Judging at the Tasmanian Wine Show

Tas Mania

mapThe last time I judged wines here was 2008, so I was looking forward to tasting 530 wines at the 2012 Tasmanian Wine Show (nearly 100 up on previous years). I’m mad about Tasmanian wine: totally Tasmanian mad. Can’t get enough of the stuff, and the Tasmanian Wine Show provides its privileged judges with a unique snapshot of the current quality and progress of the wine styles and varieties available.

There are many truly fine wines produced throughout Australia, but Tasmania specialises in sparkling wine, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which puts the mania in Tas for me. I experienced a couple of days at 31ºC on my recent trip. This was over three weeks of summer, when such temperatures are considered to be extreme and just as much a rarity on this verdant isle as they are back in Blighty. Furthermore, those hot and sunny days were dry, not humid, and interspersed with some really chilly days plus a few days of rain, as well as some brisk sunny days. So yes, I feel very much at home in Tasmania. And as local wine veteran Andrew Hood likes to say: there are other cool-climate wine regions in Australia, but Tasmania is the country’s only 100% cool-climate state.

As you can tell, I enjoy myself at this particular wine competition. So much so that the very least I can do is provide Tasmanian producers with some feedback. This is, therefore, as much a report for them as it is an overview of Tasmanian wines for the readers of wine-pages.

The judges

James HallidayAs ever, the tireless James Halliday (left) was the working chairman of the show. Regular readers will know James as Australia’s most prolific wine writer, but to put his achievements into context, let me reveal that at the age of 74, James took part in this year’s competition against doctor’s orders, with one side of his body strapped-up so stiffly that he required a mechanical device to put on his own socks! However, there is nothing infirm about his palate as he demonstrated in the competition, or his mind, having dashed off an article on the flight over. He can still make people jump too as I discovered when he told me his bag had been lost and then proceeded to ear-bash every executive at Quantas on his mobile over dinner. Having been there, done that a few times, I did not give James much chance of seeing his bag before he returned home, so to say that I was surprised when it turned up would be an understatement. How quickly? Before dinner had finished and delivered straight to the restaurant. The man makes me feel ashamed, inadequate and lazy.

The other judge was Tim James, one of the nicest guys in the world of wine and after a career that culminated as a senior winemaker at Hardy’s, he is now co-owner of the specialist Pinot Noir and Chardonnay label Dawson & James (Tim had booked his flight tickets prior to the record number of entries being known and the judging extended into a fourth day. As Tim had prior commitments, Peter Dredge, the new winemaker at the Bay of Fires winery was dragooned for the final day of judging, which included retasting the Top Golds to award the Trophies).

Humanity verses the robots

All judges scored a few wines as gold that ended up as silver, bronze or even unmedalled, but that is par for the course in wine judging. In Australia, things are done the Anglo-Saxon way, and the Australians have been doing that on a professional basis longer than anyone else. European competitions beyond the shores of the UK are invariably conducted according to OIV or similar rules, which not only imposes a ridiculous scoring system, but also treats the judges like robots; the wine goes in, the sore comes out, and there is no discussion. In Australia each judge scores privately, then all the scores are added up, and the wine either receives the medal its total score demands or, if the individual scores are divergent, the wine is discussed.

A lone judge scoring significantly higher or lower will usually concede upon discussion, however there are times when a solitary judge detects something the others might have overlooked. If the other judges have more experience than ego, they can be persuaded to retaste and on occasions alter their scores appropriately. Either way, any competition run under such a system ends up awarding medals by agreement of all judges, something that does not happen under OIV rules. We all had a few wines that we would personally have preferred to have medalled higher than they actually did, but no method of wine judging is perfect and the Australian system (as used to one degree or another for the Decanter World Wine Awards and a number of other competitions) is by far the fairest in my experience. There are a small number of wines that should have done better in my view, indicated in my class-by-class analysis below.

For all UK stockists of Tasmanian wine see wine-searcher.com.

The results, class by class

Class 1: Vintage sparkling wine produced by méthode champenoise

The House of Arras E J Carr Late Disgorged 2000 won Top Gold in this class and went on to pick up the Sparkling Wine Trophy. This decision was the only serious disagreement I had with James. Not that this isn’t a great sparkling wine. It is and I love it, but it is very much the best that Tasmania used to do, and I wanted to reward the best that Tasmania does now. Despite the increasing number of exciting wines being produced, Tasmania is essentially an emerging wine region and the best are yet to come, so I think that judges have a duty to highlight wines that are heading in the right direction. Ed Carr is one of the greatest sparkling wine producers in the world (it would be fascinating to see what he might produce in Champagne, if given the freedom to blend whatever he liked), but does he know better now than he did in 2000? Of course he does. That was why, with only one sparkling wine trophy, I thought it was wrong to choose the past, however fabulous it might have been.

