On Saturday I attended a tasting for the 12th annual Canberra International Riesling Challenge at the Albert Hall in Canberra. The tasting was a great excuse to make the trip from Sydney to Canberra with one of my oldest friends and it also gave us an opportunity to squeeze in a visit to the Fred Williams retrospective at the National Gallery. (A quick aside – Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons is on until 6 November 2011. Not only does it confirm Williams’ place as one of Australia’s greatest landscape artists, but also demonstrates his amazing talent as a portraitist!)

Anyway, back to my other great passion – wine. The tasting itself proved to be quite a challenge. Over 440 wines from 10 different countries were available to try. Wow, where to start? With our Riedel riesling glass in hand, we headed over to the winners’ table.

The overall winner this year was the Waterton Vineyard Riesling 2009 from the Tamar Valley in Tasmania. It picked up four awards: Best Wine of the Challenge, Best Riesling From Tasmania, Best in Australia and Best Dry Riesling. Fruit forward with delicate citrus flavours, its lively acidity was balanced by a slightly silky texture and good length.

When I got home I checked James Halliday’s rating for the wine. Interestingly he had only scored the wine 89 points in the 2011 edition of Australian Wine Companion. But as Chairman of the Tasmanian Wine Show, he re-tasted the wine in January of this year. Here’s his glowing review:

This is well composed and balanced; it has smooth lime/citrus flavours of very good length and balance; a complete wine that has improved out of all recognition in the past 12 months. Top Gold Tasmanian Wine Show 2011. 11% alc; screwcap; 
Rating: 96 points Drink: to 2019 Price: $23.50 (Great White Hunter by James Halliday, The Australian 14 May 2011)

Wow, what a difference a year can make to the evolution of a riesling!

The Waterton Vineyard Riesling 2009 comes from a very small vineyard (only 2 hectares – 1 ha of riesling and 1 ha of shiraz) and is made by Julian Alcorso’s team at Winemaking Australia (see Tasmania Unbottled: Showcasing Regionally Expressive Wines, Cellarit Wine Blog, 14 September 2011) Great value if you can still find it!*

One of the most interesting aspects of the tasting was how it highlighted Australia’s regional differences. A riesling from Tasmania is quite a different tasting experience to a riesling from the Clare Valley in South Australia, for example. Tasmanian rieslings tends to be higher in acidity and fruitier than their more austere, full bodied and powerful Clare Valley counterparts.

The Canberra International Wine Challenge was founded by top Canberra District winemaker Ken Helm (see Putting Canberra District Riesling on the Map: Helm Wines, Cellarit Wine Blog 19 January 2011). Internationally recognised as one of the premier riesling competitions, it showcases the diverse range of riesling styles (from very dry to sweet dessert and ice wines) from the world’s top producers.

* The Pinot Shop in Lauceston Tasmania has the Waterton Vineyard Riesling 2009 in stock for $24.50 a bottle or $265 a dozen.

Merrill Witt, Editor