What a hard job for judges at Canberra’s International Riesling Challenge – two days discerning the differences among 435-odd mainly young, acidic whites, often in classes more notable for similarities than differences.
But the judges endured and, led by David O’Leary, handed out, by my count, 51 gold medals – a strike rate approaching one gold for every eight entries.
The international event remains dominated by Australian wines. These accounted for about three quarters of entries (about 330), followed by New Zealand with around 42 wines (10 per cent of the total), Germany with about 20 (five per cent) and the United States with about 33 (eight per cent). Miniscule entries from Argentina (one), Austria (two), Canada (one), the Czech Republic (two), South Africa (two) and France (two) make up the balance of the ten-nation event.
And what does it all mean for wine drinkers? Well, we can comb through the catalogue of results at www.rieslingchallenge.com and be pretty confident in the quality of the medal winners – especially the gold and silver medallists. We can also make a note to attend next year’s public tasting with catalogue in hand, or attend a seminar.
And if we look only at Australian results, we confirm traditional wisdom in the dominance of the neighbouring Clare and Eden Valleys (17 golds) and the success of Western Australia’s diverse Great Southern region (five golds). We also discern a rising riesling star in Tasmania. The state won six gold medals and Waterton Vineyards won the trophies for best dry riesling and best wine of the show.
We also see a dusting of gold, if not the mother lode in Mudgee, the Grampians, McLaren Vale and Nagambie Lakes.
How disappointing, though not to see any Canberra wines in the gold-medal list. In fact, it’s not only disappointing, but annoying and puzzling, too – raising a perennial problem of hard-to-explain inconsistencies in show judging.
Just a few weeks earlier Gallagher Murrumbatemen Riesling 2011 won a gold medal in the Canberra Regional Wine Show. In the riesling challenge it fell completely off the judges’ radar. And Brindabella Hills, an also ran in the regional show, earned silver medal in the riesling challenge.
We can explain these inconsistencies in many ways – human error, acid overload, or even in conscious decisions. For example, the judges might decide in one show that a terrific but austere riesling really needs bottle age to show its best; in another show they might say, “yes, but so what, if it’ll be a gold medal wine in future it’s worth gold now”.
Whatever the reasoning, though, it suggests that the catalogue may conceal other very high quality wines that slipped through the sieve this time around. And that’s another reason to attend the public tasting.
The discrepancies, in my experience, tend to occur more among the very young wines, where high acid (especially as seen in many wines from the cool 2011 vintages) obscures the fruit.
The Brindabella Hills silver medallist went on to win the Chief Minister’s trophy for best Canberra District wine. It’s a worthy wine, but the challenge organisers ought to adopt the broader wine show standard of awarding trophies only to gold medal winners.
Although the classes for older rieslings tend to attract fewer entrants, these display the true glories of the variety. The ultimate trophy winner for older wines, Jacob’s Creek St Helga Eden Valley 2002, began life as a steely, austere drop from a cool vintage. Nine years on the power and purity of fruit show through, tinged by the magic of bottle age.
And the practical triumph of screw cap over cork shows in these classes, too, with a gold medal to Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 1999. This was the second vintage sealed under screw cap and the wine retailed for under $10 a bottle on release. It continues to drink beautifully today, as does the 1998 vintage, the wine that led the modern charge to screw cap, two years ahead of a larger Clare Valley riesling group.
Success of these older wines highlights the cellarability of these delicious, dry, generally inexpensive styles. While riesling remains a stubbornly niche variety, it provides superb drinking from its youth to old age across dry, semi-dry and luscious, sweet styles.
Canberra’s riesling challenge promotes the variety, puts many outstanding examples under our noses at the public tasting and provides an awards list in its catalogue. Like any show, it doesn’t provide all the answers, it’s not definitive, and there remain many gaps in its ranks, largely because many top producers see no reason to enter shows.
However, a sufficient number of entries from proven and upcoming producers give us outstanding examples of established styles as well as highlighting emerging stars, like Tasmania.
GOLD MEDAL WINNERS
2011 vintage dry rieslings
Annie’s Lane Quelltaler Watervale (Clare Valley), SA
Neagles Rock Clare Valley, SA
Leasingham Bin 7 Clare Valley
Eden Hall Single Vineyard Series Eden Valley, SA
Pewsey Vale Eden Valley, SA
Trevelen Farm Great Southern, WA
West Cape Howe Great Southern, WA
Moores Hill Tamar Valley, Tasmania
Jacob’s Creek, blend, SA
Casteli, Porongurup (Great Southern), WA
2011 vintage half-dry rieslings
Robert Stein Mudgee, NSW
2011 vintage sweet rieslings
Pooley Late Harvest Coal River Valley, Tasmania
2010 vintage dry rieslings
Cardinham Estate Clare Valley, SA
Eldredge Clare Valley, SA
Kilikanoon Mort’s Block Clare Valley, SA
Reilly’s Wines Watervale (Clare Valley), SA
Tim Adams Wines Clare Valley, SA
Echelon Wines Zeppelin Eden Valley, SA
Pooley Wines Coal River Valley, Tasmania
Tamar Ridge Kayema Vineyard Tamar Valley, Tasmania
Waterton, Tamar Valley, Tasmania
A.T. Richardson Grampian, Victoria
2010 vintage sweet rieslings
Waterton Tamar Valley, Tasmania
Patricks of Coonawarra, SA
Annie’s Lane Botrytis Clare Valley, SA
d’Arenberg The Noble Wrinkled, McLaren Vale, SA
Plantagenet Ringbark Mount Barker (Great Southern), WA
Older vintages dry rieslings
2005 Kilikanoon Mort’s Block Clare Valley, SA
2005 Kirrihill Estate Reserve Clare Valley, SA
2005 Reilly’s Wines Clare Valley, SA
2002 Jacob’s Creek St Helga Eden Valley, SA
1999 Richmond Grove Watervale (Clare Valley), SA
2006 Alkoomi Frankland River (Great Southern), WA
2007 Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes, Vic
Older vintages half-dry rieslings
2008 d’Arenberg The Dry Dam McLaren Vale, SA
2010 Fred Loimer Kamptel – dry
2009 Znovin Znojmo Ice Wine, Morava – sweet
2010 Zimmerman-Graeff and Muller, Mosel – dry
2010 Weingut Anselman Ice Wine, Palatinate – sweet
2010 Weingut Gerog Muller Stiftung Hattenheimer Schutzenhaus Beerenauslese, Rheingau – sweet
2011 Yealands Estate Yealands Way Marlborough – half-dry
2009 Hunters Marlborough – dry
2010 Mud House Waipara – half-dry
2009 Forest Botrytised Marlborough – sweet
2010 Greystone Canterbury/Waipara – sweet
2011 Nederburg Reserve Western Cape – half-dry
United States of America
2010 Sheldrake Point Vineyard Cayuga Lake – dry
2010 Chateau Sainte Michelle Columbia Valley – dry
2010 Sheldrake Point Vineyard Cayuga Lake – sweet
2008 Anthony Road Wine Company Martini Reinhardt Selection, Finger Lakes – sweet
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
First published 19 October 2011 in The Canberra Times