Personally I would have chosen Coal Valley Vineyards Sparkling Pinot Noir 2009, which is a blanc de noirs with the sort of classic lean structure that all sparkling wines around the world should be aiming for, with fine acids and a long, delicate finish supported by the loveliest mousse of silky-soft minuscule bubbles anyone could hope for. This is a serious sparkling wine of outstanding finesse. Mind you, the Lake Barrington Vineyard Alexandra 2008 would have given it a run for its money in terms of mousse, acid and finesse, the three most important qualities to get right in any potentially great sparkling wine region. And watch out for Apogee, Andrew Pirie’s new single-vineyard sparkling wine. I tasted the fist two vintages with only 12 months and 3 months on yeast, and was duly impressed.

Neither James nor I was wrong: it was the singularity of the sparkling wine trophy that was at fault. There are three Pinot Noir Trophies: why not three sparkling wine trophies? Particularly if Tasmania believes it is somewhere special for this style … which it definitely is. At this juncture in Tasmania’s emergence as a sparkling wine force, it is the industry’s own interest to recognise Non-vintage, Vintage and Late Disgorged Mature Vintage with trophies of their own.

Other gold medal winners:
Josef Chromy Vintage Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2008
Jansz Late Disgorged Cuvée 2003
Clover Hill Blanc de Blancs LD 2001

Class 2: Non-vintage sparkling wine

The only gold in this class was for Relbia Estate Sparkling, although we were swamped with high quality silver, two of which I would have happily awarded gold (Stefano Lubiana Brut Reserve and Jansz Tasmania Premium Non-Vintage Rosé Brut). The performance of Jansz Tasmania Premium Non-Vintage Cuvée Brut was edifying, to say the least.

janszI had tasted a number of vintage and non-vintage Jansz cuvées only a couple of days before and was so impressed by the pale-coloured non-vintage brut, especially for its silky-smooth mousse and classically lean, crisp fruit, that I told Natalie Fryar, the winemaker, it was “clearly gold medal material”. Imagine my consternation, therefore, when I got the crib sheet after the wine show and saw it had got a bronze. I scrambled through my competition tasting notes to see what my impression was and to cherry pick the negative comment I had noted its “relatively deep colour … fruit too heavy … lacked finesse”. As this was not just different, but virtually the opposite of the wine I had tasted with Natalie, I asked her to see if there was any difference between the two bottles, a different blend perhaps, or a different disgorgement. Maybe an old disgorgement had been inadvertently entered into the competition? But no, there was no difference, apart from the cork, of course. There was no TCA taint, not even a hint of scalping, so the cork must have been good, just a different permeability. The AWRI have recorded differences exceeding one thousand fold in the oxygen ingress of otherwise perfectly healthy corks (due to exchange of gasses, oxygen will enter a bottle against the pressure of CO2 in a sparkling wine). Without knowing that it was Jansz in the competition, there was no way of realising there was anything different and without any taint or scalping, there was nothing to suggest it was faulty or anything other than the wine it was supposed to be. It just shows what damage a perfectly healthy cork can do! And it is a reminder that we really must develop an alternative closure for high quality sparkling wines.

It is interesting to see that the percentage of non-vintage sparkling wines medalled was as high as 69%, while the percentage of vintage medalled was just 46%. The is the reverse of what the results would be in Champagne, but far from worrying me, it encourages me because non-vintage should be consistent, while vintage should go out on a limb, with more highs, lows, and less middle ground. So while there were significantly less vintage sparkling wine picking up gongs, by going out on a limb they have garnered, proportionally, three times as many gold medals as the non-vintage. However, it is the solid-silver middle ground of the non-vintage cuvées that impressed me most because getting the non-vintage cash-cow right provides producers with the steady income required to push the sparkling wine envelope all round, should they wish to do so.

What next for Tasmanian sparkling wine? This island has great sparkling wine terroir, but sparkling wine is the most technical, most man-made of wines and all that separates the bronze medalled and non-medalled sparkling wine producers from Tasmania’s top performers is specialist knowledge and experience (or a perfectly healthy rogue cork!). Now is the time for those producers in need to club together and hire the services of not just any consultant, but a world class sparkling wine consultant. These guys are like gold dust. There are less than a handful of them, but one of the very best lives relatively close by, Tony Jordan, and he knows Tasmania well. If I were a sparkling wine producer in Tasmania and I wanted to be fast tracked to gold medal potential, I would be on the phone to Tony Jordan in a flash. He would tweak the production process for an immediate improvement, making recommendations from the vineyard up for anyone serious about a style of wine that is so well suited to Tasmania’s climate.

