Wine shows cop a lot of flack. You need only read the feedback to my post on the 2018 Sydney Royal Wine Show exhibitors tasting to see that. But is it justified? And indeed do the more progressive shows (like Sydney, Melbourne, some of the regional shows etc) deserve the negativity?
Personally, I can see it from both sides – on the one hand, some of the results are just anomalies. Wines that are varietal, affable, simple wines, but end up winning gold medals largely because they’re quintessentially fault free. Ditto wines that are oakier, richer, sweeter and thus stand out in the lineup enough to catch judges eyes.
Yet on the other hand, wine shows that are smaller, with tighter brackets of more similar wines, do tend to deliver solid results. These shows regularly lob up wines that, because they’re judged amongst true peers, really are ‘best-in-breed’ examples (like this sublime Morris fortified).
As a result, I’m torn. I can see that wine shows aren’t perfect – the huge variability between how wines score at different shows illustrates that. But I also see the absolute purpose – which is to highlight the better wines and weed out the crap.
Which brings me back to the aforementioned 2018 Sydney Royal Wine Show exhibitors tasting.
While it’s easy to taste some of the winning wines from a wine show and shake your head at the judges score, what I like to do instead is think backwards. To taste a wine that got a crap score, yet I really like, and attempt to work out what the judges didn’t like. Was the wine too oaky? A little stray VA to turn off technically minded judges? Or was the wine simply doing too much?
As I was wandering around the tasting hall, shadowed by a bored attendant to pour the wines (RSA is important), it was the notion of why that I had rattling around in my head. Not ‘who the fuck screwed up that panel’ but ‘why did this win/not win’?
Here then are my (very) brief impressions of a selection of wines from the show, as written unedited. I’ve included the judges scores/trophies for reference in italics plus my own extra thoughts too.
Giant Steps Applejack Pinot Noir 2017
Silver medal, 94 points. Has the complexity edge on its trophy winning brother but not by much. Delicious Yarra Pinot.
Transparent raspberry fruit with a lightly soapy edge, this is a beauty – more pure and delicate than the standard Pinot with this delicious red fruit weight. Hard to deny the appeal. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2017
No medal, 84 points. A robust Pinot, which might have counted against it in the vibrancy stakes. Love the power.
A lovely lavish wine with this cherry fruit ripeness, a hint of mushroom and then fine tannins. I really enjoy the layers here – it’s a lovely fuller weight Tassie Pinot, but with delicacy too. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Paringa Estate The Paringa Pinot Noir 2017
Bronze medal, 86 points. As ever with the Paringa Pinots, this is a biggun’. Again, that’s part of the appeal for mine, but it might count against it.
Intensely varietal and excellent layers of sappy fruit and tannins. This has real smoky Pinot power! Grippy length too. Oh this is a convincing muscular red fruit style. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Brokenwood Forest Edge Chardonnay 2016
Trophy for Best NSW Wine, gold medal, 95 points. Stylish and sophisticated Chardonnay. Purity and class would have won this fans.
Shy and restrained nose, a little oatmeal but otherwise it’s all grapefruit purity. A real delicacy to this style, nicely weighed fruit. Maybe a little oak tannin to finish, but otherwise this is a very clever modern Chard. 18.5/20, 94/100
Giant Steps Pinot Noir 2017
Trophy for Best Pinot Noir, gold medal, 95 points. Not hard to see the appeal here. A picture-perfect, mid-weight Yarra Valley Pinot.
Succulent, varietal and jumps out of the glass. Lovely bright and varietal style, though maybe it falls away a smidgen on the lightly bitter finish. So Pinoty and so expressive. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Kaesler The Bogan Shiraz 2016
Bronze medal, 86 points. The Bogan is less boozy and heavy these days yet still a big wine. This ’16 is a classic big-boned Barossa red.
Luscious and lavish dark berry fruit – a long slick of licoricey fruit. It’s quite modest for this label and very dark fruited. Just a little confection on the back but again the balance is much better this vintage. Unwavering length and width. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Lindemans Limestone Ridge Shiraz Cabernet 2016
No medal, 83 points. A subtle, super smooth and slinky Limestone Ridge. Real slow-burner. Would get lost in a big lineup.
Doesn’t scream Coonawarra. Only mid weight but has lovely dark berry fruit. Oak perhaps sits on top of the fruit, but the pure dark fruit is worthy. Silky wine in every way. Very fine tannins. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Penfolds Reserve Bin 17A Chardonnay
Trophies for Best Chardonnay, Best White, Best Wine of Show, Best State Show Wine, gold medal, 96 points. A true winemakers wine, but with flavour. Very finely detailed and manicured. Definitely appealing.
