Archives: 2010

West inspires the rest

Australia’s craft brewing industry owes much to the west. The comparatively large-scale success of Matilda Bay, and later Little Creatures, fanned widespread consumer interest in beers very different from mainstream styles.

Matilda Bay’s Redback popularised the highly distinctive flavours of wheat beer to a lager-quaffing nation. And Little Creatures spread the gospel of highly aromatic, late-hopped ale.

The fact that both operations sold out, or partly sold out, to Australia’s two big brewers, doesn’t diminish their contribution to our varied beer scene. Matilda Bay, now owned by Foster’s, continues to make distinctive brews and distribute them widely. And Little Creatures, partly owned by Lion Nathan (itself wholly owned by Japan’s Kirin), continues to excite with its compact range, still brewed at the orginal Fremantle site.

But the Western Australian brewing scene isn’t limited to these two larger operators.

There’s Gage Roads, partly owned by Woolworths, and nationally distributed. But perhaps more excitingly for tourists, there’s now a flourishing of small regional operators in Bridgetown, Bunbury, Capel, Donnybrook, Dunsborough, Fremantle, Ferguson Valley, Pemberton, Perth, Margaret River, Mindarie, Myalup, North Fremantle and the Swan Valley – note the crossover with wine producing regions.

We’ll report back on some of these brewers over the next few weeks as we visit tour the southwest.

Copyright © Chris Shananan 2010

Wine review — Bress, Petaluma, Wolf Blass, Rochford, Hewitson and Zema

Bress Cider Brut 750ml $20
Harcourt Valley, Central Victoria

Emulating the cider makers of Normandy, Adam Marks and Lynne Jensen, bottle ferment their ciders to a wine-like 10 per cent alcohol. They use the specialty cider varieties Kingston Black and Bulmers Norman, in conjunction with Pink Lady and a touch of Perry pears. Bottle fermentation and maturation adds to the texture and provides fine bubbles. The result is a full flavoured, richly textured cider with delicious, clean apple flavours and clean, fresh lingering finish.

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2010 $33
Hanlin Hill Vineyard, Clare Valley, South Australia

Petaluma’s sensational 2010 riesling rates among the finest in the brand’s 30-odd year  history. Made by Andrew Hardy, the 2010 seems luxuriously rich and delicious, showing smooth texture as well as the usual shimmering, lemony varietal tang. It’ll almost certainly age well for decades. And from past experience it’s best drinking will be either now, in the early, fruity glow of youth, or many years down the track as it becomes fully mature.

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Riesling 2010 $15–$22
South Australia

The ever-reliable Yellow Label won a gold-medal at the recent Canberra International Riesling Challenge. It’s a lighter, more delicate style than the Petaluma 2010, weighing in at 12.5 per cent alcohol, versus Petaluma’s 13.5 per cent. It’s lightly floral in aroma, with a taut, lemony palate and delicate, dry, refreshing finish. The label gives the origin as “South Australia”. But this suggests only that the makers are keeping their blending options open in what is generally a Barossa-Eden-Clare product. The price varies widely because of retailer discounting.

Rochford Sebastian’s Paddock Pinot Noir 2008 $54–$60
Macedon Ranges, Victoria

Rochford is a Yarra based maker with 24 hectares of vines near Lansfield, in the Macedon Ranges, and 14 hectares in the Yarra (before its recent purchase of the Briary Hill vineyard). The wine reveals a wide spectrum of pinot aromas and flavours, from ripe, red berries to a slight stalkiness to earthy and savoury notes. The palate’s generous and complex and showing the assertive, firm tannins of the hot 2008 vintage.

Hewitson Baby Bush Mourvedre 2009 $28
Barossa Valley, South Australia

Dean Hewitson makes Baby Bush from a young mourvedre vineyard he propagated from vines planted in 1853. Like the still-producing 1853 vines, the young vines are unirrigated and untrellised. The 2009 is a beautiful expression of mourvedre, including what Hewitson calls a “rustic” note. I interpret that as an earthy or even slightly animal-like smell that hovers over the vats during fermentation and lingers in the finished wine. It’s not a fault – just a stamp of this highly distinctive variety. It’s full flavoured, vaguely blueberry-like, but juicy and spicy and gripped by fine, lingering tannins.

Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $28
Coonawarra, South Australia

Zema sits in the heart of Coonawarra’s terra rossa soil, on the western side of the Riddoch Highway. Nick and Matt Zema manage the estate, founded in 1982 by their parents Demetrio and Francesca, with former Lindemans winemaker Greg Clayfield calling the shots in the winery. The 2008 cabernet shows the purity and intensity of varietal cabernet flavour that made Coonawarra our cabernet capital. It’s rich and fleshy, with considerable power and concentration, but at the same time elegantly structured. It’ll no doubt age well, but this vintage has an appealing, drink-now lusciousness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — Brokenwood, Zonte’s Footstep and Jim Barry

Brokenwood Belford Block 8 Semillon 2006 $36
Belford is a sub-set of the Lower Hunter Valley and the Block 8 vineyard lies “not far from the famous ‘Village of Belford’ sign (there isn’t a village)” writes winemaker PJ Charteris. The wine sits at the very delicate end of the Hunter semillon spectrum – still pale and green tinted at four and half years’ age, with light, grassy, herbal aroma and most delicate palate imaginable. Age has added a little richness to the texture, but the wine remains strikingly youthful, fresh and purely varietal. It’s a delight to drink now but has many years, perhaps decades, to evolve in the bottle.

Zonte’s Footstep Langhorne Creek $22

  • Lake Doctor Shiraz 2008
  • Canto di Lago Sangiovese Barbera 2008
  • Avalon Tree Cabernet 2008

The Zonte’s Footstep range, made by Ben Riggs, captures regional varietal flavours from a number of sites in South Australia. Their current releases include this trio from Langhorne Creek in the hot 2008 vintage. While the cabernet lacks the fleshiness often seen from the variety in the region, it has clear varietal flavour, a core of sweet fruit and a firm, tight tannin structure. The earthier, slightly plumper shiraz also has fine, firm trying tannins. And the Canto di Lagos blend combines the vibrant summer-berry flavours of barbera with the savoury, drying tannins of sangiovese.

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2010 $15–$17
Don’t like riesling? Think it’s sweet? Time then to try this bone-dry, mouth-watering version from Jim Barry. It’s from Watervale, the Clare Valley’s southernmost sub-region, source of many of Australia’s greatest, long-lived dry rieslings. The wine’s pale but delivers big volumes of distinctive lime-like varietal aroma. The same brisk, lime-like flavours come through on the dry, fresh palate, leaving a clean, lingering aftertaste. There’s a lot of flavour packed into the bottle for a modest amount of money. And while it drinks well now as a delicate aperitif, it’ll take on weight and develop juicy, honeyed flavours with bottle age.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Matilda Bay — the beer lover’s side of Fosters

In last week’s column we looked at the emergence of bland beers made for people who don’t like beer – a peculiar situation indeed for brewers to be in.

Paradoxically, at the same time as it manufactures these beverages, market leader Foster’s brews classic global beer styles under its Matilda Bay brand.

Disheartened by the trend to blandness, I put a mixed box of Matilda Bay brews on the tasting bench. They scrubbed up pretty well.

I’ve reviewed the style bookends, Redback Original Wheat Beer and Alpha Pale Ale, below, but the other four beers rate well, too.

Beez Neez offers the light refreshment of wheat beer, with subtle honey seasoning and subtle, bitter hops kiss in the finish.

Bohemian Pilsner, a Schloss Shanahan favourite, offers traditional, lingering Pilsener bitterness, with the distinctive bite and flavour of Saaz hops.

Big Helga, a comparative newcomer to the line up, and made in the full-bodied, malty Bavarian style (think of Lowenbrau) has sufficient hops bitterness to freshen the finish and balance the malt sweetness.

Fat Yak Pale Ale, billed as an Australian pale ale style, could be viewed as a mild version of the turbo-hopped Alpha Pale Ale. But if it’s mild by comparison, it remains more malty and bitter than most beers.