Other Silver medal winners:
Pirie Sparkling
Pages Creek Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir
Bay of Fires Cuvée Rosé

Class 3: Riesling – 2011 vintage (dry)

Tasting the most recent crop of Tasmania’s dry Riesling is always fascinating and the 2011s were no exception. The greatest Tasmanian Rieslings are not as full-bodied as the best Rieslings from Clare or Eden valleys, but they are at least as intense and just as long, with great finesse, which with this islands electric acidity places them closer to the Mosel than Rheingau in German terms. Even at the everyday drinking end of the range, Tasmania’s Rieslings have more zesty complexity than the simplistic lime-juice of budget Rieslings produced in other Australian regions. The Top Gold was Heemskerk Wines, a very rich, lemon-zesty wine with full-throttle acidity. A couple of bronzes I thought deserved silver medals were the Puddleduck Vineyard (very fresh, with a lean, linear intensity of fruit) and Morningside (a delicious Riesling marked down by others for its forward style, which at this level of quality I would turn into a positive by enjoying it until other 2011s are starting to drink well).

Other gold medal winners:
Bay of Fires
Laurel Bank
The Wine Society Kettle Lane

Class 4: Riesling – 2010 vintage

This is the vintage most commonly available on the shelf, so the wines are or should be ready to drink, although as all Riesling aficionados will appreciate, Riesling repays more with bottle-age than any other white wine grape. Top Gold went to the pure, focused and racy Pressing Matters R9 (the 9 in R9 stands for 9gm/l residual sugar), with the beautifully soft and floral Velo Wines taking the only other gold in the class. There were, however, six excellent silvers, amongst which Derwent Estate was my favourite and I would classify Heemskerk, Pure South Wines The Barracks “Madeleine” and Three Wishes all as high-end silvers. This was a very strong class indeed and I must stand up for The Wine Society Tasmanian Riesling, which received a bronze, but if the Morningside 2011 was marked down for its forward character by the other judges, they really stuck the boot in this one. It is technically correct to criticise The Wine Society Tasmanian Riesling for having too much petrol aroma for its age, but it is equally correct to say that the petrol aroma is complex, not simple, which most rapidly developed petrol aromas in mainland Australian Riesling are. It is also extremely attractive, with plenty of finesse and an exquisite balance between fruit and acidity. I would not be drinking any of the golds or silvers in this class for at least a couple of years, but in the meantime I don’t know how many cases of this stuff I would get through, waiting for the others to catch up. If I happened to live in Tasmania, that is.

Other silver medal winners:
Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard
Goaty Hill

Class 5: Riesling – 2009 vintage and older

This is the dream class at the Tasmanian Wine Show and it was another vintage of Pressing Matters R0 that walked away with the Top Gold, the 2009. The fact that the Top Gold could go to the youngest vintage in an older Riesling class is something of a feat, as the additional bottle-age of older wines is a huge advantage. My favourite of the other golds was Devil’s Corner 2009 and my favourite silver was the absolutely stunning Pressing Matters R9 2009 (9 grams residual sugar), which I had scored as a gold for its Mosel-like honeyed-petrol complexity. I would also have given a gold to the mesmerising delicacy of the bronze-medalled Observatory Hill Vintner’s Reserve 2008.

Other gold medal winners:
Waterton 2009
Pooley Coal River 2008
572 Richmond Road 2005

Class 6: Gewürztraminer – 2011 vintage and older

This grape variety is notoriously difficult to perfect outside of Alsace and isolated parts of Germany and Austria or, as James Halliday puts it, it is “ever the elusive bridesmaid”. It is not so much the soil; in Alsace it grows extremely well on a variety of soils, including sandy, calcareous, clay and granite soils or a combination thereof. Gewürztraminer likes good exposure and should not be picked until it has assumed it’s light-purple bloom, which signifies a sufficient number of the correct type of spice-laden terpenes are present in their unbound form. This is the starting point in determining whether this variety is right for any specific location because if this bloom is not present between 14 and 15% potential alcohol by volume, the structure, balance and aromatics will be wrong. If the bloom appears earlier, the wine will not have a classic Gewürztraminer structure (which should not be oily, as such, but should definitely be heading in that direction). Furthermore, its acidity will be too high and pH too low, a combination that, even with plenty of unbound spicy terpenes, will give an undesirable “nervy” character to the aroma with spikes of spice, rather than a mellifluous flow. If the bloom appears above 15% it will not be possible to produce a dry style, which is the Holy Grail for Gewürztraminer fanatics.

craigowEven when everything works, the problem will be the winemaker, who will worry about the phenolics, high pH, and low acidity in a white wine, but adjusting this will only make the aromatics so “nervy” that they might as well have grown Traminette. The low acidity in classic Gewürztraminer is nothing to worry about because with all the other correct biochemical parameters and time in bottle the spice, alcohol and phenolics from prefermentation soak will substitute the role of the acidity on the palate, giving the wine a length that other non-aromatic, low acid wines will never achieve. Of the seven wines entered, only three were medalled and they were all bronzes, which does not sound very encouraging, but is probably above average globally.

