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Wine

World's Best Rieslings

Wine Selectors tasting Panelist Trent Mannell was asked to be judge at the 17th Canberra International Riesling Challenge, and he liked what he saw.

Someone recently asked me what I thought the big trends in wine will be in 2017. And while I believe alternative varietals will continue to gain momentum I feel that an old favourite, Riesling , will rise again to become one of the most popular wines on the market.

I’ve come to this conclusion after a stint as Panel Chair judge at the 17th Canberra International Riesling Challenge, where I was blown away by the quality, variety and consistency of Rieslings from around the world, and equally by the Australian examples, which are right there in the top echelon.

Given the fact that most international wine tastings of this nature are held in Europe, the UK or America, it is a coup that we have a tasting of this kind in our own backyard.

Nearly all of the credit for this has to go to winemaker Ken Helm from Helm Wines in the Canberra District . Ken is about as knowledgeable and passionate about Riesling as anyone I know and we’ve had many a long conversation about the many nuances of this wonderful varietal while sipping some wonderful examples from Ken’s winery in Murrumbatmen.

The thing about Riesling is it is so versatile – by controlling when it is picked and how much sugar is in the grape, it can be made in almost any style from dry and citrusy to sweet and syrupy. All have their place and appeal and all were on show at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge.

JUDGING RIESLING ROYALTY

The 2017 event featured an outstanding collection of wines from eight countries with record numbers. Record entries (512) as well as the hughest participation from Austria and Australia and the largest number of entries from Germany and the USA since 2009, and in a strong sign of the quality on show, a record number of medals awarded. There were 85 Gold Medals, 112 Silver Medals and 168 Bronze Medals – a medal strike rate of 72%; this is up from 65% in 2015. Gold Medals represented 17% of entries - a record for the Challenge, clearly a reflection of the outstanding 2015 and 2016 vintages in the Southern Hemisphere and some fine winegrowing and winemaking skills.

“It is indeed an exciting time for Riesling across the world,” Ken said at the Challenge. Like me, he reckons that there is an increased appetite for Riesling and once these award-winning wines hit the market they’ll be greeted with much joy.

For the record Austrailan wines excelled. The Best Wine of the 2016 Challenge was Ferngrove Wines from the Frankland River region in WA for their Ferngrove Off-Dry Riesling Limited Release 2016 .

The best dry Riesling went to Adelaide Hills winery Bird in Hand for their Bird in Hand Riesling 2016 , made from pristine Clare Valley fruit, while the Best Museum Riesling was awarded to the Robert Stein Riesling 2009 from Mudgee.

A VERSATILE VARIETY

The fact that three different regions around Australia is tip of the hat to the versatility of the varietal to shine in different conditions and a testament to the heightened professionalism and attention to detail by winemakers and viticulturists.

Germany’s Weingut Georg Müller Stiftung - 2015 Hattenheimer Hassel Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese picked up two awards – the Best Sweet Riesling and the Best European Riesling, while the Mount Majura Vineyard Riesling 2016, scored for Best Riesling from the Canberra District.

For all the results visit www.rieslingchallenge.com

And can I give me thanks and gratitude to Ken, who is stepping down as Chair of the CIRC after 17 years at the helm. If it were not for his tireless work in instigating and perpetuating this Challenge we wouldn’t be talking about these Rieslings now, and you wouldn’t be ready to taste them. Cheers Ken, here’s to our next glass of off-dry and our chat on your creaky verandah.