Matilda Bay Redback Original Wheat Beer 345ml 6-pack $18.99
This tastes to me more in the banana-aromatic southern German style than the spicy Belgian style. The palate, too, is fruity and smooth textured, with crisp acidity and just a trace of bitterness from the Saaz and Pride of Ringwood hops. It’s on the lighter side, but true to style.

Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale 345ml 6-pack $19.99
This is full-bore American-style pale ale, featuring opulent malt and eyebrow singeing hops. It’s the sort of beer brewers love making and enthusiasts adore. It’s quite a trick packing in so much flavour and bitterness and maintaining drinkability. Appropriately, brewer Scott Vincent uses Cascade hops from Washington State.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — Dal Zotto, Brokenwood, Zonte’s Footstep, Cape Mentelle, d’Arenberg and Punt Road

Dal Zotto Pucino Prosecco NV $18.50
King Valley Victoria

Prosecco’s Italian home is the Valdobbiadene district, near Conegliano in the Veneto region. The variety makes light, delicate aperitif-style sparkling wines, usually tank fermented (Charmat method) and served as young and fresh as possible. Otto Dal Zotto, born in Valdobbiadene, released his first Australian prosecco in 2004 and now offers two versions – the light, delicate, fresh, Charmat-made Pucino NV, with its rush of creamy bubbles; and, with finer bubbles, the more richly textured, but still delicate and fresh, L’Immigrante 2008 ($36). These are terrific all-purpose, unobtrusive but interesting sparklers.

Brokenwood Shiraz 2009 $40
Hunter Valley, New South Wales

This is really a review of two subtly different, just-released Brokenwood 2009 shirazes – beautiful expressions of the unique Hunter style. Both are limpid, earthy and savoury with the region’s fine-boned, soft tannin structure. The $40 wine (from young vines on the Graveyard Vineyard and declassified Graveyard barrels) reveals slightly brighter, fleshier fruit under the savoury tannins. And the $50 wine, from the Verona Vineyard, across the road from Graveyard, offers slightly denser flavours and more savoury bite. Both are irresistible.

Zonte’s Footstep Violet Beauregard Malbec 2009 $22
Langhorne Creek, South Australi
The dozen or so folk behind Zonte’s Footstep, including winemaker Ben Riggs, currently deliver some of the best value mid-priced regional specialties in the market. From a single vineyard at Langhorne Creek, near Lake Alexandrina, this malbec bears the Ben Riggs thumbprint – a vibrant, fresh wine, expressing pure blueberry-like varietal aroma and flavour, with assertive but kind tannins. It’s a lovely, easy-to-drink expression of malbec that lets the fruit and location do the talking. Another glass please.

Cape Mentelle Wallcliffe Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008 $40
Margaret River, Western Australia

Sauvignon blanc on its own can be a happy fruit bomb – all tits and feathers, so to speak. But with semillon in the mix (and barrel fermentation) a wine of real depth and personality sometimes emerges, as we see in this distinctive Cape Mentelle wine. Inspired by similar Bordeaux blends, it reveals pungent, herbal high notes of sauvignon blanc and cool-grown semillon and a zesty, light palate with the deep textural richness of barrel-fermented semillon. It’s sourced from Cape Mentelle’s old Wallcliffe Vineyard.

d’Arenberg The Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2007 $30
McLaren Vale, South Australia

With strong demand for his grenache-based wines, d’Arenberg’s Chester Osborn resurrected a long-neglected vineyard that had become a horse paddock. The wine from it is strong, earthy and rustic in the distinctive d’Arenberg mould – none of the musky, confection notes seen in some Australian grenaches. Rather, it’s medium coloured but full bodied with deep earthy, savoury flavours and quite a strong bite of tannin, characteristic of the drought vintage. The style ages well.

