Insider’s view of the 2017 Sydney Royal Wine Show

John Hughes of Rieslingfreak (Photo: Via The Drinks List website)

Judging at a wine show is always a thrilling experience. You have the great privilege of sampling hundreds of labels and the responsibility of accurately assessing these wines. But then comes a necessary period of recovery to allow one’s palate to reboot from the extreme sensory intensity.

I always await the results with eager anticipation, as the identity of the wines remains a secret to the judges until the official awards presentation. At the 2017 KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show, it was a particularly celebratory occasion.

Never have I been as exhilarated by a wine show result as I was when I witnessed John Hughes, owner and winemaker of Rieslingfreak, collect the KPMG Perpetual Trophy for the Best Wine of Show for his ‘17 Rieslingfreak No.3 Clare Valley Riesling. It is a truly beautiful wine, with dancing aromatics and a lively, pristine palate. And an absolute steal at AUD $25.

Hughes is quite possibly the nicest person in the Australian wine industry. So, it is impossible not to be completely thrilled for him, not only with this accolade but for his continuing success. And in his acceptance speech, he spoke of 2017 as the vintage of the century thus far for Clare Valley riesling.

The winning wine was also awarded The Albert Chan Memorial Prize for Best White; The Douglas Lamb Perpetual Trophy for Best Riesling; The RAS of NSW Annual Prize for Best Young White; and The Tucker Seabrook Perpetual Trophy for Best State Show Wine.

And if that wasn’t enough, his ‘17 Rieslingfreak No.2 Clare Valley Riesling was also awarded a gold medal.

Overall there was a beautiful clarity to the trophy winning set. Miles from Nowhere took out the McCarthy Perpetual Trophy for Best Sauvignon Blanc for their ‘17 example, a wine that is aromatically poised and graceful.

The ‘11 Tyrrell’s Stevens Single Vineyard Semillon was awarded The David Clarke Memorial Trophy for Best Semillon, a fresh and enchanting wine with great energy and distinction.

The ‘16 Flametree SRS Wallcliffe Chardonnay, a modern example with a tight palate and sulfide complexity, took out the AP John Coopers Perennial Trophy for Best Chardonnay.

And the citrusy ’16 Nepenthe Grüner Veltliner took out The Bert Bear Trophy for Best Other White.

Other trophy winners included the textural ‘16 Lobethal Road Pinot Gris; the succulent ‘15 De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon; the zippy ‘16 Xanadu DJL Sauvignon Blanc Semillon; the complex ’15 Clonal Brothers Amen Break Chardonnay; the dry and composed ‘17 Koonara Emily May Pinot Noir Rosé; the pure fruited ‘16 Meadowbank Pinot Noir; the elegantly-proportioned ‘16 Hardy’s Chronicles 7th Green Cabernet Sauvignon; the complex ‘16 Knappstein Insider Shiraz Malbec; the gently spicy ‘15 St Hallett Mattschoss Single Vineyard Eden Valley Shiraz; and the outstanding ‘08 House of Arras Grand Vintage. For a full list of trophy and medal winning wines visit the Sydney Royal website.

In terms of trends, I was impressed by the evolution of sauvignon blanc, away from the strongly herbaceous styles to vibrant citrusy-focused wines; the strength in the ‘Other Red Varietal’ category, which is a market segment offering exceptional interest and value; and the number of quality tempranillos, which had their own class for the very first time.

It was Samantha Connew’s final year as Chair of Judges; a fair and honest Chair, respected by all. PJ Charteris will take over the reins in 2018.

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