Friday, October 16, 2009


I was fortunate enough to of picked up an invitation to the Royal Adelaide Wine Show this year, along with an invite to a luncheon coupled with the trophy winning wines. To be quite frank, there was an enormous array of wines. Thousands of bottles, 3-5 deep, covering every Australian wine style, region and price range, opened up and presented to the taster in a 'pour yourself' manner.

Never before had the term, 'so much wine, so little time', been more appropriate.

My own personal tasting notes number over 100, just too much to right down here, so I'll just stick to a basic overview of the trophy winning wines presented to us in bottle form at the luncheon, along with some of my own personal selections. My selections are based on what I though were standout wines, which weren't necessarily judged in the same class as the trophy wining wines they accompany.

If anything, this tasting is always an excellent opportunity to sample unreleased wines (some wines at this event won't be released for 5 years) as well as wines from interstate which never seem to reach South Australian retail shelves. I was extremely pleased to see numerous interstate icons at the Royal Adelaide. Even if they didn't do so well with the professional judges, many of them won me over. Maybe if they were labelled under Wolf Blass they might've picked up some major awards....

It was probably the most intense and frantic wine tasting I can recall. It certainly made me think long and hard about what the judges must go through.

Judges pick:
Crabtree Watervale Riesling 2009 (18.8)
Top scoring wine in 'Riesling 2008 vintage and younger'. To me it suffered at the hands of its vintage a bit. It was quite clean and fresh, but presented undertones of that ripe and pungent, apricot/stonefruit character which seems to be defining many '09 rieslings. Not really my style unfortunately.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Leo Buring Eden Valley Leonay 2009 (95)
The standout '09 riesling of the day for me, which included some interesting, if a bit disappointing wines from the likes of Helm, Howard Park and Seppelt's Drumborg. It's a wonderfully tight, fresh and chalky riesling with the exceptional purity and length of mineral/lemon/apple/citrus characters which consumers have grown to expect from Leonay. Pewsey Vale's 2004 Contours and Leasingham's 2008 Bin 8 K.S. also appealed greatly to me in other riesling classes.

Judges pick:
Elderton Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (18.5)
Who would've thought Elderton make a tasty Adelaide Hills savvy. I wasn't as excited as the judges about this wine, but I did like it. It's quite a plump, juicy sauvignon blanc with a clean and clear fruit profile which strangely displays much of the grassiness and intensity of the wines of Marlborough. It just lacks exceptional backbone for me.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Vasse Felix Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (95)
Another smashing wine under this label. Contains one of the most beautiful, crisp and brisk, crystalline acid structures I've had in an Australian wine of this style, outlining its mineral, lightly herbal and smoky, lemon citrus fruit base. Brilliant.

Judges pick:
Penfolds Thomas Hyland Cool Climate Chardonnay 2008 (18.5)
Picked up award for best white under $20. I like this pick. There's a new look with a new name for the Thomas Hyland, and fortunately the wine quality backs it up. It's a very lightly oaked, fruit expressive style of real clean fruit flavour. Extremely drinkable. A colleague of mine who doesn't like chardonnay remarked how he felt numerous wines in this class were perhaps drawing influence from sauvignon blanc. An interesting observation I thought.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Arras 2004 (94)
Alright, completely unrelated to the Hyland but I had to fit this in somewhere. Sparkling wines were a fairly small collection at the Royal Adelaide (probably only about 40 or so!) but this really took my fancy. Magnificent freshness to lemon/grapefruit and lightly yeasty/cheesy tones are marked by superb length and elegant effervescence. Has great persistence of flavour for an Aussie sparkling. I'll definitely be keeping my eyes out for this whenever it gets released. The judges liked it too (18.5), but it came runner up in its class to the 2001 Hardys Sir James Tumbarumba Cuvee (18.7).

Judges pick:
Wolf Blass White Label Chardonnay 2007 (18.7)
Winner most outstanding red or white wine in show. The 'big' one. Quite amazing really. I honestly didn't want to like this wine, but it's just impossible to fault. It possesses a superb integration of tightly knit, creamy, nutty oak and refined cool climate chardonnay character. It absolutely surprised the hell out of me that Wolf Blass is capable of such immaculate chardonnay. Previously the White Label range consisted of bottle aged whites (usually around 5 years) and retailed for around $20-$40. My colleague who has connections within Wolf Blass told me that this (unreleased) wine will sell for closer to $100, almost like a white version of the Black Label. I find that very hard to believe! Magnificent wine by the way.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Hardys Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2006 (96)
Smashing wine. Judges liked it too (18.5) with a gold medal. Wonderfully savoury, refined and purely fruited chardonnay in that extremely fashionable cool climate style. Superb length, acidity and structure, with a very long, refreshing finish of lingering flavour and impression.