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Showcasing Shiraz with Australia's First Families of Wine
Words by Paul Diamond on 14 Oct 2017
A fabulous Wine Selectors dinner with Australia’s first families of wine revealed the bright future of this incredible variety. A red wine dinner in the middle of a chilly Melbourne August seemed like a highly appropriate thing to do and what better variety than Shiraz to chase the cold away. And so a four-course menu by the team at Neale White’s Papa Goose restaurant was devised and 12 great Shiraz from Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) were sourced and the tables set. By the time the Wine Selectors faithful started arriving, it was clear that the dinner was going to be one to remember. Designed to celebrate Shiraz through the expressions of 12 wines from the 12 families that make up the AFFW , the diversity of flavours and expressions from one grape variety was quite remarkable. On paper, the line-up looked simply yummy, but as the wines were being opened and tested before the guests arrived, the reality of what we were pouring and tasting started dawning on us; we were privy to a multiplicity of smells, flavours and textures that were being represented from 10 different regions and 1300+ collective years of winemaking experience. A Family Affair
On hand to help host, pour and manage 1000-odd glasses of Shiraz were Katherine Brown, Brown Brothers winemaker and Chairperson of the AFFW Next Generation, Justine Henschke, PR for Henschke Wines , Justin Taylor, export manager for Taylors Wines, Sally Webber, DeBortoli family ambassador and Jeff McWilliam, CEO of McWilliam’s Wines . The food was awesome and the wine a perfect foil for the cold and wet. And as the family anecdotes from each of the AFFW members were told, the conversation eventually found itself reflecting on the future of Australian Shiraz. “Shiraz is the past and it’s also the future,” Justine Henschke noted emphatically. “It’s the past in that it has established a lot of wine communities and it’s the future in that we now know how Shiraz thrives according to climate.” “So now it’s all about educating people on what style comes from where, so they know where to go for something specific.

Look at tonight, we have tried 12 different wines of the same variety across many different regions, showing small nuances from where they have been sourced and that’s pretty incredible.

- Justine Henschke, Henschke Wines
Sally Webber agreed that diversity is a key and that blends are going to play a big part in strengthening its appeal for future generations. “I love that it’s such a diverse variety and can blend beautifully with so many other varieties.” “The future for Shiraz is in blends,” she added. “It’s such an intense variety, you have pepper and spice and there are some varieties you only need a little of and it brings out all these other great characters. “Rhône varieties like Grenache and Mourvedre, and even varieties like Gamay and Tempranillo really add different expressions to Shiraz and as the Australian consumer becomes less conservative and more experimental, we’ll get to see the variety’s real potential.” A hint of spice
For Katherine Brown and Brown Brothers, fine, spicy cool climate Shiraz is the future and Heathcote is their chosen region. As Katherine described, “We think customers understand that Shiraz doesn’t need to come from a warm climate and we are on the search to make a Shiraz that you can call refreshing.” “Something you can drink at lunch, something that is more about pepper and spice than big jammy fruits. That’s where I see the future of Shiraz, we are starting to see these cooler climates like Heathcote, Eden Valley and Margaret River delivering these flavours.” So what about hot areas, those that built the wines that put us on the map like Barossa , McLaren Vale and the Clare ? Justin Taylor thinks that Shiraz is a variety that can deal with the heat and with careful winemaking, the future for warmer styles is still bright.

“Australia’s getting hotter whether you like it or not, and Shiraz loves heat, so we can keep making more Shiraz for the global market, we can do it with rationality, and we can do it with diversity. Our quality has never been as good as it is right now, it’s a great story for this country.”

