I have always thought that Tasmania is one of Australia’s most exciting cool-climate wine regions, but it is a long time since my last visit (1994 – cannot believe it!), so I was intrigued to receive the following advance notice of medal-winners and class-by-class judges comments from the latest show. At the time of writing these results are not even on the competition’s own site, so it’s not just a UK scoop, but a world scoop!
Furthermore, the following list not only includes the medal-winners, but also the medal-losers, so you can see the underperformers – and you won’t get that on the competition site, even when the results go up. Another scoop for wine-pages.com.
What caught my eye first was, of course, the sparkling wine results, not simply because this is my specialist subject, but because it’s not over-blessed with gold medals. Just one, in fact, and Jansz is one of the underperformers: no medals for either the 1995 or 1997 vintages. However, these disappointments are understandable, even predictable, for three reasons: firstly, it is fair to say that the Aussies are still getting to grips with the viticultural side of things when it comes to a climate as cool as Tasmania’s (most of its vineyards are on the same latitude as Marlborough on New Zealand’s South Island, some are even further south). Secondly, Tasmania is cut-off from the rest of Australia, and many wineries lack the expertise that is readily available on the mainland. This results in a lack of sophistication in the winery, which can be great in the odd, outstanding example, but can lead to a certain rustic quality. Thirdly, even the biggest wineries and most experienced winemakers have not been directly involved in Tasmanian winemaking that long … which brings me back to Jansz. Formerly owned by Roederer, Jansz was taken over by Samuel Smith & Sons of Yalumba fame in 1998.
There is no doubt that Yalumba has the skill and determination to make Jansz an icon amongst New World sparkling wines, but the first vintage they can put their hands up to is 1999, and we should not expect too much, too quickly. In five years time, when the first releases of Jansz from the new millennium appear, Tasmania should start to show its true sparkling wine potential. That will be the locomotive to drive other, smaller fizz producers to higher and finer things. So watch this space in 10 years!
I was not a judge at this show, so it would be foolish to try to summarise the rest of these results. However, I will finish by making a comment about the Riesling class, and it has consequences for judging Riesling at other Australian competitions. Depending on the volume of entries, the trend is to judge the most recent vintage and, possibly, the previous vintage as classes on their own. Older vintages are lumped together. There is also an unwritten law amongst judges to mark-up “lime” and mark-down any so-called “petrol” aromas (the active compound for which is probably TDN – trimethyldihydronaphthalene). This jars with many wine drinkers in northern climes, who enjoy the petrolly bottle-aroma of a fine, mature Riesling, especially as the wine ages, developing honeyed richness. The problem is, I suspect, that too many Australian Rieslings develop far too rapidly from a simplistic lime-fruit, to an overwhelming petrolly character. This is not good, hence petrol aromas have acquired a negative connotation. But as Australia makes finer and finer Riesling, so we must hope that more and more will have the ability to develop wonderful nuances of petrol over longer periods.
To keep an eye open for this requires not only examining each new vintage in detail, but also encouraging producers to enter Riesling into a “5-years and older” class. Currently there are the odd one or two such wines that are entered, but they are disadvantaged by being in the company of relatively young wines. Most producers who do have small stocks of fabulous mature Rieslings do not enter them, for fear of having them marked down for their petrolly aromas. The judges need to remedy the situation.