Judges pick:
Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2008 (18.5)
Judges remarked; 'a fine example of fresh varietal fruit', I remark; 'a fine example of the undesirable, dirty, confectionary elements of Barossa grenache'. Not my style of grenache at all. Thin, sweetish and rather unbalanced. In fact the classes which incorporated pinot noir, merlot (especially), grenache and other reds were a real let down at the Royal Adelaide. As such I won't be mentioning any.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Oliver's Taranga HJ Reserve Shiraz 2006 (96)
I find it hard to believe this wine couldn't even muster a bronze at this show (check out what won best red of show though). It's certainly not your typical 'show' style though. It's an exceptional expression of McLaren Vale shiraz with no over ripe or dead fruit character at all. Wonderfully savoury and elegant, with a perfect measure of fresh, nutty vanilla oak overlying a smoothly fruited, red and dark berry and plum fruit base. Layers of flavour and aroma. Should age for a very long time. A genuine standout from McLaren Vale's 06 vintage. As far as I'm aware this has yet to be released, but it shouldn't be far away.

Judges pick:
Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz Viognier 2008 (18.7)
Max Schubert Trophy, Best Red Wine of Show. Oh dear. It's selections like this, especially for what should be South Australia's most prestigious wine trophy, that really make people squirm at the wine show concept. Like the White Label Chardonnay I didn't intend to like this, but unlike the chardonnay I didn't like this. It's easy to see how the judges went for it; it's all up front aroma, perfumed, apricoty and rich, very intense and extremely generously fruited. But savoury, complex, elegant, balanced, seamless, structured or age worthy it ain't. Definitely more of a quaffing/BBQ red. The only good thing this wine achieved in my eyes was stopping Starvedog Lane's Shiraz Viognier from winning three straight Max Schuberts. I still see a trend starting to emerge here though....

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Grant Burge Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (94)
A bit of a surprise to me really. For a warm year this shows a lot of cool aspects, probably from its Eden Valley component. It reminded me a lot of some of the better 04 Barossa cabernets, presenting the style of cabernet that's only possible from the Barossa. It's lusciously smooth and rich, with layers of deep fruit and smatterings of finely tuned vanilla/cedar oak, filling out the mid-palate with great depth and satisfaction.

Judges pick:
Yalumba The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (18.7)
Trophy Best Cabernet Sauvignon in Show. Of the four trophy winning reds presented at the lunch this was the only one of any real merit to me. It is quite pleasantly, evenly fruited and lush, with a nice, dry and dusty tannic backbone. I still think 06 Coonawarra's don't quite stand up as well as the two vintages before it.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (95)
I was very excited to see this, which shouldn't be released for another couple of months yet (as told to me by Vasse's staff). Silver medal (17.0) from the judges. The wine completely lived up to expectations for me. It didn't contain the opulent ripeness of many Margaret River 07's, but instead delivered an elegant balance of savoury finesse, complexity and velvet-like mouthfeel, with more of a herbal edge to Vasse's classic smoky, dark, concentrated berry fruit base. Great structure, length and persistence of flavour. Powdery tannins play their part well. As with 2005, I preferred this over the flagship Heytesbury 2007 red.

Judges pick:
Richard Hamilton Gumprs Block Shiraz 2008 (18.7)
Trophy Best Shiraz in Show. There are elements to like here, but I'm not sure how it took out Best Shiraz in Show. It's very youthful, fresh and evenly fruited, with the classic McLaren Vale characters of ripe berry and plum fruits over chocolate/cedar/vanilla oak, but it's a bit simple really, as well as somewhat lacking in intensity and richness through the mid-palate. Good wine at around $20-$25 though.

Australian Wine Journal pick:
Balgownie Estate Shiraz 2006 (95)
Magnificent Bendigo shiraz, which managed to pick up a bronze (15.5) from the judges. Top quality Victorian shiraz can be overlooked by South Australia's wine drinking public, and apparently our show judges alike. Beautifully fragrant, it contains fantastic depth of layered flavour, with classic regional dark fruit notes entwined with chocolate/vanilla oak and even a hint of choc-mint. Amazing freshness, perfume and surprising elegance for what was a hot year in Bendigo. Great stuff.

Judges pick:
Morris Old Premium Liqueur Tokay (19.2)
Trophy Best Apera, Topaque or Muscat. Bang on! Bang on! Bang on! I completely agree with this selection. By my calculations this might've been the highest scoring wine of the show, and I'd have to agree. It's absolutely exceptional; thick, thick, thick; luscious and rich. A genuine national treasure. I had a bottle of this at the start of 2009 and absolutely loved it, today was no different. The waitress was kind enough to bring me 3 serves of this - thank you! I also really enjoyed the De Bortoli Black Noble NV as a similar style.


  1. I felt dirty when reading how many trophies that the Wolf Blass Shirognier picked up. A damning indictment on the state of the (technocrat focused) wine show circuit if ever there was one.

    Quite surprising really given the calibre of both the judges and the entrants. But then again, I struggle to get my head around the fact that the juiced up quaffer that is the Koonunga Hill Seventy Six has managed to pick up trophies at successive Sydney shows too....

  2. Great little report. Ditto above statements re Wine Shows. Disasterous outcome for their already tarnished credibilty I would have thought.

    The KH 76 is a juiced up quaffer! I can sit back and enjoy it without thought but I'm not so keen on the idea of it winning trophies. Oh well, my palate is less experienced than the judges. On the back of the results from Adelaide I'm kind of hoping it stays that way...

  3. n.b.
    I have edited this post to reword a sentence which was worded incorrectly originally, as pointed out to me. Hence the original post gave across the wrong opinion. I believe the rewrite better states the point I was trying to get across.

    Thanks for the feedback,
    Chris P