Interestingly, one of the bronzes, Craigow, was the source of Gewürztraminer grapes used by Julian Alcorso for an experimental Gewürztraminer I tasted on this trip at Winemaking Tasmania. For a wine that will “never see the inside of a label”, as Julian puts it, it was one of the best Gewürztraminers I have tasted outside of Alsace, with full and expressive spice-laden aromatics emerging on the nose, classic Gewürztraminer structure, and genuinely dry (or at least tasted genuinely dry), with a clever combination of alcohol and phenolics starting to pave the way for the spicy finish that will build in bottle. Not great Gewürztraminer, but a great leap for this variety.

Julian’s contract winemaking company produces wines for many of this island’s boutique wineries, including Craigow and, one of the other two bronze medalled wines, Milton. My advice to the owners of both of these properties is to let Julian go the whole hog with their Gewürztraminer for at least 20 per cent of their production, to label it “Classic Dry Gewürztraminer” and sell it for at least a 20 per cent margin over the regular Gewürztraminer. This is the only way they will attract those Gewürztraminer drinkers who are serious enough to pay double that or more for imported Alsace Gewurztraminer.

The aim should be to increase the volume of classic Gewürztraminer. By producing Gewürztraminer with a touch of sugar in the wines they are not attracting any true Gewürztraminer drinkers at all, only drinkers with a slightly sweet tooth. The third bronze, Abel’s Tempest, was infinitely better than the four wines that did not receive a medal, but the residual gas is a big no-no for Gewürztraminer. I can only assume this was done to give a tactile enhancement to the acidity without actually increasing it, which totally defies the objective.

Class 7: Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio – 2011 vintage and older

Tasmania is starting to segregate the light, fresh Pinot Grigio style, from the fuller, more intense and more alcoholic structure of Pinot Gris, although it does not always get these descriptors right. Our Top Gold, the Bay of Fires Pinot Gris 2011, is accurately labelled, not only for its classic structure and texture, but also for the potential spice that promises to build in the bottle. The Ghost Rock “Ol’ Man’s Ghost” Pinot Gris 2011, our only other gold in this class, is misleading because it is definitely Pinot Grigio style. There was some discussion whether it should get a gold because of its Pinot Gris descriptor, but it was decided, wisely I think, not to punish the wine for what’s written on the label because if taken to be Pinot Grigio style, it is hard to imagine how it could be any better. On the basis, therefore, of what more must a wine do to deserve a gold medal, it was clearly a winner, despite the misnomer. To get this varietal right from a classic perspective requires everything indicated above for Gewürztraminer, with the exception of low acidity. This is because there are less (but not non-existent), spicy terpenes in the bloom of Pinot Gris grapes, thus the acidity has a less “nervy” effect on its typically dry barley sugar fruit, rendering more of a smoky-honeyed twist, with just an echo of spice. Sometimes I wonder whether the most spicy Pinot Gris in Alsace have been pressed immediately after the Gewürztraminer! This is why I often suggest to Pinot Gris producers, who lack even the barest hint of spice, to try blending 5-8 per cent Gewürztraminer, which is totally legal almost everywhere outside of the strictly regulated Alsace region.

Class 8: Sauvignon blanc – non-oaked – 2011 vintage and older

At the Royal Hobart Wine Show in 2006, I was bowled over by the Tigress Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from Bay of Fires, but from the experience of this tasting, that wine was not the cusp of Tasmania’s Sauvignon Blanc achieving a new level of quality. Of 33 wines tasted, all 2011s, only seven were medalled and, of those, only one achieved a silver, the rest collecting bronze. The Bream Creek that won silver was, however, very good, with very fresh aromatics and plenty of crisp fruit on mid-palate. The typical problems here were under-ripeness and bell pepper or broad bean aromas, sometimes even asparagus or canned peas. Some wines were little more than acid and water, while a good number were so disgusting that it was not possible to keep them in the mouth to analyse what might be wrong!

Class 9: Sauvignon blanc – oaked – 2011 vintage and older

Oak is not a remedy. I thought we were generous to award bronze medals to two of the 11 oaked Sauvignons we tasted.

