In late 2009, in the back of a taxi headed for the Macedon wine show, Winewise magazine’s Lester Jesberg outlined his ambitions for a grand final of Australian wine judging events.
Jesberg’s idea was to hold a “best of the best” competition, inviting only gold medallists from Australia’s national shows, selected regional wine shows and special events, including his own Winewise Small Vignerons Awards. Then, recognising that many of our best producers avoid wine shows altogether, Winewise extended the invitation to successful wines from in its own regular masked tastings – conducted to wine show standards.
Winewise conducted its first championship in 2010 and this year hosted its fifth event. Stewards and judges gathered between 26 and 28 February in the Black Opal Room, overlooking Canberra racecourse.
A broad church gathered on the judging benches for the final day, Friday 28 February: one winemaker (Fran Austin), one retail executive (Peter Nixon), one ex-lawyer (James Halliday), one ex-statistician (Lester Jesberg) and one ex-jockey (Deb Pearce, distracted, momentarily, by the horses training below).
The judges brought decades of experience to the tasting. And on previous days, the panel had included Winewise’s David Yeates and Lex Howard, and Canberra winemakers, Nick Spencer and Nick O’Leary.
Over three days the panel judged 480 wines (up from 298 last year), “in small groups of no more than seven [wines], and ranked in order of preference”, says Jesberg. He attributed the surge in entries to better targeting of qualified wines, good recent vintages, greater producer awareness and “the Halliday factor” – a salute to James Halliday’s unequal standing in the industry.
The wines were judged by variety and sorted by style, and in single-region groups wherever three or more wines turned up from a region.
Jesberg says a simple tally of judges’ scores decided the winner for each class, with the rider that a wine couldn’t win without a first-place ranking from one of the judges. He said the panels tended to become polarise over the more interesting wines.
The competition, he says, brought together wineries of all sizes, from the tiniest to the largest – an assertion borne out in winners list.
James Halliday commented, “there’s no other wine show like it. You see an amazing spread of big to small makers. It’s not elitist, and you see an amazing cross section of wines”.
He favoured the event’s finely articulated separation of wines into regional classes, representation from all parts of Australia and the inclusion of so many harmonious reds from warm regions, unmarred by over extraction of tannins or excessive alcohol. “There were so many lovely wines with little separating them”, he said.
He admitted the judging format allowed little time for discussion; but on the other hand, doing so wouldn’t be practicable with the number of wines.
In a subsequent email accompanying the list of top wines, Jesberg wrote, “Pinot noir and shiraz wines showing stems characteristics together with good supporting fruit were rated highly. Stemmy wines with under-ripe characteristics such as white pepper and green tannins were not.
“Similarly, overtly ‘funky’ chardonnays, i.e. those showing strong sulphidic elements derived from lees and solids, only scored well if they had the fruit to carry the complexity.
“The cabernet sauvignons were generally too dense and tannic. Somewhat surprisingly a McLaren Vale wine triumphed over some highly regarded Coonawarras and Margaret Rivers.
“The win of the 2012 Wicks Estate Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir ($20.00 at the on-line cellar door) may surprise many, but it received two first place votes (Halliday’s and mine) and two second place votes from five judges. I recently suggested it was the best Australian pinot noir for $20.00 or less in a Twitter poll with other wine journalists”.
Although no Canberra wines made the final cut, Jesberg single out the following wines, saying, “these lived up to their gold-medal qualifications”:
2013 Mount Majura Riesling, 2012 Mount Majura Shiraz, 2013 Ravensworth Riesling, 2009 Quarry Hill Shiraz and 2008 McKellar Ridge Shiraz
The final list includes many reasonably priced wines, including the Wicks Estate pinot noir mentioned by Jesberg and the humble 2002 Jacob’s Creek riesling – amazingly for a wine of this price ($8.55–$12) still drinking beautifully after 12 years in bottle.
Indeed, it’s worth mentioning that Pernod-Ricard Australia seized all the riesling spots – a very reliable guide for riesling lovers.
The comments in the list of winners are Lester Jesberg’s.
TOP WHITE WINES
2008 Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling
2002 Jacob’s Creek Riesling
2013 Orlando St Helga Eden Valley Riesling
2007 McGuigan Wines Bin 9000 Hunter Semillon
2006 Coolangatta Estate Semillon
2010 First Creek Wines Winemakers Reserve Hunter Semillon
2013 Jarretts Orange Sauvignon Blanc
2013 Sidewood Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc
2013 Sidewood Adelaide Sauvignon Blanc Cellar Select
Sauvignon blanc blends
2013 Next of Kin Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (Xanadu)
2012 Xanadu Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
2012 Warner Glen Estate Margaret River PBF Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
2011 Coldstream Hills Reserve Yarra Valley Chardonnay
2012 Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay
2011 Xanadu Stevens Road Margaret River Chardonnay
Note: James Halliday did not rank the Coldstream Hills Chardonnay first.
2012 Pepper Tree Wines Limited Release Wrattonbully Viognier
2013 Heafod Glen Swan Valley Viognier
Note: Disappointingly, only five viogniers were eligible and only two of those were entered. Next year viognier will be part of the Other Dry Whites class.
Other dry white
2013 Bleasdale Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris
2013 Rutherglen Estates Arneis
2013 Coriole Fiano
2010 Blue Pyrenees Cellar Door Series Botrytis Riesling
2011 Gramps Botrytis Semillon
2010 Pressing Matters R69 Riesling
2001 Courabyra 805 Tumbarumba Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier
2009 Salinger Vintage Cuvée
2011 Coombe Farm Nellie Melba Blanc de Blancs
TOP RED WINES
2012 Wicks Estate Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir
2012 Montalto Teurong Block Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir
2012 Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir
2011 Thomas Wines Elenay Hunter Valley Shiraz
2011 Mandoon Estate Frankland River Reserve Shiraz
2012 Shaw and Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz
2012 Shingleback The Davey Estate McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon
2012 De Bortoli Estate Grown Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2012 Pepperjack Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon
Italian red varietals
2012 Coriole McLaren Vale Barbera
2012 Waywood Wines McLaren Vale Montepulciano
2012 Kirrihill Clare Valley Sangiovese
Spanish red varietals
2013 Moonrise Estate Tempranillo (Granite Belt, Qld)
2012 Bremerton Wines Special Release Graciano
2012 Eaglerange Estate 3 Daughters Limited Release Tempranillo
Other red varietals
2012 Dutschke 80 Block Barossa Merlot
2012 Shingleback Kitchen Garden McLaren Vale Mataro
2011 Silverstream Wines Reserve Cabernet Franc
2012 Clairault Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
2011 Rosemount District Traditional Red
2011 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec Petit Verdot
Australian classic blend
2012 Bleasdale Petrel Reserve (Langhorne Creek)
2012 Anvers Wines Razorback Road Adelaide Hills Shiraz Cabernet
2012 Longview Vineyard Adelaide Hills Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon
Grenache and blends
2011 Rosemount GSM
2012 Shingleback Red Knot Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre
2012 Rosemount GSM
Other red blends
2012 Maximus McLaren Vale Tempranillo and Garnacha
2012 Mockingbird Hill Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec
2012 Rosemount Nursery Project GMG
Penfolds Great Grandfather Rare Tawny
Saltram Show Reserve Rare Tawny
Saltram Mr Pickwick Rare Tawny
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 12 March 2014 in the Canberra Times