Dan's Blog

Good Day From Canberra - Riesling Central

Friday, October 21, 2016

Last Friday I was in Canberra for the Canberra International Riesling Challenge (CIRC), which I have been writing about for Winestate Magazine, for the last three years. This was the 17th running of the CIRC, since it was started by Canberra Riesling maker and wine legend, Ken Helm AM. It has grown from being a "benchmarking" exercise for local Rieslings, to a global competition for this regal white variety.

In the 2016 edition, there were around 500 Rieslings entered from the eight largest Riesling producing nations. The only significant producer missing this year was Argentina, but there are high hopes that they will be represented next year.

This is a classy event in every respect. Not only is it focused on one of the most regal of white grape varieties, Riesling, with trophies being awarded to the best entrant from most of the competing countries, but the fact that these trophies are sponsored by those countries Embassies. Each of the Embassies of Germany, America and New Zealand sponsor a trophy for the Best Riesling in the CIRC from their country. There are also trophies for the Best ACT Riesling and Tasmanian Riesling.

C'mon South Australia, get off your backside! Somebody from there should sponsor a trophy for the Best South Australian Riesling, as South Australia produces the vast majority as well as some of the best Riesling in Australia.

Like in past years, there were some cracker wines entered this year and the challenge achieved its highest ever ratio of medals to entries. The class with the very best “strike rate” was the current vintage, 2015 Rheingau (Germany), where all six entries were awarded a medal - 3 Gold and 3 Bronze. That’s a 100% strike rate! Unheard of in wine shows, except maybe in the museum classes of fortified wines.

One of the bonuses of attending the CIRC is the fact that it is held in the stately Canberra Hyatt Hotel rather than in a big shed or hall. Visiting the Canberra Hyatt is like going back in time to an era where things were done with more grace and style and in a much classier way than today’s frenetic pace. The building and its décor are nearly 100 years old and reek of class and elegance. It is the perfect setting for this classy event.

The next day I had an appointment with the great guys at Lark Hill Winery to taste their range of Bio-dynamic wines. As in previous visits all their wines were excellent! The current release Riesling is the 2015 which has lovely citrus and lime aromas, an appealing, crisp mouthful of citrus flavours which is fuller and less austere/tight than many of the 2015 Riesling I have tasted recently, making it a delicious wine to enjoy on its own. Incidentally, the Lark Hill 2016 Bio-dynamic Riesling won a Silver medal at this year’s CIRC.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that Lark Hill Winery are one of the first and leading proponents of the sensational Austrian grape variety, Gruner Veltliner, one of my favourite white wine varieties.

On the way back to Sydney I stopped in at the township of Collector for a delicious bite to eat, in the quaint “Some Café”.  Next door to the cafe I discovered Collector Wines cellar door. This small producer has a neat range of wines from both Canberra and Tumbarrumba. Their 2016 City West Riesling, which comes from the ubber cool Tumbarrumba region, is a great wine.  Not as steely or acid as I was expecting from such a cool area, rather more aromatic, gentle bodied, with a lingering elegant finish. I will be talking more about some of their other wines on Facebook and Twitter in the coming days.

The next and final stop was at Cherry Tree Hill Wines on the side of the Hume Highway, a tad north of Sutton Forest, in the NSW Southern Highlands. Starting with the lovely “old barn” cellar door, the whole experience is fabulous.

Given that the vineyard was only planted in 2000, they have been producing award winning wines since 2005. The most amazing thing is that you can taste and buy 10 vintages of their Riesling going back to 2005, including the 2008 vintage that won a Silver medal at this year’s CIRC.

The vast array of Rieslings, are all different individuals which should cater for most different tastes. The most recent, the 2016, which due to the vintage conditions is “off-dry” i.e. it has a modicum of residual sugar, not enough to be really noticed or be garish, but just enough to make the wine very appealing for current consumption.

The last Riesling in the line-up is the Olivia 2014 Botrytis Riesling (375mL) which is sensational with great aromas of dried apricots, marmalade and orange peel. It is really mouth-filling with fabulous sweetness which doesn't cloy and is brilliantly balanced. By the way their red wines are all pretty neat too.

Thus, despite its political hot air, Canberra has a lot going for it wine-wise. So if you want to try excellent cool-climate wines – especially Riesling – seek out a Canberra District producer and try their wines. There are a number of wineries producing really great cool-climate wines in the district.

The roll call of those wineries that I can recommend thus far are:


Collector Wines

Eden Road Wines

Helm Wines

Lark Hill Winery – Silver medal – 2016 CIRC

Lerida Estate

Mount Majura Vineyard – Trophy – 2016 CIRC

Shaw Vineyard Estate

Yarrh Wines

Plus Cherry Hill Wines, in the nearby Southern Highlands.

Being a small cool-climate region, the wines from this area can be a bit hard to find outside the region, but they are definitely worth the effort of seeking them out, or just contact the producer directly. ENJOY!