Class 10: Chardonnay – non-oaked – 2011 vintage and older

At the Tasmanian Wine Show Awards Dinner in 2008, I said that if there is one place in Australia that could produce a world-class Chablis style, it was Tasmania, but only if the best Chardonnay was used for unwooded style, not second quality wines, which is the general practice. This was because Tasmania’s cool climate Chardonnay has such a purity of crisp, lean fruit that it can stand on its own, but not if second quality wines are used, as all the impurities will be highlighted without any oak to cover them up. Of course that does not mean that no one should put their best Chardonnay in oak, but they should start switching and, if I’m right and Tasmanian unwooded Chardonnay establishes a world class reputation, then not only can it demand a premium, but it will also increase the profit margin because oak casks are very expensive and have a limited life. Well, from the dire quality of this class, it is evident that no one has taken any notice!

Class 11: Chardonnay – oaked – 2011 vintage

Just one entry, no comment.

Class 12: Chardonnay – oaked – 2010 vintage

With billions of oaked Chardonnays in the world, Chardonnay of any vintage is not usually my favourite class, but in Tasmania Chardonnay is a little bit special and our Top Gold, Heemskerk, was very special indeed. The oak stood out as very different: better integrated with the citrus Chardonnay fruit that the oak was lemony, although that description does no justice whatsoever to the complexity and great finesse of the oak on nose and palate. Perhaps this was because their was just 14% new oak, all the rest was used to one degree or another. The wine was in oak for no more than six months and like all the best oaked Chardonnay, it was also fermented in barrel. Whatever the reason for Heemskerk’s oak being in a different class, there never was any question about the richness, length and intensity of fruit in this wine and the mouth watering grapefruit acidity supporting it. The Dawson & James was more obviously oaked, but just as deliciously rich. I thought the silver medalled Pure South Wines Rumney Cloud “Helen” Reserve deserved a gold. One unmedalled wine that deserves a mention is the gently rich, piquant-fruited Barringwood Park Barrel Selection, which I scored a silver, but could not persuade James or Tim to go up.

Other gold medal winners:
Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard

Class 13: Chardonnay – oaked – 2009 vintage and older

The Top Gold went to Bay of Fires 2009, but it could so easily have been Riversdale Crater 2009. This does not undermine Bay of Fires achievement. If anything it reinforces it because we had two wines that we would have been proud to name Top Gold, and after much debating we awarded the Bay of Fires, but it could easily have been Riversdale Crater. The most common reasons why half the wines did not make the cut was because of green fruit (sometimes turning to broad bean and even asparagus in the bottle), ageing fruit, drying out fruit and too noticeable levels of CO2.

Class 14: Other white varieties, styles and blends-oaked and non-oaked-2011 vintage and older

A Sauvignon Blend & Semillon blend that had the aroma of rapeseed (as did a few Sauvignon Blancs in Class 9, so I suspect that is where that is from); a Savagnin that was underripe and over-oaked, but had good acidity and received a bronze for effort; and an Arneis that also got a bronze (because amazingly was not unlike this delicately aromatic variety yields in its native Piemonte, albeit with higher acids).

Class 15: Medium-sweet – any variety – 2011 vintage and older

This class is tailor-made for Tasmania’s Riesling, which with just the right amount of sugar can produce amazing wines in the wonderful style of a Mosel Spätlese. Andrew Hood (formerly of Hood Wines, which mutated into Frogmore Creek with his semi-retirement) set the bar for this style with FGR about 10 years ago and I instantly fell in love with its immaculate balance between high acid, low alcohol and grapey sweetness. When I first tasted it I asked Andrew what FGR stood for and he told me “Forty Grams Residual, although around here we call it Fucking Good Riesling!” Any variety can compete in this class and there are some truly great gold medal wines with in excess of 40 grams, but it was no surprise to me when I discovered that our Top Gold went to Frogmore Creek FGR Riesling 2010 or that the 2011 vintage of the same also picked up a gold. The irrepressible Greg Mellick won a gold and two silvers with three different vintages of the drop-dead gorgeous Pressing Matters R69 (2009, 2010 & 2011), and the R69 stands for 69 grams residual, of course. Not withstanding all I have just written, my absolute favourite was the absolutely classic, gold medal winning 60 gram Josef Chromy Delikat SGR Riesling 2008, although I can understand the reluctance to give it Top Gold. We judged these wines for drinking on the day, rather than potential, and whereas I would score the nose 19.5, the palate has to catch up and rates only a high-silver 18 points. I would travel to Tasmania for the privilege of tasting this class alone!

