Winewise Small Vignerons Awards 2011

For a report card on small Australian winemakers, check out the Winewise website,

The competition, judged here in Canberra in July, opens its door to wineries crushing 250 tonnes or less for their own labels. The independent event began as an outlet for small makers off the radar of the big, prestigious capital wine shows, including Canberra’s National.

From last year, however, Winewise offered a potential route into the National Show for these small makers. The national’s organisers, attempting to attract small makers, declared that wines winning gold or silver medals qualified for the national event – and some winemakers seized the opportunity.

While many of our most recognised small makers don’t enter wines in shows, the Winewise event nevertheless attracts a great diversity of wines from across Australia.

The awards list therefore covers a lot of territory, and invariably includes surprises from little known wineries and emerging varieties.

The list of trophy winners gives a hint of the diversity. But it’s rewarding to scroll through the entire list, noting the gold, silver and bronze medallists – as well as highly regarded wines that missed the boat. That always happens in wine shows.

The trophy results can take us away from well-trodden paths. The best riesling, for example, comes not from the Clare or Eden Valleys, but from the Coal River Valley Tasmania – Pooley Wine Margaret Pooley Tribute Riesling 2010. It’s no secret that Tasmania makes good riesling, but in the bigger shows the bigger company wines tend to dominate – and that generally means Clare or Eden Valley.

For the most part, though, Winewise trophy winners reflect well-known regional specialties – cabernet and bends and semillon-sauvignon blanc blends from Margaret River, semillon from the Hunter Valley, sticky from Riverina, liqueur muscat from Rutherglen, pinot noir from Tasmania and sparkling wine from the Adelaide Hills.

But by the nature of the show they’re not household names – in some cases they’re names not familiar even to wine enthusiasts. Heard of Hutton Margaret River, Warner Glen Estate Margaret River, Barringwood Park Tasmania or Sandhurst Ridge Bendigo? They’re all among the trophy winners.

And how often would a saperavi (Russian red variety) win a trophy – or a blend of tempranillo, shiraz and sangiovese. Hugh Hamilton won the “best other red variety” trophy for The Oddball McLaren Vale Saperavi 2009; and Canberra’s Mount Majura won the “best other red blend” trophy for its delicious Tempranillo Shiraz Graciano 2010.

If a Bendigo wine won the shiraz trophy (Harcourt Valley Vineyards Barbara’s Shiraz 2009), the warmer Barossa valley retained its honour, too. Sons of Eden winery won the trophy as most successful exhibitor, winning gold medals for its Kennedy Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2009, Zephyrus Shiraz 2009, Remus Shiraz 2008 and Romulus Shiraz 2008. Now that’s a powerful performance – no trophy for any individual wine but a powerhouse performance.

As we scroll to the individual wine classes, we see just 13 rieslings from the 2011 vintage made it to the show. Ken Helm topped the class with a silver medal for his Classic Dry. It’s young and acidic now, but I’ll predict gold medals ahead as the fruit sticks its head through the acidity over the next few months. Mount Majura won bronze. But in the way of show judging, in the 2010 vintage class, Helm Premium Riesling, a darling of last year’s shows, missed out altogether.

Among the chardonnays, Bourke Street 2010 (a budget brand, made by Canberra’s Nick O’Leary and Alex McKay) won a silver medal. But a couple of other beautiful Canberra wines missed the medal cut – Mount Majura 2010 and Lark Hill 2009.

However, neighbouring cooler growing regions, Orange and Tumbarumba, won gold medals for Philip Shaw No 11 2009 and Hungerford Hill 2009 respectively.

Pinot gris and verdelho failed to excite the judges. The best either of those varieties could muster was silver. However, two viogniers earned gold – Baillieu Mornington Peninsula 2010 and Topper’s Mountain New England Wild Ferment 2010.

In the “other single white varieties” class, Tscharke Girl Talk Savagnin 2011 (thought to be albarino when planted) earned the top gold medal with Alex McKay’s Collector Lamp Lit Marsanne 2010 just half a point behind winning the other gold medal in the class.

Several pinot noirs won gold medals – Seville Estate Yarra Valley 2010, Paringa Estate The Paringa Mornington Peninsula 2010, Cannibal Creek Gippsland 2010, Paringa Estate Mornington Peninsula 2009, Freycinet Tasmania 2009, Laurel Bank Tasmania 2009 and Barringwood Park Mill Block Tasmania 2008 (the trophy winner).

Many regions, warm and cool, won gold for shiraz – Barossa, Langhorne Creek, the Adelaide Hills, the Hunter Valley, Hilltops, Canberra District, Bathurst, Orange, Geelong, Mornington Peninsula, Heathcote, Bendigo, Pyrenees, Margaret River and Geographe.

Included in shiraz’s show-stopping performance were three Canberra District wines, Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2009 (the district’s top scorer), Bourke Street 2009 and Lerida Lake George Shiraz Viognier 2009. The district’s gold medal parade may have been long had some of our other makers entered the shiraz classes – Clonakilla, Collector, Nick O’Leary and Capital Wines. Next year, maybe?

Cabernet sauvignon, Australia’s next biggest red variety after shiraz, also fared well but not so universally as shiraz. The gold medal winning districts were: Coonawarra, Mudgee, Strathbogie Ranges, Pyrenees, Margaret River (the star, with five golds), and the Swan Valley (perhaps – the region of Heafod Glen 2009 isn’t given, but the winery address is Swan Valley).

It was disappointing to see Mount Majura Tempranillo 2010 miss out on a medal. But having tasted this wine very carefully over several days I predict better ratings in future. It’s a very, very good wine.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
First published 10 August 2011 in The Canberra Times