First Press reports that this year’s 2010 NSW Wine Awards is shaping up as a contest between the new emerging cool climate regions of NSW and the traditional regions of the Hunter Valley and the Riverina. The emerging cool climate regions of the Canberra district, Orange, Hilltops, Tumbarumba and the Southern Highlands took roughly half of the spots in the Top NSW 40 Wines, Cool-Climate Continues to Captivate Judges, First Press Newsletter 1 October 2010. The top 40 NSW wines were selected from over 800 entries by a panel of highly respected wine judges chaired by Huon Hooke.

 

The region of Orange has certainly emerged as a clear winner at this year’s Awards regardless of whether it picks up the ultimate prize of 2010 NSW Wine of the Year to be announced at the Awards Gala Presentation dinner at Guillame at Bennelong on Monday 18 October 2010. Five of its wineries are in the top 40 and its wines took out two of the nine trophies: Angullong Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2010 rrp $17 won the trophy for best young sauvignon blanc and Logan Cabernet Merlot 2008 rrp $25 won the trophy for best young red blend.

The Orange wine region is about 260 km west of Sydney. Noteworthy for its very high elevation, it is also one the coolest growing environments in Australia. Orange is dominated by the extinct volcano Mt Canobolas, which provides rich volcanic soils and moderates the hot summer temperatures to create one of the longest ripening periods in Australia – grapes are typically not picked until mid to late autumn. The combination of aged soils, high altitude, cool temperatures, ample sunshine, decent rainfall and long dry autumns, typically produce wines that have been recognised for their complexity, elegance and balance.

Wine critic Max Allen has called Orange arguably the most exciting wine region in NSW, Crush by Max Allen: Orange, Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation. Up until the 1990s it was pretty much a well kept secret until Bloodwood Wines, established in 1983 by pioneers Rhonda and Stephen Doyle, caused a sensation when it won a significant wine trophy for its Orange cabernet. Today over 30 wine labels are now available in the region, and approximately 1,500 ha of grapes are being grown by some 80 vineyards.

In recent years Orange’s reputation has been greatly enhanced by the accolades and awards being heaped on its sauvignon blanc. In describing Orange sauvignon blanc, wine critics typically refer to the wine’s ripe tropical fruit aromas and flavours that are enhanced by a fresh, cool-climate acidity providing palate length, elegance and finesse. In addition to Angullong, other top sauvignon blanc producers include Printhie, Patina Wines and Ross Hill. One of Australia’s most successful wineries, Brokenwood, makes an exceptional sauvignon blanc (the 2009 was rated 94 points by James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion 2011 Edition) from its Forest Edge vineyard in Orange.

Logan, which won the trophy for best young red blend for the Logan Cabernet Merlot 2008, is typical of the many small, family-owned wineries in Orange that have a very hands-on approach to the management of their vineyards and the making of their wines. Winemaker Peter Logan even crushes his pinot noir grapes with his feet! Philip Shaw is another winery that made the NSW Top 40 list with its Philip Shaw No 89 Shiraz Viognier 2008 rrp $44. It sources all of its grapes from its hand-kept 47 hectare Koomooloo vineyard, which rises to an elevation of 900 metres and was planted in 1988-89.

Brangayne of Orange and Hunter Valley winery Pepper Tree both made the Top 40 NSW Wine List for their Orange chardonnays: Brangayne of Orange Isolde Reserve Chardonnay 2009 rrp $30 and Pepper Tree Venus Block Orange Region Reserve Chardonnay 2009, rrp $30. Incidentally, Brokenwood’s Forest Edge Vineyard Orange Chardonnay 2007 won the Best Wine of the Show NSW Wine Awards last year.  The high altitude and long ripening period is giving the best Orange chardonnays a very complex character and exceptional finesse.

If you want to get a real taste for Orange wines, consider making a trip to Orange during Orange Wine Week, 22 October to 31 October 2010. Now in its  fifth year, Orange Wine Week is actually 10 days of events and activities highlighting the region’s premium wines through wine shows, tastings, educational workshops and dinners celebrating the region’s local produce.

Photo: Taste of Orange