Punt Road Airlie Bank Shiraz Viognier $18
Yarra Valley, Victoria

Could this be the story of the little wine that trounced the champs? Kate Goodman’s alluring, $18 shiraz viognier blend won a gold medal in the 2009 Yarra Valley Wine Show, then took on all comers, regardless of price, to seize the best-shiraz trophy. A year on, Airlie Bank still seduces with its high-toned perfume, sweet fruit and gentle, fine tannins. It’s a style to drink and enjoy now, no cellaring required.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Mighty west punches above its weight

In 2009 Western Australia accounted for just eight per cent of Australia’s grapevine plantings and four per cent of our grape crush. But its wines, especially those from Margaret River, win a disproportionate share of accolades.

In this year’s Langton’s Classification of Australian Wines, for example, Margaret River won three of the 17 spots in the “Exceptional” category, alongside venerable wines such as Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace (and Canberra’s Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier).
Across the four Langton categories, totalling 123 wines, Margaret River contributed eight wines – Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot, Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, Pierro Chardonnay, Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Vasse Felix Heytesbury Cabernet Merlot, Voyager Estate Cabernet Merlot and Woodland Family Series Cabernet Sauvignon – a huge strike rate for a comparatively small growing area.

Western Australia’s dominance at the top end of the cabernet market, and to a lesser extent with chardonnay, is one of the great stories of Australia’s amazingly varied wine industry. It’s development can be seen in our historic shift from fortified wine production to table wine production that sparked in the fifties, gathered momentum in the sixties and exploded through the seventies, eighties and nineties.

Western Australia’s fortified industry had been centred on the hot Swan Valley, near Perth. And although the state, notably Houghtons (founded 1836), produced table wine, the shift to more suitable, cooler regions began in the late sixties.

In 1965, Dr John Gladstones, articulated the potential of the south west for growing fine wine, especially in Margaret River.

Vasse Felix was founded at Margaret River in 1967 and continues as a major player today under Janet Holmes-a-Court. Just two years later, Dr Bill Pannell established Moss Wood, now owned by Keith and Clare Mugford. Pannell later established Picardy Wines at nearby Pemberton with his son Dan.

Evans and Tate (now owned by McWilliams) arrived in1971. David Hohnen established Cape Mentelle in 1970, established its lofty reputation, added Cloudy Bay at Marlborough, later selling out to Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (and keeping the vineyards). In 2004, with other family members, Hohnen establish a new operation, McHenry Hohnen, now seen as one of the area’s great quality producers.

In 1971 Dr Kevin Cullen planted his first vines. After his death, his widow Diana further built Cullen’s reputation. The business now thrives in the hands of daughter Vanya Cullen.

Next of the now big names to arrive was Leeuwin Estate in 1973, the first in the region to bring glamour and luxury to the cellar door offering. The facilities, concerts and setting matched the stellar quality of its wines.

And so the new arrivals flowed in during the following decades – everything from hard working enthusiasts using off-farm income to become established, to mining magnates with buckets of cash, to scheme operators during the export boom years of the late nineties.

Houghtons, the state’s senior and biggest producer moved with the times. Under Hardy’s ownership it moved table wine production decisively to the south, sourcing fruit from around 1,000 hectares of vines by the turn of the century. It remains a leading producer in quality and quantity under ownership of US-based Constellation Brands.

While Margaret River wins the lion’s share of the glamour, the expansion south into cooler climates was much more widespread.

Today’s Western Australian wine map reveals a swathe of activity from around Perth and arcing south down the coast, before swinging east around to Albany.

The state now has four official wine zones – Central Western Australia; Eastern Plains, Inland and North of Western Australia; Greater Perth; and South West Australia.

The Greater Perth Zone includes the regions of Peel, Perth Hills, Swan District (and its sub-region Swan Valley). And the huge South West Australia zone includes all the pretty well all of the wine regions now winning the most applause: Blackwood Valley, Geographe, Manjimup, Margaret River, Pemberton and Great Southern, with its five sub-regions – Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongurup.

Across these regions everyone grows a bit of everything. That’s the Australian way and the only sure means of seeing what works where across hundreds of unique sites. But over the past forty years, we’ve seen the emergence of a few very strong regional specialties. These include cabernet and related varieties in Margaret River and shiraz and riesling in Great Southern. But the landscape’s changing rapidly and we’re now seeing very good shiraz from Margaret River and promising chardonnay, shiraz and merlot from Pemberton and even very good cabernet from down south.

