Shiraz triumphs at Canberra wine show 2011

Once again our local red specialty stormed home in the recent Canberra Regional Wine Show. Shiraz classes attracted the greatest number of entries (47), won the most medals (30), enjoyed the highest medal strike rate at 64 per cent (after adjusting for one statistical oddity) and produced the champion wine of the show – Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2009. Riesling, the other local favourite, followed a length behind with 19 medals from 33 entries – a strike rate of 58 per cent.

We can thank Coolangatta Estate, Nowra, for the statistical oddity – a 100 per cent medal strike rate for dry semillons. But as it was the only exhibitor showing the variety, the figures simply confirm that Coolangatta grows good semillon and Tyrrell’s, the contract winemaker, remains the best in the game with this variety.

That oddity aside, the accompanying table gives a collective image of the winegrowing areas within the show’s catchment – Canberra, Hilltops, Tumbarumba, Gundagai, Southern Highlands and the Shoalhaven Coast. And by drilling down a bit we see a few regional specialties.

If we view a medal strike rate below 50 per cent as a poor result, then the collective figures suggest little excitement beyond shiraz, riesling and chardonnay. Drilling down, however, we find pockets of excitement everywhere, except in pinot noir, including among niche varieties not covered in the table.

For example, Clonakilla Canberra District Viognier 2010 scorched Class 8 (other varieties 2010 and earlier) with a rarely achieved score of 56.5 out of 60. It’s a magnificent wine, widely recognised as the best of the variety from the district. Good on Tim Kirk for exhibiting a wine of this calibre.

And among the 12 pinot gris exhibited, two Canberra wines excited the judges – gold medallist, Mount Majura Pinot Gris 2011 and silver medallist, Lerida Estate Lake George Pinot Grigio 2011.

A wider range of niche red varieties fared well, with a sprinkling of medals for sangiovese, tempranillo, merlot, a tempranillo-shiraz-graciano (TSG) blend and a couple of cabernet franc-merlot blends.

The gold medallists in this group were Mount Majura’s TSG 2010, Dinny’s Block 2010 (cabernet franc-merlot) and Merlot 2009 and Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast Tempranillo 2009.

Demonstrating that different varieties suit different regions, high, cool Tumbarumba monopolised the chardonnay honours list, winning seven of the eight medals, and all four gold medals, in Class 7 for 2010 and earlier vintages.

Barwang Estate (owned by McWilliams) earned golds for the 2010 and 2009 vintages of its 842 Tumbarumba Chardonnay. The other two gold medallists were Echelon Armchair Critic Tumbarumba 2010 and Hungerford Hill Tumbarumba 2010. Centennial Vineyards, Southern Highlands, the sole non-Tumbarumba medallist, earned silver for its Woodside Winery Block 2009.

But the judges recognised Canberra, too, awarding a gold to Lerida Estate Lake George Chardonnay 2006, the sole entrant in the white museum class.

It takes a lot to fire up judges in sauvignon blanc classes these days. Alas, the local show attracted just 10 entries, largely dismissed by the judges as they awarded only one silver and one bronze medal.

Pinot noir also lacked sizzle, the 19 entrants earning three silver and one bronze medals – all won by wines from the Southern Highlands. Tertini Wines won silver for its 2009 and 2010 wines and bronze for its 2009 Reserve. Centennial Vineyards Reserve 2010 won silver.

Cabernet sauvignon also failed to excite – an example of a variety struggling to find suitable sites across the show’s large catchment. The Hilltops region generally fares better than Canberra and, indeed, produced the only gold medallist – Hungerford Hill 2009 – and two bronze medals. Canberra wines earned three of the medals, including silvers for Pankhurst Wines Cabernet Merlot 2010 and A. Retief Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2008.

Canberra retained its dominance, if not a monopoly, of the riesling classes and a couple of new faces smiled through the crowd. In the 2011 vintage class Four Winds Vineyard and Gallagher Wines, both of Murrumbateman, nabbed the gold medals. Gallagher, a nose ahead of Four Winds, moved into the trophy taste-off.

