THIS year’s Western Australian wine show circuit got under way last week with the announcement of the winners of the Sheraton Wine Awards.
At the Sheraton Wine Awards 26 year ago the half dozen or so wines to be judged were delivered in the back of a car. Last week the judging panel assessed 450 wines from 120 Western Australian producers. The local industry continues to grow both in hectares under vine and in the number of new labels hitting the market annually.
The Sheraton event continues to be an invaluable resource for small and medium size wine producers in this State. It provides these producers with the opportunity to seek an independent assessment of their products. The awards are not always about the awarding of medals, but rather about gaining a perspective on the quality of wines being produced.
While never finite, given that wine tasting is a subjective exercise, the results can help producers see where their products sit against those of competitors. And producers who take heed of the judges’ advice can gain valuable insight into their product’s performance.
This year producers were warned to be vigilant with regard to ‘Brettanomyces’, a spoilage yeast generally only present in red wines and one most winemakers take great pains to avoid.
Low levels of this pesky yeast can add complexity to a wine’s aroma, while overt amounts can ruin it.
A wine infected by brettanomyces can take on unpleasant odours that are variously described as resembling mouse droppings or a sweaty saddle, among other things. A wine overly imbued with brettanomyces tends to get worse as it ages.
‘Brett’ as it is commonly called, continues to causes confusion and debate in wine circles. It is a complex and generally misunderstood spoilage.
One of the problems is the detectable level of ‘brett’ that tasters are able to identify in wine. Some believe that a degree of ‘brett’ adds something to a wine, and effectively ignore its presence. Others with extraordinary palates/noses can dismiss a wine instantly and are able to recognise the slightest level.
So dominant has the discussion on ‘brett’ been in recent times that at one recent tasting I attended the topic was banned altogether.
Nevertheless, ‘brett’ clearly is present in a number of Western Australian wines effectively killing the wine within a year or two of release. Such is the confusion surrounding this spoilage that a wine awarded a medal in a show one year can be undrinkable the next.
As in previous years, the Sheraton awards attracted some outstanding judges in 2003, among them the much respected UK Master of Wine, Philip Goodband.
Inducted into the MW fraternity in 1970, Mr Goodband suggested the overall quality of wines coming out WA was exceptional and remarked on the emerging importance of wines in the $15 to $20 price point – a level WA has an abundance of wine in.
South Australian winemaker at O’Leary Walker, David O’Leary, who has a Jimmy Watson win and has twice been named international red winemaker of the year, also suggested that WA was in good hands. He was more cautious when I asked him about faulty wines, however, instead suggesting that he was impressed with the quality of our chardonnay.
The awards’ other judge was Ray Jordan.
The absence of many familiar Western Australian producers at the Sheraton would have made little difference to the results, one of the judges said, with the wines from many of the category winners strong enough to defeat challenges from all comers.
This year’s most successful exhibitor award went to the Houghton Wine Company. Larry Cherubino, who announced his resignation as winemaker of the West Aussie icon recently, has led the team at Houghtons through a remarkable period of growth in wine production and quality improvement during his five years at the helm.
His development of the Houghton Regional range of wines is testimony to the building of his impressive reputation.
There can be little doubt that this talented winemaker will resurface after drawing breath for the first time in five years.
The other big winner on the night was Margaret River/Willyabrup producer Gralyn Estate, which collected its second ‘wine of the show’ in recent years with the 2001 Shiraz Cabernet.
Both Gralyn and Houghtons have been short-listed for the prestigious ‘Australian wine producer of the year’ gong at this year’s London International Wines and Spirits Competition. Stocks of Gralyn’s award winner are still available through the cellar door in Margaret River.
Dry White Riesling
Silver Medal: Houghton Wine Company Riesling 2002
Gold Medal: Green Valley Vineyard Riesling 2002
Dry White Sauvignon Blanc
Silver Medal: Rosily Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2003
Gold Medal: Houghton Wine Company Sauvignon Blanc 2003
Dry White Semillon
Silver Medal: Sandstone Wines Semillon 2001
Gold Medal: Ashbrook Estate Semillon 2003
Dry White Verdehlo
Silver Medal: Deep Woods Estate Verdelho 2003
Gold Medal: Wise Vineyards Verdelho 2003
Dry White – Chardonnay
Silver Medal: Chalice Bridge Estate Chardonnay 2001
Gold Medal: Goundrey Wines Chardonnay 2001
Dry White – other varieties or blends of varieties
Silver Medal: Wildwood of Yallingup Chenin Blanc 1997
Gold Medal: Houghton Wine Company Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2003
Sweet White table wine
Silver Medal: Gralyn Estate Riesling 2003
Gold Medal: None awarded
Dry Red Pinot Noir
Silver Medal: Phillips Wines (Pemberton) Pinot Noir 2002
Gold Medal: Somerset Hill Wines Pinot Noir 2001
Dry Red Cabernet Sauvignon
Silver Medal: Forest Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Gold Medal: Brookland Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
Dry Red – Shiraz
Silver Medal: Picardy Shiraz 2001
Gold Medal: Hay Shed Hill Shiraz 2001
Dry Red – other varieties or blends of varieties
Silver Medal: Island Brook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2002
Gold Medal: Gralyn Estate Shiraz Cabernet 2001
Sparkling Wine, red or white
Silver Medal: Flying Fish Cove Pinot Chardonnay 2001
Gold Medal: None awarded
Fortified Wine, any style
Silver Medal: Talijancich Liqueur Muscat 15 y/o
Gold Medal: Jane Brook Estate Liqueur Verdelho NV