- Jeff McWilliam, McWilliams Wines
Jeff McWilliam agrees and is happy that the diversity we are seeing has extended to a place where the expressions of Shiraz that emulate the O’Shea Hunter River Burgundies that the Hunter Valley does so well are gaining popularity again. “We are going back to medium bodied wines, just like the great old wines that came from Mt Pleasant,” said Jeff. “I love McLaren Vale and Barossa Shiraz , but I know the wines we do best are in that style of the old O’Shea wines. “We are talking about vineyards and the special wines they produce, but the Hunter is like that, you can have a great vintage and you can have a really poor vintage and that’s the excitement of it, just like the diversity of Australian Shiraz.”
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Embracing isolation with Frankland Estate’s Hunter Smith
To celebrate the Frankland Estate Riesling 2015 being our October Wine of the Month, we caught up with winemaker Hunter Smith to talk isolation, organics and a special Guinea fowl. What was it like growing up in Frankland River – WA’s most isolated wine region? Looking back, amazing! The concept of isolation was not there, we had total freedom after school (a thriving 60-student primary school) to go horse riding, rabbit trapping and yabbie catching, help out on the farm, kayak down the Frankland River, camp, fish and explore on the spectacular south coast and have big farm picnics where friends would join us at the farm and the folks would drink magnums of red well into the evening around a big fire.   Your parents weren’t always in the grape-growing game – how did that come about? Farming and the land are a big part of both my father’s and mother’s family histories in Australia. My father Barrie grew up on a vineyard in South Australia’s Riverland and his family moved to a farm in the Frankland River region back in the 50s, so I guess it was always in his blood. Fast forward a little and Judi and Barrie met in Perth and purchased a farm in Frankland River down the road a bit from my grandparents and started farming sheep and wheat. Dad was always making a barrel of wine a year and in the early 1980s, Judi and he went on a trip through France with Bill Hardy and let’s just say they got the bug to plant some vines. The first vines were planted in 1988 and, over time, sheep numbers have gone from 15,000 to pretty much just a handful now as the wine business has become our main focus. Did you always imagine you’d end up working in the wine industry? Standing in 5ºC pruning vines in the middle of a Frankland River winter would make any teenager look for greener pastures. I was adamant I would do anything but winemaking and grape growing. I spent 10 years after school in university and travelling and this made me realise how much I loved the industry and the region in which we farm our vines. A vintage with Eric and Bertold Salomon in Kremstal, Austria was probably the point in time when it all changed for me. Given how pristine the Frankland River region is, and the fact that it’s virtually pollution free, is there a commitment among local growers to organic viticulture? I think generally, viticulturists are looking to be as sustainable as possible and this region is very much that way inclined, we have a very complementary climate to help with this. While we remain the only certified organic vineyard and winery in the Frankland River region, there is a big move in this direction.
One of the more unique members of your team is Gladys – what contribution does she make to the vineyard? As a family, we don’t believe in hierarchy in the workplace, but Gladys is the matriarch of our amazing Guinea fowl flock. Every year, Barrie incubates eggs found by the vineyard workers and a breeding program sees a few hundred new birds added to the team. Under Gladys command, they help control pests such as weevils. It’s all the one percenters that help make a successful organic farming system. What difference do you think your organic approach made to the 2015 Riesling? I could bang on about organics for hours, but what I will say is, we have seen vine health improve remarkably through the attention to detail in every aspect of nutrition, soil biology and climatic conditions. As a result, we are seeing very exciting developments to fruit balance and we are finding natural acidity is retained nicely. We have also been able to increase ripening a fraction, giving this wine delicious generosity of flavour, while maintaining that delicate and a nervous framework of acidity that make Frankland Estate Rieslings a stand out. In our 2017 calendar, your Riesling is matched with steamed snapper with Asian flavours – what’s your favourite meal to enjoy with it? That sounds pretty good! Being just an hour’s drive to the Southern Ocean, I love sitting on the beach catching fresh whiting and the humble herring, these cooked over an open fire with a Riesling (with a couple of years’ age) is spectacular.   What’s your favourite wine memory? Gosh, too many great wine moments to pin it down to one, but a very memorable night was 10 years ago when our great late friend and wine importer to the USA John Larchet, with his great friend Ray Harris and a group of fellow Australian winemakers, spent an unbelievable evening enjoying some of Ray’s finest bottles in his New York apartment overlooking the NYC skyline. I remember thinking I would never see some of these wines again and I couldn’t help but think how amazing it was to be sitting on the other side of the world in a city so far removed from our Isolation Ridge vineyard in Frankland River, a special memory! What’s your favourite… Way to spend time off? With the family on the farm or at the beach. Holiday destination? Bremer Bay (south coast WA) whales, fishing, spectacular white beaches and probably even more remote than Frankland River! It’s a must see for anyone that’s never been. Wine and food match? I don’t get too caught up with that, if there’s food and wine, I’ll be there! Sporting team? Wallabies (sometimes!) Book? Something with a bit of Australian history – I always enjoy reading, nothing too dry!  I’m reading Peter FitzSimons’ Eureka right now, which is a good read.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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