Class 16: Sweet – any variety – 2011 vintage and older

Bream CreekNo less than 80 per cent of the wines submitted in this class were Riesling, with one each of Semillon, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner and Schönburger making up the balance. All wines in the competition are tasted blind, of course, but we are told the grape variety and year in order to assess the typicity and state of evolution of any wine. When I approached this tasting, I looked at the odd few varieties and wondered why anyone would bother planting some of them in Tasmania of all places and, I suppose, I reserved the most incredulity for the Schönburger. Gewürztraminer is at least a classic variety, but this Pinot Noir x (Chasselas rosé x Muscat Hamburg) cross is of little interest in its native Germany, so who on earth is going to be famous for Schönburger anywhere else in the world? Wine judges have opinions and prejudices, but we have to all preconceived ideas to one side and approach each wine completely objectively. Only the wine must speak, and Bream Creek Late Picked Schönburger 2010 spoke sufficiently loud and clear to receive a well-deserved silver medal. Having said that, it’s not Schönburger as I know it. This cross is renowned for its low acidity and it was the high acidity in this wine that helped it stand out in the sweet wine class. It was also spicy and not that fruity, whereas Schönburger is usually fruity and not particularly spicy. Is this a case of mistaken identity? Not that it really matters, it’s a damn good wine.

Another non-Riesling variety to pick up a silver medal was the Craigow Gewürztraminer 2009, which has more lychee than spice, but succulent and beautifully made. Although Riesling rule the roost in this class, it should be noted that all of the unmedalled wines were Riesling, so it’s not a done deal. Producers have to work hard in both in the vineyard and the winery, and the biggest problem is volatile acidity. Not as big or as intrinsic a problem as Ontario has with its Vidal Ice Wines, to cite the most extreme example, but significant enough to account for most of the unmedalled wines and to be responsible for lowering the category of medal won for some of the others. To a lesser extent, but still significant, is the matter of size, sweetness and viscosity. This is Tasmania where the natural prevailing conditions encourage the Riesling to lean more towards the Mosel than anywhere else in Australia. In the Mosel acidity is the key and finesse the ultimate arbiter, but there was a tendency amongst some of the sweet Tasmanian Rieslings to aim for the highest residual sugar possible, consequently a few were too full, too sweet and too viscous.

It’s all about balance and ageing, and when that is perfect, it ends up like Pressing Matters R139 Riesling 2008, which attracted a score of 19.5 points from me for its stunning intensity, knife-edge balance of 139 grams of residual sugar and 8.7 total acidity (expressed as tartaric), and easy on the head alcoholic strength of just 9.2%. However, such was the strength of the very best wines in this class that I scored two other wines almost as highly (19 points), the fabulously zesty Milton Iced Riesling 2010, and the beautifully balanced Kelly’s Reserve Sticky 2009, which eventually took Top Gold. I say eventually because we took a long time making up our minds, going back and forth discussing the merits of all three wines, any of which would have made a superb Top Gold. In the end I was totally happy with the decision.

Other gold medal winners:
Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard Botrytis Riesling 2009

Class 17: Pinot Noir – 2011 vintage

With only six wines entered it appears as if Tasmania’s Pinot Noir producers agree with the judges that there is not much point in tasting this varietal so early, especially as I suspect that some of these wines have undergone intervention in the winery to make them more palatable.

Class 18: Pinot Noir – 2010 vintage

This Pinot Noir from this vintage did not show well. Too many wines were too big and clumsy and, I suspect, a number had been drained of their free-run juice to raise the level of extraction by increasing the ratio of skins to juice. Some of these had also had undergone tannin removal and were over-fined in order to make the oversized wines drinkable earlier, only all this achieved was to make them oversized and underpowered. As James Halliday wrote in the judges’ comments: Pinot Noir should have elegance and length, not weight and concentration, as its mission statement. Having said that, there were a small number of significantly superior wines and, of all those, the very best for me was Pressing Matters, although by consensus the truly excellent Tower Estate Panorama Vineyard was Top Gold. The two wines that came closest to Pressing Matters, as far as I was concerned, were Hardy’s Eileen Hardy (soft, silky and brimming with finesse) and Dawson & James (long, delicious, salivating Pinot Noir fruit supported by extremely elegant oak, but it received silver, not gold, because I could not quite persuade Tim James to come up high enough for his own wine!). I must also single out another gold, Stoney Rise Holyman (lovely, fresh Pinot fruit with just enough immaculate tannins to make it a must with food) and a bronze that should have been at least a top silver to my mind, the Riversdale Estate Grown (an extremely elegant wine with a gentle richness of Pinot Noir fruit). I agree with all the golds and silvers, but 42ºS, Bream Creek and Milton are three bronze medal winners that should have got a silver, and I will even go out to bat for an unmedalled wine, Kate Hill, which I found very European in style, requiring time in bottle (if you have good storage conditions, buy it and wait until it receives a gold medal further downstream because I have no doubts whatsoever – it will).