In the class for 2010 and older rieslings, Lake George 2010 top scored and ultimately won the trophy for best riesling of the show. Winemaker Alex McKay credits the Karelas family, owners of the Lake George Vineyard (the former Madew property) for the quality of fruit from their vineyard. Tertini Wines 2008, Southern Highlands, won the second gold medal in the class.

Helm Wines, often a star of the riesling section, earned silvers for its Half Dry 2011 and Premium Riesling 2010, while the Classic Dry 2011 missed out altogether. Having seen the latter on a couple of occasions, I’d predict big success for it further down the track as austere, high-acid styles like this need time for the fruit to poke through. These styles often miss the show accolades in their youth.

And finally to the variety we’ve all been waiting for – shiraz, the region’s great champion. Interestingly the highly regarded 2009s and 2008s fared less well in aggregate than the supposedly “bony” 2010s.

Seventy five per cent of the 2010s won medals compared to 57 per cent of wines in the 2009 and older class, a rate exceeded even by shirazes in the museum class. Interestingly, the judge’s comments in the results catalogue indicate greater excitement with the 2008s and 2009s than with the 2010s, despite the higher medal strike rate in the latter.

In the 2010 class, the judges’ tastes leaned distinctly towards the juicier, softer styles, with all three gold medals awarded to slightly warmer regions – Eden Road Wines Gundagai Shiraz, Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz and Eden Road The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz. The latter topped the class and moved on to the trophy taste off.

The judges commented they expected some of the wines in this class “to benefit with time”. Undoubtedly Clonakilla’s O’Riada Canberra District (bronze medal) falls in this category – a magnificent drop that reveals it virtues in a leisurely tasting now, if not in the rush of wine show.

In the class for 2009 and older shiraz, comprised mainly of 2009s and 2008s, the judges spread their favours around Canberra, Hilltops and Tumbarumba. They awarded to golds each to Canberra (Lerida Lake George Shiraz Viognier 2009 and Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2009) and Hilltops (Chalkers Crossing Shiraz 2009 and Grove Estate Cellar Block Shiraz Viognier 2009).

In the end the rich, soft fruit and silky tannins of Ravensworth seduced the judges’ palates. It topped the class, then sailed through the trophy taste-offs to be voted best shiraz, best red and best wine of the show. Shiraz showed its class, too, in the museum class where Lerida Estate Lake George Shiraz Viognier 2006 won gold.

Fittingly, we begin and end the show report on shiraz. It’s the big deal around here. The wines in classes 13, 14 and 23 offer some of the best red drinking in Australia – and that’s not even a complete list of top Canberra shirazes.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful one day to see all of our top shirazes in the show. Imagine including Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier and wines from Collector, Kyeema and Nick O’Leary in this already amazing line up.

How the varieties fared (dry wines only)
Class 1, 2010202351050
Class 5, 2010 and older13234969
Sauvignon blanc and blends
Class 2, 20118011225
Class 6, 2010 and older200000
Class 3, 2011100000
Class 7, 2010 and older16413850
Class 22, 2006 and older (museum)11001100
Pinot gris/grigio
Class 4,  other varieties 20117111343
Class 8, other varieties 2010 and older5001120
Class 4, other varieties 201110011100
Class 8, other varieties 2010 and older41034100
Class 13, 2010163271275
Class 14, 2009 and older284391657
Class 23, 2006 and older (museum)3101267
Pinot noir
Class 11, 20107020229
Class 12, 2009 and older11011218
Class 23, 2006 and older (museum)100000
Cabernet sauvignon and blends
Class 15, 20106011233
Class 16, 2009 and older21113524
Class 17, other varieties 2010100000
Merlot and blends
Class 17, 2010 other varieties5002240
Class 18, 2009 and older other varieties6101233
Class 223, 2006 and older (museum)100000

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
First published 28 September 2011 in The Canberra Times