I didn’t spot any obvious reductive character this year, indeed it’s quite delicate on the nose, the palate builds with again very refined flavours, though the oak gives a vanilla etching too. If anything it’s probably too lean, though the acidity feels natural and not harsh. I’d like to see this with more bottle age as it might well put on weight. Super fine and precise wine though and has drinkability. 18.5/20, 94/100+
Symphony Hill Barrel Ferment Gewurztraminer 2017
Bronze medal, 86 points. A caveat here – I love Gewurz, and this is a riot of perfume and flavour. My captain’s pick maybe?
Talc and lychee, but the varietal character doesn’t overpower, because the palate is finely tuned and tight, the musk varietal character woven through the palate. The closer I look at this, the more the perfect length creeps up. What a wine. Amongst the best. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Yalumba The Octavius Shiraz 2016
No medal, 82 points. Shy, oak-shaped. Way too young. No way this would be well received. But for the cellar? Yes.
Less oaky than expected. Sexy oak too. The balance on this wine is great – it’s even quite perfumed. Very tight and just a teensy bit sour on the finish but I’m loving the new savoury, refined style. Classy. 18.5/20, 94/100.
House of Arras Grand vintage 2008
Trophy for Best Sparkling White, gold medal, 96 points. The best sparkling around and a deserving winner.
Surprisingly delicate nose. It’s not an overt style either, more grapefruit and even some biscuit. It’s very clean and pure but maybe a little too linear and fresh. So lively, if just a fraction backward. 18/20, 93/100
Bimbadgen Signature Semillon 2013
Trophy for Best Semillon, gold medal, 95 points. A worthy winner and ready to drink now.
A whiff of green pea, and then a lightly toasty palate that is genuinely expansive. There’s a hint of warm year hay, and perhaps a more generous style, but length of flavour makes this a great drink. 18/20, 93/100.
Dexter White Label Chardonnay 2017
Bronze medal, 88 points. Maybe it was perceived as being a little lean? I think this is the model of a balanced cool year Mornington Chard.
Has a flash of opulence that gets pulled back by a very well composed palate. Great acid lines and with fine oak. This is very drinkable, generous and yet composed. 18/20, 93/100.
Evans + Tate Redbrook Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Trophy for Best Mature Red, gold medal, 95 points. That regional stamp and stout structure is bang on. Needs more cellar time though.
Minty nose but backed by quite blocky dark fruit. It’s proper regional this, with bay leaf, mint, dark fudgey fruit and firm tannins aplenty. Stout and very serious, perhaps a bit raw but massive impact. Will likely look better in a year. 18/20, 93/100+
Houghton Thomas Yule Shiraz 2015
Bronze medal, 86 points. Houghton’s premium Frankland Shiraz would be easy to miss. Nice wine.
Delicious mid weight Frankland Shiraz, it’s pretty and really very well composed with the dark fruit bringing in the finish. Really well balanced. 18/20, 93/100.
Howard Park Abercrombie 2014
No medal, 82 points. A leafier style this year, but a wine with clear quality that is just waiting to poke through.
Nose is classic if a fraction oak driven. Savoury and we’ll handled even showing a little herbaceousness. It’s a leaner style than expected, but certainly classy. 18/20, 93/100.
Oakridge 864 Funder + Diamond Chardonnay 2016
Silver medal, 90 points. The only thing holding back here is time – purity, but restraint to the max.
Lean and delicate, with picture-perfect flavours, subtle grapefruit and the barest whisper of oak. Super classy modern Chardonnay if just a tad too frisky for immediate drinking. 18/20, 93/100.
Seville Estate Old Vine Reserve Shiraz 2016
Bronze medal, 85 points. Too elegant for this sort of lineup, but a lovely svelte wine I’d want to drink.
Lovely savoury style that heads towards a very Rhoney mode, it’s a lithe wine of pretty fruit, very purple. I just want a bit more oomph, but very elegant and suave. 18/20, 93/100.
Bleasdale Generations Shiraz 2015
Trophy for Guest Judge Annual Prize, gold medal, 95 points. Old school Langhorne all the way with lots of everything.
Quite obviously Langhorne with deep choc mint flavours and quite coarse grained tannins. It’s a powerful red, with rivers of flavour, if a bit too dominated by coffee oak and heart. 17.7/20, 92/100.
De Bortoli Noble One 2015
Gold medal, 95 points. A classic Noble One, even if it’s a bit overt.
Full orange marmalade nose, it’s a quite straightforward wine, with expansive lemon orange fruit in a fresh mode. Perhaps lacking a little complexity but unmissable flavour concentration. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Jericho Single Vineyard Adelaide Hills Syrah 2016
No medal, 83 points. This is so spicy and Syrah-ish which would be divisive. Needs time to come together.
