Shiraz, riesling and Tumbarumba chardonnay excite at Canberra 2013 show

Shiraz and riesling once again seized the glory at this year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show, judged at the showground in late September. Judges tweeted and emailed as they worked, revealing the flavour of the event, if not specific details, days before show organisers unveiled the official results.

The show – judged by Mike Bennie, Matt Skinner and local winemaker Nick O’Leary – received 233 entries, up 25 per cent on 2012. The show accepts entries from the Canberra District and surrounds, Southern Highlands, Shoalhaven Coast, Tumbarumba and southern NSW.

The one questionable aspect of the show this year, was a decision to include a local winemaker on the judging panel. In doing so, the new organising committee, led by Andrew Price, reintroduced a potential conflict of interest, whether perceived or real.

Price managed this, he says, by barring the judge, Nick O’Leary, from entering his own wines in the show. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the show?

The show exists to benchmark and promote local wine. So how could it be beneficial to bar one of its brightest and best winemakers from entering? Surely it would be better for the public, the show and local winemakers to bring in an another outside judge – there are dozens available – and encourage O’Leary to throw his wines in the ring?

The 2012 vintage shirazes and 2013 vintage rieslings, in particular, excited the judges. Matt Skinner, for example, emailed, “Just judged riesling 13 – possibly the best bracket of riesling I’ve ever had the pleasure of judging”.

Judges Mike Bennie and Nick O’Leary shared Skinner’s thrill. The panel of three elected Ravensworth Murrumbateman Riesling 2013 as champion wine of the show – putting a riesling in the top spot for just the third time in 17 shows.

With the exception of 1999, when no champion’s trophy was awarded, shiraz monopolised the top spot from 1998 until 2009, when Helm Premium Riesling 2008 triumphed. Even then the judges, couldn’t quite make the break from shiraz, awarding the trophy jointly to Helm’s riesling and Eden Road The Long Road Hilltops Shiraz 2008.

Shiraz reclaimed the trophy in 2010 and 2011. But in 2012, Half Moon Braidwood Riesling 2010 won in its own right, paving the way for this year’s winner, Ravensworth.

The early dominance of shiraz in the show, and recent strong contention from riesling, parallels the emergence of the two varieties as our district specialties. Shiraz succeeded first in the hands of a few producers, notably Clonakilla, before settling as the standout red variety across Canberra and surrounding regions. Riesling’s acknowledgment lagged shiraz’s by perhaps a decade.

As a judge at the regional show during those transitional years, I recall the mounting riesling challenge. After several close calls, it could no longer be denied by 2009.

There’s now an expectation among judges for our rieslings and shirazes to rise to the top, as they did again this year. And a closer look at the results shows a widening diversity of styles – and, for shiraz in particular, success across a considerable geographic spread within the southern NSW slopes of the Great Divide.

But shiraz and riesling face a future potential champion in chardonnay from Tumbarumba. Though not quite in contention for the top gong yet, chardonnays from this high, cool region to Canberra’s south, completely dominated the variety’s awards.

The judges awarded five gold, nine silver and five bronze medals in a field of 24 chardonnays from the 2012 vintage. Tumbarumba won all of the medals bar one of the silvers and one of the bronzes. An amazing three quarters of wines in the class won either gold or silver medals.

Chardonnay gold medal winners
Echelon Tumbarumba Armchair 2012
Hungerford Hill Hh Classic Tumbarumba 2012
Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Tumbarumba 2012 (Top chardonnay)
Moppity Vineyards Tumbarumba 2012
Barwang Estate 842 Tumbarumba 2012

While much is made of Canberra shiraz, the biggest grouping of shiraz in the show – 22 wines from the 2012 vintage – demonstrated high quality across a much larger area. The top wine in the class (and ultimate best shiraz of the show) came from Jason Brown’s Moppity Vineyards in the Hilltops region, around Young.

Hilltops shirazes took three of the seven gold medals, Canberra won three and the other went to Tumblong Estates, Gundagai. Canberra won two of the silver medals and Hilltops one, while the fourth went to a Gundagai–Canberra blend. Canberra won five of the seven bronze medals, while Hilltops and Gundagai won one each.

A class of 16 shirazes from 2011 and earlier vintages produced 13 medals – three gold, five silver and five bronze. Canberra wines claimed all of the golds and all of the bronzes. But the silvers went one each to Canberra and Tumbarumba and three to Hilltops.

Chair of judges, Mike Bennie, said no other wine show he’s judged at shows such a concentration of high quality producers. The shiraz classes, he said, revealed an amazing diversity of medium bodied savoury styles.

Shiraz and shiraz–viognier gold medal winners
Gallagher Canberra District 2012
Ravensworth Canberra District 2012
Barwang Estate Hilltops 2012
Tumblong Estates Gundagai Domain Paulownia 2012
Moppity Vineyards Hilltops 2012 (Top 2012 shiraz)
Mount Majura Canberra District 2012
Grove Estate Hilltops 2012
Mount Majura Canberra District 2011 (Top Canberra shiraz)
Pialligo Estate Canberra District 2007
Quarry Hill Canberra District 2009
Ravensworth Canberra District 2007 (Top museum red)

Riesling sparked even more excitement than shiraz, albeit with a much tighter focus on Canberra than outlying regions. Judge Matt Skinner called it the best line up of riesling he’d ever tasted. Collectively, the judges described the class of 25 rieslings from the 2013 vintage as “an extraordinary class of glorious rieslings – a true benchmark nationally and beyond”.

Thirty-three dry rieslings won seven gold, seven silver and 14 bronze medals – a medal strike rate of 85 per cent. Wines from the Canberra District took six of the seven golds, four of the seven silver medals and eight (perhaps nine) of the bronzes.

The Southern Highlands earned one gold and one silver. Braidwood and Hilltops took one silver each and bronze medals went also to wines from Lake Bathurst, Braidwood and Hilltops.

Riesling gold medal winners
Mount Majura Canberra District 2013
Dionysus Canberra District 2013
Clonakilla Canberra District 2013
Helm Canberra District Classic Dry 2013
Ravensworth Canberra District 2013
McKellar Ridge Canberra District 2013
Tertini Wines Southern Highlands 2012

Sauvignon blanc disappointed overall, though Pankhurst Wines, Murrumbateman, won a gold medal for 2013 sauvignon blanc semillon blend.

Canberra has its cabernet true believers, but yet again in 2013 the variety fared poorly. Judges awarded just one silver medal and seven bronzes to the 26 wines exhibited. However, Mount Majura Dinny’s Block 2012, hidden in the “other varieties and/or blends” class won a gold medal. This blend of cabernet franc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon may point the way for cabernet-related varieties in the district.

Pinot noir also performed poorly. The judges awarded seven medals (six bronze, one silver) to 16 wines – all except one to wines from Tumbarumba. However, the judges see potential in Tumbarumba pinot, commenting, “the best examples show complexity, savouriness and textural intrigue. A work in progress to find best sites”.

In the white classes for “other varieties and/or blends”, Coolangatta Estate, Nowra, won gold medals for its 2005 and 2006 vintage semillons – perennial winners at this show. And Clonakilla won gold for its 2012 Viognier.

Awarding five medals (four bronze and one silver), judges described a field of eight sparkling wines as “a curious class”. Judge Mike Bennie wondered why there were not more wines entered from Tumbarumba – an accomplished region for this style.

See the full catalogue of results.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 9 October 2013 in the Canberra Times and