Class 19: Pinot Noir – 2009 vintage [3-year-old Pinot Noir Class]

This is the class where Tasmanian Pinot Noir really begins to show what it can do and although there is absolutely no doubt that the Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard Reserve (wonderfully rich Pinot Noir fruit underpinned by creamy-coffee French oak) was a more than worthy Top Gold, my personal favourite was Pooley Butcher’s Hill. These two were our top wines from the outset, both scoring 18.5s and one 19, James favouring the Tamar Ridge, me favouring Pooley. To be frank, I thought the Pooley Butcher’s Hill was so elegant that I was more worried that the other judges might glide past it and I would end up fighting for a gold, so I was more than happy for the home judges to make the call on Top Gold. Particularly as the associate judge, Karl Schulz, had also awarded both wines gold, but had favoured Tamar Ridge 19.5 to 18.5. How pleased I was to see this take the People’s Choice Trophy! The only other wine in this class that got three gold medal scores from the very start was the Freycinet (another wine of elegance). There were three bronze medals I would like to stand up for, two of which deserved silver despite their size, the intense, grippy Frogmore Creek and the opaque, rich-flavoured, yet varietally pure Home Hill Estate. The third bronze, however, was definitely gold material to my mind: Pooley Coal River, a delicious, creamy Pinot Noir with fine, grippy tannins. Even without my personal upgrades, half the medalled wines received gold or silver, which is pretty impressive.

Other gold medal winners:
Native Point

Class 20: Pinot Noir – 2008 vintage and older

This class was not as exciting as I hoped it would be. Pinot Noir suits local conditions, so I’m sure that when the Tasmanian wine industry matures and feels relaxed about making these wines to mature in bottle, rather than intervening to get them on the shelf in a drinkable state before they are barely two years old, we will see the number and quality of wines in this class grow and grow. We did not award a Top Gold, but as far as I was concerned it should have gone to GlenAyr 2008, a delightful wine with soft fruit neatly supported by silky tannins, but there was marginally more support for the Home Hill Estate 2008, with its richer, black-fruit spectrum firm and firmer tannic structure. Sadly these were our only golds in the mature Pinot class. The best silver for me was Velo Wines “Willo’s Reserve” 2008, although with a couple of years further ageing I would not be surprised if it is overtaken by the White Rock 2008. The best bronze was Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard Reserve 2008. In fact I thought it deserved a silver. It might seem simply light, fresh and easy drinking now, but this has been accomplished with a light hand and lots of elegance.

Class 21: Cabernet Sauvignon – 2010 vintage and older

Although occasionally a gem like Bream Creek 2005 pops up, Cabernet Sauvignon is not exactly my first thought when thinking about Tasmanian wine, and this year like most years bronze is about the best that anyone can hope for. Green fruit-bushy methoxy-pyrazines are the primary problem. These wines remind me of New Zealand in the 1980s. The problem there was canopy control and Richard Smart reversed the situation almost single-handedly. As he now lives and works in Tasmania, it shouldn’t be too difficult to resolve. For the moment, however, only one wine stood out, and that was the Observatory Hill 2009. Not a gold medal, true, but its very fresh brambly fruit and sleek tannin structure ended up with a very well deserved silver.

Class 22: Other Bordeaux varieties and blends – 2010 vintage and older

The other Bordeaux variety here is currently limited to Merlot and as a pure varietal, it is even less successful than Cabernet Sauvignon. This class was, however, mostly Cabernet Merlot. Unfortunately many were equally dismal, with a number of wines showing one of the worst pyrazine characteristics that comes from unripeness and becomes increasingly dominant in bottle and that the “asparagus pyrazine” (2-butan-2-yl-3-methoxypyrazine). On the bright side, Pooley Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2009 thoroughly deserved its silver medal and it could be argued that Moores Hill Cabernet Merlot 2010 and Cape Bernier Cabernet Merlot 2009 might have been silver too. Two unmedalled wines that should have got a high bronze or even a low silver were Observatory Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2008 and Observatory Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009.