Lifted fragrance, it’s just medium bodied and almost bony with a palate of pan juices, firm tannins and a very savoury, beef edged mode. Such complexity, even if it’s a but meaty and lean. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Penfolds Vintage Fortified 2015
Bronze medal and 87 points. This takes its inspiration from Portugal, not traditional Barossan VP. I’d like to have some of this in the cellar.
Understated and really well balanced, it’s a pure and just medium weight style, with well balanced fruit. Such a moderate wine. Will live forever. 17.7/20, 92/100+
Seville Estate Old Vine Reserve Pinot Noir 2017
No medal, 84 points. Perhaps a little subdued, which counted against it. Needs time.
Only mid weight, it’s a fragrant style that certainly looks pretty but maybe lacks a little punch. Varietal and very well handled though. Needs a longer look as clearly classy. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2017
Bronze medal, 88 points. One of the most drinkable examples of an Aussie Viognier you can think of.
Lovely apricot fruit. So varietal. But it doesn’t fall over into jam, with some pithy phenolics to pull it back and surprising acidity. It’s a very attractive Viognier just needing a smidgen more complexity to be grand. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Clairault Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2017
Trophy for Best White Blend, gold medal, 95 points. Impressively varietal even if the acidity is just a bit too firm.
Classic Margs white blend. Sauv gives some herbal lift without tending to passionfruit, and clearly defined palate with the herbal edges gives this a real snappiness. Maybe a little raw but really solid and defined. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Cellar Aged Semilon 2009
Bronze medal, 85 points. Fully mature and ready for immediate drinking.
Expressive nose with a whisper of green pea now being swamped by toast. It’s a broad brushed style, with buttered flavours that fill your mouth, even though it’s a thicker style than you’d really want. Lots of flavour though. I’d drink this sooner rather than later. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Serafino Reserve Grenache 2017
Trophy for Best Other Red Varietal, gold medal, 95 points. I can see the appeal here – no shortage of bright Grenache fruit.
Lots of lollied red fruit, backed by a hearty palate with red fruit through the finish. The acid is a bit clumsy through the finish, but no denying the vitality. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Two Bridges Stones Throw Semillon 2013
Trophies for Best Mature White and Best Single Vineyard Wine, gold medal, 96 points. I couldn’t quite see the weight here to justify the points, but classical style.
Green pea and baby sick. Given the vintage it’s a very backward style, even with some slight green notes. The late flesh helps give this some bones but I found it just a little lean. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Bird in Hand Pinot Gris 2018
Trophy for Best Pinot Gris/Grigio, gold medal, 95 points. Super varietal and fresh, it would be a beacon of Gris flavour in a lineup.
Plenty of primary fruit, it’s nicely varietal and well-weighted with some pear flesh through nose and palate. This is a well weighted modern Gris, if not quite enough beyond that to be glorious. A good drink, regardless. 17/20, 90/100.
Bleadale Wellington Road Shiraz Cabernet 2016
Trophies for Best Cabernet or Shiraz Dominant Blend and Best Red, gold medal, 95 points. Lots of flavour here but a bit clumsy and heavy. The appeal is that hearty flavour. Very Aussie.
Mid weight and plummy with chocolate overlays. It’s just a bit confected rather than savoury but an attractive commercial style (and good value). 17/20, 90/100.
Penfolds Cellar Reserve Fiano 2017
No medal, 83 points. Not quite nailing the style here – lacks a little definition. But plenty of flavour.
Somewhat varietal but also blunt with some cut apple fruit and a rather singular palate. There an almost Riesling-like intensity through the middle but then it ends up a bit chubby to finish. Reasonable drink, but just a bit commercial. 16.8/20, 89/100.
Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2015
Trophy for Best Riesling, gold medal, 95 points. No questioning the impact here, but as a drink it’s just too overt.
Just starting to develop some aged terpene petroleum character. This is actually quite broad and even a bit cheesy, a nice generous style but I don’t see this as vibrant. Drink now and revel in the really ripe flavours. 16.5/20, 88/100
Chapel Hill Vermentino 2018
Trophy for Best Other White Varietal, gold medal, 95 points. Lots of fruit, but not much else. Freshness would be a winner.
Lots of fruit salad grapiness. Almost Verdelho-like. Primary and quite phenolic, it’s varietal and chunky – a medium weight white – but just a simple pear juice style. I don’t see much beyond fresh fruit, even though there’s lots of it. 16.5/20, 88/100
Watershed Senses Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Trophy for Best Sauvignon Blanc, gold medal, 95 points. Varietal, but the finish lets it down. It has clearly attracted attention with the definition.
Intensely varietal – all passionfruit. Some creamy barrel characters help flesh out the middle, and gives this more than just simple primary flavours. Acidity is raw though, and the flow isn’t perfect – it’s harsh to finish. Not bad, but lacks some congruency. 16/20, 87/100.