We’ll be motoring around these areas and look forward to filing our next story from Western Australia’s deep south.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — McHenry Hohnen, Grant Burge, Bleasdale, Rolf Binder and Knappstein

McHenry Hohnen Rolling Stone Margaret River 2008 $36.85
Grant Burge Corryton Park Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 $34.95

These are two sensational but utterly contrasting cabernet blends from individual vineyards in the Barossa and Margaret River. The limpid, medium-bodied McHenry Hohnen wine comprises one quarter each of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot. This is all about heady fragrance, bright fruit flavours, graceful structure and seamless blending of four varieties – delicious to the last drop. Grant Burge’s cabernet (with a touch of merlot and petit verdot) comes from the Corryton Park Vineyard, near Mt Crawford, Southern Barossa. It’s plush with ripe blackberry-like varietal flavours, wrapped in luxurious, silk-smooth tannins – a solid and juicy but elegant wine, just entering its prime drinking years.

Bleasdale Bremerview Langhorne Creek Shiraz 2008 $16–18
Rolf Binder Hales Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009 $18–$2
Australian shiraz comes in all shapes and sizes, depending principally on the climate it’s grown in. Bleasdale, made by the Potts family at Langhorne Creek, near Lake Alexandrina, is medium bodied with exuberant aromas and flavours, reminiscent of ripe mulberries. It’s soft, easy to drink and very good value for money. Rolf Binder’s Barossa wine offers denser flavours, more like very ripe black cherry, with abundant but soft and smooth tannins. Binder (owner of Veritas Winery) makes the wine for the Coles-owned Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice stores.

Knappstein Clare Valley Handpicked Riesling 2010 $15–$20
Knappstein Clare Valley 8:8:18 Riesling 2009 $21–$23

In Canberra’s International Riesling Challenge, seventy per cent of the dry Clare rieslings from the 2010 vintage won medals, a powerful accolade for the season. Knappstein’s Hand Picked 2010, made by Julian Langworthy, impresses for its pure, floral and citrus varietal aroma and generous but soft, delicate and very fresh palate. It’s a delicious, versatile dry white and offers outstanding value when it’s discounted to $15. It can be cellared for four or five years. The off-dry 8:8:18 from the 2009 vintage, though, isn’t as successful. It’s a little too developed in flavour and lacks the razor sharp acidity this style needs.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Wine review — Shelmerdine, Chalmers, Cape Mentelle, Mitchell and Zonte’s Footstep

Shelmerdine Riesling 2010 $24
Heathcote, Victoria

Really fine riesling is just that – delicate and finely textured with not a trace of hardness derived from skin contact. Shelmerdine is as finely textured as they come, thanks to hand harvesting and whole-bunch pressing. The gentle handling technique also allows the fruit flavour to flourish. In the warm 2010 vintage this means big, lovely wafts of orange-blossom varietal aroma and flavour. Coming from the cooler southern end of Heathcote, the wine also has the acid spine to carry the flavour, brighten the fruit and leave a lingering freshness.

Chalmers Fiano 2009 $27
Euston, New South Wale
The Chalmers family specialises in alternative varieties, grown on their vineyard in the Murray-Darling region at Euston, New South Wales. Their partially oak-fermented fiano (a native of Avellino, Campania, Italy), offers unique flavours and a texture aptly described by the Chalmers as “bees-waxy”. The wine shows citrus-like flavours, waxy texture, savouriness and a racy, dry finish. It’s unique and well removed from the typical plump Australian white style.

Chalmers Lagrein 2006 $27
Euston, New South Wales

Italy’s Lagrein variety, grown mainly in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, makes deeply coloured tannic reds. Even at four and half years, Chalmers version retains its blazing crimson colour. And the palate comes jammed with juicy, ripe berry flavours, in a matrix with abundant, silk smooth, savoury tannins. What a sexy, seductive and different wine it is. It’s matured only in older oak barrels, gaining the benefits of maturation without intrusive oak flavours.

