WA sweeps 2013 Boutique Wine Awards

Western Australia is the big winner at the 2013 Boutique Wine Awards. Its wineries won seven of the 13 top-of-class trophies awarded, five of which went to Margaret River.

But New Zealand – which usually excels at sauvignon blanc and pinot noir – won none. It’s likely the seasonal conditions help explain both phenomena: Western Australia has had a run of excellent vintages since 2006, while much of eastern Australia had a traumatically wet vintage in 2011. And New Zealand also had difficult seasons in both 2011 and 2012.

From WA, Margaret River’s Gralyn (tastings) was the star, winning best fortified wine and best wine of show with its Gralyn Artizan, a 20-year-old, non-vintage, wood-matured fortified wine. And its Gralyn Reserve Chardonnay 2012 topped a very competitive chardonnay class, winning the chardonnay trophy.

The Gralyn brand is owned by Graham and Merilyn Hutton, whose 4.5 hectare vineyard in the prize Wilyabrup sub-region is fully mature at 38 years old. It was the first cellar door to open in Margaret River and still today the wines are only available ex-cellar door, although they also have mail and internet sales (gralyn.com.au).

The Artizan is an extraordinary wine, which tasted to the judges for all the world like an old Rutherglen tokay or perhaps muscat. It’s made from muscat, pedro ximinez and tokay grapes and sells for $75 a half-bottle at the cellar door – where you can taste it without charge.

The entire Hutton family had a great show, as Graham and Merilyn’s sons’ brand Hutton Wines (tastings) won two silver medals with its ’11 and ’12 Triptych chardonnays. Sons Michael and Bradley Hutton have their own business, and Bradley is winemaker for both entities. Both brands are tiny: the published crush of Gralyn is between 20 and 50 tonnes and the stated production of Hutton Wines is less than 1,000 cases.

The Boutique Wine Awards are open to all Australian and New Zealand wineries crushing a maximum 500 tonnes of grapes a year. They were judged in July and the prizes announced last Wednesday.

Another WA winery to shine was Singlefile, whose 2012 Lindsay’s Vineyard Pinot Noir topped the pinot noir class and took home the trophy. Singlefile also did well with its ‘12 Family Reserve Chardonnay (tasting) winning a gold medal. Singlefile is owned by Philip and Vivienne Snowden, and has a vineyard and cellar door in the beautiful Denmark area of the Great Southern. Winemaking is overseen by omnipresent consultant Larry Cherubino, and the wines in question were made by contract winemaker Coby Ladwig. It’s another very small boutique, with a stated annual crush between 20 and 50 tonnes. The Snowdens bought a rundown vineyard in 2007, revived it and created the Singlefile brand. The chardonnay is off their own vines and the pinot comes from a neighbour’s vineyard.

Other Western Australian wins were Palmer Wines Merlot ’09 Margaret River (best merlot) (tastings), Rosily Vineyard Semillon Sauvignon Blanc ’12 Margaret River (best white blend) (tastings), Talisman Fume Blanc ’12, from the Geographe region (best sauvignon blanc), and Higher Plane Cabernet Merlot ’10 Margaret River (best red blend) (tastings).

As chairman of judges since this competition began, I can happily report that the sparkling category, which used to be the show’s Achilles heel, is much improved. A significant number of the wines last year and this year displayed polish and sophistication. The trophy wine was Charles Sturt University Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut ’09 (tasting). A superb sparkling wine, it displayed the prized combination of freshness and complexity. Made from Tumbarumba grapes at the university’s Wagga Wagga winery by winemaker Andrew Drumm, it sells for just $27.50 from the cellar door and www.winery.csu.edu.au, plus a few independent retailers: it’s $30 at Glebe Liquor.

Shiraz is always the biggest class, and this year was right up to standard, thanks to the 2012 and 2010 vintages which were both strong, with 2011 somewhat weaker. The top wine was a new to me: Bellevue from McLaren Vale. This wine is tight, firm and elegant, with spicy complexity and lively presence. A great success from a difficult vintage. Bellevue had a 100 per cent success rate: one wine entered, one trophy scored. I’m sure we’ll be hearing the name again.

I also liked Harcourt Valley Barbara’s Shiraz 2011 (from Bendigo (tastings)), Jericho McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011 – a new one from Taylors general manager Neil Jericho, a hugely experienced winemaker – and Wicks Estate 2012, from the Adelaide Hills. At $20 ex-winery, the Wicks is one of the top buys of the show. It’s fleshy and spicy, with plenty of weight and density.

Wicks Estate winemaker Tim Knappstein – another enormously experienced veteran winemaker – also had success with his own Riposte wines, crowned by his The Sabre Pinot Noir ’12 (gold medal (tasting)).

There are always surprises in this competition, and little-known Geographe region winery Talisman provided one of those. All but one of its six entries scored a medal: trophy for ’12 Fume Blanc (tasting), silver for ’10 malbec (tasting), and bronzes for ’09 riesling (tasting), ’10 shiraz (tasting) and ’09 cabernet malbec (tasting).

Another new name to me, Mandoon Estate of the Swan Valley, entered seven wines and scored seven medals, including two gold medals – for ’10 reserve cabernet sauvignon and ’11 cabernet merlot. Old vine grenache ’11, Frankland River shiraz ’11 and reserve cabernet sauvignon ’11 won silvers, while sauvignon blanc and verdelho from 2013 took bronzes (tastings). That’s consistent winemaking quality.

Full results at www.boutiquewines.com.au.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Good Food – 10 September 2013.

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