ALMOST apologetically, guest judge Ian McKenzie gave the WA wine industry a bake when he took the microphone at the Sheraton WA Wine Awards before 400 guests at the annual presentation dinner last month.He was disappointed by the standard of white table wines, because of six of the categories where a silver and gold trophy could have been available, three gold trophies were not awarded.Class one, the riesling section, missed gold with Lamont Wines scoring a silver for its 1999 white.There were no golds given in class five and this is the class WA winemakers revel in, as it is categorised as dry-white, other varieties-or-blends – the slot you would expect to see a crowd of “classic style” whites.It is a style our local people have put on the national wine map. A silver trophy did go to a Forrest Hill Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon from Mt Barker.The third category to fail to deserve a gold was class six, sweet white table wine, although a silver trophy was awarded to Goundrey Wines 1999 Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc blend.Mr McKenzie isn’t the only guest judge to lambaste our wine industry during the 23-year history of the awards.A controversial soul is Wolf Blass who, like a smiling assassin, has lowered the boom from the stage on a number of occasions. I always thought he was fortunate the locals don’t like plucking ducks and boiling tar in their black tie outfits.Like it or not, parochial pride isn’t the point. Judges are chosen because of experience, proven skill and absolute knowledge, so don’t tar and feather the messenger – fix the problems.Besides being joint chief winemaker with South Corp, a position he shares with John Duval, the custodian of Penfolds Grange and other rouge secrets, Mr McKenzie has judged wine shows since the mid-70s.He has been chairman of judges at Perth, Adelaide, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, The Riverland, Lillydale, The Hunter Valley and Victorian wine shows.He has also held the prestigious position of chairman at the Canberra National Wine Show.An unpretentious soul, his quest in wine is for perfection and his thoughts are clearly epitomised with his motto “near enough isn’t good enough”.Mr McKenzie reckons winemakers must get their feet on the ground in the vineyard.“That’s where the job starts,” he rightfully states.Under the umbrella of joint chief winemaker at South Corp he also has the responsibility of Seppelt chief winemaker (one of the South Corp Group), a position he took up in 1983.Recently a McKenzie-made wine wearing the Seppelt label arrived on the van Raalte tasting bench.Clearly this riesling has been a McKenzie quest that began in 1984, a year after he started at Seppelt. The man began an elusive but successful search for fine riesling fruit.His project was to discover and make a riesling that would mature for a decade or more – the white on my bench wearing the 1984 vintage is the result.Mr McKenzie found the fruit from a single grower high in South Australia’s Eden Valley, a place that has long been a haven for great Australian riesling.Most winemakers agree that good riesling is one of the most difficult wines to make, but they will bottle mature into a magnificent aristocrat.Certainly this 16-year-old white is proof that white wines will age and mature gracefully. Rieslings are not oak treated; they are of the “fragrant styles” where the perfume is as important as the fruit. This white is a McKenzie masterpiece released as a mature wine with a wonderful mouth-filling palate that reminds me of Granny Smith apples and cleansing citrus overtone adds to the lengthy structure. It is essential to let the wine breathe for an hour or so before you tackle it and it will enhance the taste remarkably.Retails for $50.60.
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