Cape Mentelle Shiraz 2008 $40
Margaret River, Western Australia

Cape Mentelle’s shiraz sits in the “needs time, be patient” category. Its spicy, savoury fruit seems all bound up in taut, lean tannins – pleasant enough, but a great contrast to, say, the gentle fruitiness of a Hilltops shiraz, or the deep tender depth of the Barossa. Winemaker Robert Mann says it’s sourced from the company’s Wallcliffe and Trinders vineyards and a 38-year-old vines at Wilyabrup. He matures in large old vats initially, then transfers it small oak casks, about 30 per cent of them new. The wine should show its best after about five years bottle age.

Mitchell McNicol Shiraz 2002 $40
Clare Valley, South Australia

No misprint – this really is an eight-year old shiraz, safely sealed under screw cap, from one of Clare Valley’s great makers. The McNicol, named for Andrew Mitchell’s grape growing dad, Peter McNicol Mitchell, shows the special lift, fragrance and complexity of bottle age. At the same time it retains vibrance and freshness. It shows the elegant structure of the cool 2002 vintage, supple underlying fruit and firm but fine drying tannins. Mitchell Peppertree Shiraz 2007 ($28) shows the more robust tannins of the drought year, with fruit to carry it through years of cellaring.

Zonte’s Footstep Baron Von Nemesis Shiraz 2008 $22
Barossa Valley, South Australia

A gang of enthusiasts behind Zonte’s Footstep, working under the slogan “the truth is out there in the vineyard, but the proof is in this bottle”, produce a terrific range of regional varietals. This one, from the Baron Von Nemesis vineyard, southern Barossa, presents a comparatively elegant face of Barossa shiraz – bright and fresh, with instant, drink-now appeal and a farewell kiss of fine tannins.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Beer paradox as Foster’s forecasts bland future

Paradoxically, as consumer interest in exotic beers grows and the number of microbrewers in the premium market expands, the mass market demands ever-blander beers.

Faced with a declining market share, Foster’s recently announced plans to regain momentum. And the focus seems to be largely on plugging gaps, or creating new opportunities, in the lighter-flavoured end of the market.

The approach suggests that wide swathes of Australia’s population doesn’t like traditional beer and perhaps never will.

Of the new products Foster’s plans, perhaps the nearest to traditional beer is said to be a mid-strength lager to be launched in Queensland under its new Great Northern Brewery Company brand. It’ll be brewed at Foster’s existing Yatala brewery and targeted square at Lion Nathan’s XXXX Gold.

From there, the beeriness of the new products declines.  There’s hope, perhaps, for Pure Blonde White, if it truly resembles the Belgian wheat beer style. But several sips of its low-carb cellar mate, Pure Blonde, point the other way.

And the new citrus-flavoured Carlton Dry Fusion Black seems also to be targeted at non-traditional beer drinkers.

We’re witnessing one of the biggest shifts ever in brewing – as brewers are asked to straddle two worlds: the ancient craft of brewing and the new world of manufacturing beverages to meet shifting consumer tastes.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

Canberra international riesling challenge 2010

The Canberra International Riesling Challenge, held in October, fielded a record 364 Australian entries, up from 352 in 2009. But the solid support from local makers wasn’t matched by international vignerons. Organiser Ken Helm says the number of overseas entries declined slightly.

France (Alsace), the Czech Republic, South Africa, Argentina and Chile each submitted a small number of wines. And in a quick flick through the catalogue of results, Germany and New Zealand seemed to have about three dozen entries each, and the United States around 20.

In one respect the Challenge remains out of step with Australian wine shows by awarding the trophy for the best South African wine to a silver medal winner. The general rule is, no gold medal no trophy – it sends the wrong message. How can a silver medallist win a trophy, the highest accolade in the show? Doesn’t make sense.

Entries came from every corner of Australia across three broad style categories – dry, semi-dry and sweet – with the main focus on dry wines. South Australia’s Clare and Eden Valley’s cemented their positions as leaders of this style, while Canberra looked the poor cousin – a result at odds with praise pouring in from other sources.

