Geelong and Limestone Coast wine shows
The Limestone Coast and Geelong wine shows could not be more different, but both shone the searchlight on outstanding wines.
A fortnight ago I judged at Limestone Coast; a fortnight before at Geelong. Limestone Coast featured some of the biggest wine companies in Australia; Geelong none – just a raft of boutiques.
Limestone Coast is a zone. It includes five regions (Coonawarra, Padthaway, Wrattonbully, Robe and Mount Benson) with a sixth about to be gazetted (Mount Gambier). That’s a big catchment area and just about everyone enters the wine show. That includes small, image-leading producers such as Parker Estate (tastings), Balnaves (tastings), Majella (tastings) and Bowen Estate (tastings).
Geelong is a single region, much smaller, and several of the leaders don’t enter the show. The standard is quite high, but imagine how much higher it would be if Bannockburn Vineyards (tastings), By Farr (tastings), Curlewis (tastings), Paradise IV (tastings) and Scotchmans Hill (tastings) joined in. It’s their prerogative not to enter, of course.
Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis of Lethbridge (tastings) winery cemented their reputation as stand-out winemakers at Geelong: they’ve topped the show for the last three years. The two previous years it’s been chardonnay; this time it was their shiraz, Que Syrah Syrah 2009 (tastings). And the previous vintage of this wine, 2008, was the best shiraz last year.
The ‘09 is a thoroughly modern, elegant, medium-weight shiraz with spicy fruit, unobtrusive use of oak and gentle, soft tannins. It’s simply a lovely wine and nicely priced at $25. Nadeson also makes wine for several small local grapegrowers, and one such is Hat Rock, whose ’09 pinot noir repeated last year’s gold-medal achievement. Indeed, Nadeson-made wines accounted for no less than one-third of the gold medal wines – under various labels and covering several grape varieties.
The biggest news this year was Clyde Park (tastings), a mature 10-hectare vineyard at Bannockburn in the Moorabool Valley where former intensive-care nurse Darren Burke is showing a lot of talent. Not only did his very good ‘09 pinot noir ($35 tasting) and ’08 reserve pinot noir ($49 tasting) win silver and gold respectively, but he won two gold medals for pinot gris, which must be some sort of record. It’s hard enough to find one interesting pinot gris, but two in one small class (of 16 entries) from the same maker’s hand, is exceedingly rare. Both wines are 2010 vintage, and in a year when the difference between gris and grigio styles has become topical, the Clyde Park wines were right on the mark. The pinot grigio, under the cheaper Locale label ($20-$26 tastings), was lean, light and minerally, with some savoury/malty old-barrel overtones. The estate pinot gris ($30-$35 tastings) was richer and fuller with a trace of sweetness, a lick of oak and heaps of charm. These wines should win over some PG sceptics who insist on nicknaming the variety Pig.
To add icing to the PG cake, Lethbridge (last year’s gold medallist) landed two silver medals, one for its ’09 C’est La Gris ($25 tasting); the other for its 2010 Lethbridge Pinot Gris ($30) – a nicely lees-worked, rich, true-gris style.
It’s interesting that while all four PGs are from the Geelong region, both Clyde Park wines are from the Moorabool Valley and both Lethbridge wines are from the Bellarine Peninsula. Clyde Park’s owner Terry Jongebloed reckons his site, with its alluvial soil, particularly suits this grape variety. Clyde Park ended the show with the trophy for the most successful exhibitor, which is based on the aggregate score of all of its gold, silver and bronze medals.
At the Limestone Coast show, the big winners were mainly the established heroes. Wynns John Riddoch ’08 ($80 tasting) was the best cabernet sauvignon and Lindemans Limestone Ridge Shiraz Cabernet ’08 ($55 tasting) won four trophies: best red blend, best red wine, best individual vineyard wine and best wine of show. This follows similar success at the recent Royal Adelaide Wine Show, where it was also best red wine and best blended red – and Brisbane, where it won another trophy. Great wines tend to accumulate impressive show records, and this is a great wine.
Both it and the John Riddoch are representative of the new-wave reds under these two accomplished Treasury Wine Estates (tastings) labels. That is, they emphasise beautifully ripened Coonawarra regional fruit – unsullied by excessive oak, alcohol or added tannin – and wonderfully smooth, supple textures. They are wines that glide effortlessly across the tongue. The only shrill thing about them is that they scream ‘Quality!’
There were also some less-predictable winners. Pat Tocaciu, who’s been making superb riesling for about 30 years, landed two trophies – including best white wine of show – with his 2010 Patrick Estate Wrattonbully Riesling ($20 tasting). It’s superbly fragrant, fine and intense. And after many years in the wilderness, Rymill (tastings) won a gold medal – with its ’08 cabernet sauvignon (imminent release at $29). Young French-born winemaker Sandrine Gimon was very excited at the awards night, as it’s her first cabernet as chief winemaker.
Another wine I particularly enjoyed was the lone gold-medal sweet wine – somewhat eccentrically, a botrytis viognier: Yalumba 2009, from Wrattonbully (tasting). This is a delicious, honeysuckle fragrant wine with plenty of sweetness although not especially rich or powerful, but beautifully balanced.
First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living – 9 November 2011.