Class 23: Rosé – 2011 vintage and older

Surprisingly this was another dire class. How can any wine style that is supposed to be fresh, delicious and easy drinking by definition fail so miserably. This is, after all, one of the few styles where judges forgive a few grams of residual sugar because it is expected by consumers. Given Tasmania’s cool climate, there should be a raft of serious dry and well-made off-dry rosé wines in this class every year. Virtually all of these wines were Pinot Noir and although this grape can make a very fine rosé, I wonder if it is the right choice for Tasmania. When Tasmanian Pinot Noir offers such exciting red wine potential, but is prone to over-extraction, why run-off the free-run juice to make a rosé when it can be kept in, and improve, the red wine cuvée and make far more money? And when Tasmanian Cabernet Sauvignon is so disappointing (or at least nine times out of ten it is), why not make rosé out of that instead? Not from just the free-run, but the entire first pressing. It works elsewhere and with 15-20 per cent carbonic maceration, it should work well enough in Tasmania. Not withstanding all of that, the Derwent Estate 2011 and Barringwood Park 2011 deserved their bronze, but I side with associate judge Chris Coffey (Vintage Winemaker at Best’s Great Western), who considered Nocton Park Rosé Pinot Noir 2011 to be worthy of a silver medal.

Class 24: Other red varieties, styles and blends – 2011 vintage and older

Mon PèreNo one would have thought that Tasmania could make top-notch Shiraz until Nick Glaetzer “lobbed a hand grenade into the wine industry”, to quote David Bignell, Chairman of the Melbourne Wine Show, when his Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Père Shiraz 2010 took the coveted Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy last year. Then Tasmanian Wine Show struck gold with Bagdad Hills Shiraz 2010. So, is this the start of things to come or merely a couple of anomalies? Or can we put these two successful wines down to exceptionally favourable conditions of the year in question? As can be gleaned from my comments on Class 18, I was not too impressed by the 2010 Pinot Noirs, and that variety has a proven track record in Tasmania, so perhaps the vintage conditions in 2010 were indeed better suited Shiraz than Pinot. On the other hand, the negative characteristics found in the 2010 Pinot Noirs were all man-made, with over-extraction the biggest common denominator, so perhaps 2010 simply saw the culmination of vine maturity and winemaker experience?

Where do the grapes for these two wines come from? In previous years, the Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Père Shiraz has been a blend of 60 per cent Marion’s Vineyard (Tamar Valley) and 40 per cent Cooinda Vale Vineyard (Coal River Valley), but in 2010 it consisted of 45 per cent Meadowbank* (Upper Derwent), 45 per cent GlenAyra (Coal River Valley), and 10 per cent Pooley’s Cooinda Vale (Coal River Valley). Bagdad Hills is an area of the Coal Valley to the northwest of Cooinda Vale Vineyard. In general, the Tamar Valley is warmer than the Coal Valley, although parts of the latter can be almost as warm, but even if these are not just anomalies, it is too early to say whether one region offers more potential for Shiraz than the other. Especially as the Jimmy Watson Trophy winning Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Père Shiraz came from a totally different mix of locations and with Meadowbank* caught in a bushfire as I write this report, it will inevitably be an entirely different mix again for 2012. Other differences for the Jimmy Watson wine include vintage variation (2010 was a warm season with a record 100-days in a row above 17ºC, which Nick Glaetzer told me “certainly contributed to the richness and fullness of the wine”) and vinification techniques (2010 was the first year he left the Shiraz on malolactic lees and in oak for 18-months – previous vintages had been racked and bottled after only 10-months).

*Gerald Ellis’s original Meadowbank vineyard, not Coal River vineyard that supplies the Meadowbank label and restaurant purchased from Ellis by Frogmore in 2010.

Class 25: Fortified Wines

I’m not sure what the point of a fortified Pinot Noir is …

Class 26: Museum Wines

Ah … the museum wines: with no less than 88 per cent of the wines submitted receiving a medal and 50 per cent of those collecting gold, the results clearly show why this is the class that all judges dream of! All the gold medal wines thoroughly deserve their awards, but my favourites were House of Arras E J Carr Late Disgorged 1998 (19.5/20), Pressing Matters R9 Riesling 2006 (19.5/20), Bass Fine Wine Strait Chardonnay 2006 (19/20) and Pooley Late Harvest Riesling 2006 (19/20). My top silvers were Pooley Coal River Riesling 2005 and Margaret Pooley Tribute Riesling 2004, while my top bronze was Puddleduck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005.

Other gold medal winners:
Pooley Coal River Riesling 2006
Puddleduck Vineyard Riesling 2006
Three Wishes Vineyard Riesling 2005
Frogmore Creek Riesling 2003
Puddleduck Vineyard Chardonnay 2005
Providence “Miguet” Reserve Chardonnay 2004
Freycinet Chardonnay 1994
Bass Fine Wine Strait Pinot Noir 2005
Bass Fine Wine Strait Pinot Noir 2004
Pressing Matters R139 Riesling 2006

I stand by all the medals, which were awarded by the panel as a whole. It’s just that individual judges have individual preferences and these are mine.

Map courtesy of The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, 5th Edition