The judges awarded only three bronze medals to the 11 Canberra wines entered in the 2010 vintage dry classes. And the nine local wines entered in the combined 2008 and 2009 class tallied three medals – gold for Helm Premium Riesling 2009, plus two bronze medals.

In contrast, the Clare Valley fielded 40 dry rieslings from the 2010 vintage and 28 earned medals – four gold, 10 silver and 14 bronze. In the 2008-2009 class, 17 of Clare’s 21 entries won medals – two gold, three silver and 12 bronze.

The Eden Valley, a little to the south of Clare on the Mount Lofty Ranges, enjoyed similar success, with 14 of 23 wines from the 2010 vintage winning medals – three gold, three silver and eight bronze; and 21 of 26 wines in the 2008-2009 class succeeding, with three gold, four silver and 14 bronze medals.

Western Australia’s Great Southern region and Tasmania also showed good form with dry rieslings. Nine of Great Southern’s 2010 vintage wines won medals – one gold, one silver and seven bronze.

And Tasmania revealed that its rieslings might hit best form after a year or two in bottle. The state’s 2010 vintage wines earned four medals from ten wines (one gold, three bronze). But in the 2008-2009 class 17 wines yielded 12 medals – two gold, two silver and eight bronze.

While the wines were judged mainly in regional classes, some regions, with low entry numbers, were bundled into mixed classes – pitting contrasting styles against one another. Even so, the “various” class of 27 dry 2010 rieslings yielded three gold, six silver and 11 bronze medals. One of the gold medallists came from Central Victoria and the other two were large company blends, almost certainly from the Barossa-Clare-Eden Valley.

In this class, gold medals for Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling 2010 and Wolf Blass Yellow Label Riesling 2010 demonstrates what tremendous value big-company rieslings offer. Both can be found on special from time to time at around $11.

Some of the most exciting drinking, though, bubbled to the surface in the “museum” classes – for wines from the 2007 and earlier vintages. Their success sends three important messages – good riesling blossoms with age; the screw cap makes cellaring reliable; and the wines that age well are often fairly modestly priced on release.

Of the Clare Valley’s 18 museum rieslings, four won gold medals, five won silver and five won bronze. The gold medallists were O’Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2006, Paulett’s Aged Release Polish Hill River Riesling 2005, Stone Bridge Wines Clare Valley Riesling 2006 and The Wilson Vineyard Polish Hill River Riesling 2004.

The oldest wine in the line up, Richmond Grove Watervale 1998, won a silver medal. Made by John Vickery, Phil Laffer and Bernie Hickin, from fruit grown on the historic Florita vineyard, this was the first modern, commercial-scale Clare wine sealed with a screw cap, setting the scene for the Clare winemakers larger-scale roll out of the seal two years later.

Eden Valley’s 11 museum wines showed good form, too, winning three gold, three silver and three bronze medals. The gold medallists were Peter Lehmann Wigan Eden Valley Riesling 2004 (current release is the sensational 2005 at $30), Trevor Jones Reserve Eden Valley Riesling 2005 and Wolf Blass Icon Eden Valley Riesling 2002.

A mixed museum class from various region yielded two gold medallists – Trevelen Farm Great Southern Riesling 2002 and Chartley Estate Tasmania Riesling 2007.

The judges found some excitement among the semi-dry Australian rieslings, awarding gold medals to two Tasmanian wines – Bream Creek VGR Riesling 2008 and Kate Hill Riesling 2009. This is a not unexpected result and cool climates produce the combination of fruit intensity, delicacy and high natural acidity needed to make this style well. Germany, of course, sets the pace.

Several vintages of sweet riesling attracted the judges, too, with gold medals awarded to Holm Oak Vineyards Tasmania Riesling TGR 2010, Pooley Late Harvest Tasmania Riesling 2010, Brown Brothers Patricia King Valley Noble Riesling 2006 and Ciccone Estate King Valley Botrytis Riesling 2006.

The catalogue of results is available at

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010