Clare Valley Wine Show Report

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be an Associate Judge of the Clare Valley Wine Show. I was fortunate enough to work under Nick Stock, Chief of Judges and alongside Ian Riggs (Brokenwood) and Ian Hongell (Peter Lehman).

Wine Show Judging is always an eye opener. The Australian system is rigourous and fair – all wines are shown blind and trophy-winning wines are recalled and randomised. I must say that one of the highlights of the show was the Clare Valley 2016 Riesling Class, of which there were 89 entrants. While I love riesling, my teeth do not love tasting 45 Rieslings first thing in the morning. Lack of enamel aside, the Class was the highlight of the show. It’s difficult to disagree with Nick Stock’s comments on the class: “great examples from a terrific range of styles. Fruit, textural longevity all highlights of style. Pleasure to judge”. Indeed, the textural element in the wines was one of the most impressive parts of the Show. Riesling makers in the Clare seem to have taken a page from the European handbook and are working skin contact to build phenolic texture and weight in the wines.

The undisputable wine of show was Pikes The Merle Riesling 2016. This wine took the trophy for Best Current Vintage Riesling, Best Riesling of Show, Best Single Vineyard Wine and Best Wine of Show. The wine narrowly beat Naked Run the First Riesling 2016 and Jim Barry Florita Riesling 2016.

In hindsight, and listening to the discussion of the judges, what singled the Merle 2016 out was the combination of texture, purity and power. This is not your average Clare Valley Riesling driven by fruit and acidity. It has these in spades. But it’s also got incredible texture and weight for a Clare Riesling along with all the Kaffir lime, lemon and citrus notes with a mineral finish.

Surprisingly one of the other stand-out classes was the Shiraz 2015 Class. “Strong class of bright fresh shiraz. Early picking and low oak paying off” were Nick’s comments and reflect something Ian Riggs said prior to judging the class: these wines need to be able to stand up in a national show. The more medium-bodied examples with less new oak were a refreshing change from my expectations as was the inclusion of a percentage of whole bunch in some of the wines. Most of the serious national show-winning wines over the last 5 or so years have been of a more medium-bodied style with savoury characters and more balanced oak.

Other highlights were Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Many of the wines showed bright fruits and fresh acidities. Restrained use of new oak in the Clare is becoming more frequent and helping the wines attain greater drinkability. The best reds from the Clare show perfume, bright fruits, fresh acidities and powerful tannin structure.

One of the highlight of the show was a dinner held at Paulett’s on the evening of day 1.  Neil and Matt Paulett put on delicious fare and served a set of older Paulett Rieslings going back to 2005. The wines showed their pedigree and had aged gracefully. However, they were a candle to the flame compared to the two brackets of Wendouree organised by Nick Stock.

To be clear I’ve never drunk much Wendouree and this is now an issue I am working to immediately rectify. I’ve heard the stories and both Michael and Roscoe swear by the wines but I’ve always been a bit underwhelmed. Whenever I say this to any Wendouree lover I get dismissed with the old saying “you gotta’ drink an old one.” 

The 2014’s were powerful wines of extreme density. Despite this they showed incredible perfume, with the Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 and the Cabernet Malbec 2014 showing exceptionally well. Power, density and lift were all words bandied about. The purists complained the wines were made in a more approachable style in recent vintages… I shudder to think how backward they would have been if the 2014s were approachable.

This was followed by a bracket of Wendouree 2004s. Now this was truly an eye opener. I couldn’t stop drinking the Cabernet Malbec and the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Shiraz Malbec were only slightly behind. No notes taken; just drinking pleasure. So to anyone out there who doesn’t understand Wendouree, my advice is you need to drink an old one…

Sebastian Zoti