I never miss this tasting.
Every year, the Sydney Royal Wine Show throws open the doors for a trade/exhibitor tasting of all everything entered into what is one of Australia’s famous, big, prestigious, long-running wine shows. Every wine. All 1,800 of them.
For someone like me, who is usually either judging shows like this blind (so I don’t know what I’m tasting) or just judging brackets at home, this is an unrivalled benchmarking experience. You wander around a giant hall at your leisure, pouring yourself a glass of things you feel like tasting/haven’t seen in a while/have never heard of/wonder how it got a fucking trophy. It’s a gold mine.
Happily, it’s a gold mine that is also open to the public. While the trade/exhibitor tasting happens on Friday, over the weekend, the same doors are thrown open for the Grape, Grain & Graze festival. It’s the same opportunity, but the key difference is that the public pays $100 a session, and they get to snack on award-winning cheeses before taking a Riedel glass home. The freeloading press/trade blow-ins on Friday don’t deserve such things.
Not many wine shows have comprehensive exhibitor/public tastings like this, and it shows – the Grape, Grain & Graze tickets sold out online when I checked last week. So even if you just turn up and drink fortifieds like a winemaker in the 60s/70s/80s/always, it’s a (relatively) cheap day out.
What bewilders me is how few trade/exhibitors turn up. I’ve been banging on about this for years and still don’t have the answer. If you want a read on what a) wine show judges like b) what styles are trending, and c) who is making great wines, you go to tastings like this. Don’t give me bullshit excuses about how it is a Friday morning/we hate Homebush/no one told me. Just. Get. There.
Anyway, rant over. Let’s look at some wines.
As ever, I started with the trophy wines, even though they are not usually the best wines (clearly because I didn’t judge them – ha). Then I wandered through some Pinot, a few other reds, some Shiraz and then into fortifieds. As ever, I ran out of time, so these largely unedited notes I’m ok with but don’t come looking for a forensic examination. Extra bits in italics.
Xanadu Circa 77 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2021
Trophy for Best White Blend. I don’t begrudge wines like this winning – they’re typical examples of the style. But great wines?
Grassy passionfruit. That nose jumps out at you. The palate is a little bitter, but fresh is the word. Simple grass and passionfruit style. It won a trophy on the nose. 17.5/20, 91/100
Artwine Wicked Stepmother Fiano 2022
Trophy for Best Other White Varietal. Easy drink and enjoyable, even if it lacks any sort of complexity.
Juicy varietal style, all pears and esters on the nose. Palate is a pretty open and stonefruity style. Simple stuff. I can’t see much beyond fruit. 17/20, 90/100.
Penfolds Reserve Bin 21A Chardonnay 2021
Trophy for Best Chardonnay, Best White Wine of Show. I loved the 2020 back in March, and this just picks up the same thread/style. A super modern Chardonnay of intensity and style.
A worthy winner. The nose jumps at you – peach, nougat, ripe and mouthfilling yet brisk acidity. Has a banana estery youth too. Long, banana cream finish. It keeps going. Still very tight too. Everything you’d want in a Hills Chard. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Silkman Blackberry Semillon 2022
Trophy for Best Current Vintage White. This has classic Hunter written all over it, save for the aromatic twist.
A little sherbet and bath salt in there? It certainly gives the nose a little edge. The compact palate is classic – green apple and green melon, acidity is appley and punctuates the finish. Great acid balance. Strong release. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Artwine Temptress Rosé 2022
Trophy for Best Rosé. Did nothing for me.
Pink fruit, a little musk, generous but a pretty singular wine. Almost playful flavours, but then the acidity hits with nothing in the middle. I don’t see the trophy quality here. 16.5/20, 88/100.
Howard Vineyard Temptress Pinot Gris 2022
Trophy for Best Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio.
Pear juice and a little pink sherbety prettiness on the nose. Clean and fresh but little going here – no complexity, plenty of acidity, but little actual flavour. Meh. 16.8/20, 89/100.
Evans & Tate Wild Cape Sauvignon Blanc 2022
Trophy for Best Sauvignon Blanc. A big miss for mine.
Generic Sauv this. Has some Margs passion fruit varietal character but little else. Maybe the judges liked the subtlety? To me it just seems underpowered/lacking fruit. 16.5/20, 88/100.
De Bortoli Rutherglen Estate Arneis 2021
International Guest Judge Annual Prize. Guest judges do what guest judges do.
Gluey, hay and hessian, the palate forward and already losing shape. Beats me how this even got more than a bronze. 16/20, 87/100.
Swift Cuvee NV
Trophy for Best Sparkling White. After spending three days just judging sparkling recently, I’m less generous on styles like this. Still a silver for mine.
Expressive, yeasty and quite forward with an unsubtle and quite generous mode. Lots of flavour – it’s a big wine, almost cheesy. Has character, though, and length. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2013
Trophy for Best Semillon & Best Mature White. How can you argue against this? Bet it would be up there for Best White too.
A warmer year but makes for an almost luscious wine. Baby sick, custard, lemon and lime tart, a real citrus custard flavour through it. So long and sustaining too. Maybe a bit more of a forward year? Good form but I think there is some more evening out to come. 18.5/20, 94/100+.
Grant Burge The Vigneron Reserve Riesling 2017
Trophy for Best Riesling.
Good mix of toasty, gently petro-edged development and then stout lime citrus. That nose is very dominating. Not ready as the acidity then clashes with the nose. Great length, though. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Cherubino Dijon Chardonnay 2020
Trophy for Best Single Vineyard Wine. It has everything you’d want in a mod WA style. Will likely get even better next year.
Lovely wine. Well-handled oak, carrying richness and subtlety all at once. Has that grapefruit acidity to it and lovely peach over the top. Width and freshness. 18.5/20, 94/100+.
Boydell’s Reserve Chardonnay 2021
Best Small Producer Wine. This has charisma too – great to see a little-known Hunter name up there.
A tight nose gives nothing away. Underplayed nose and palate – green citrus with just a little oak toast. Fresh, mealy, but ultimately a smidgen underpowered. Will develop into an archetype Hunter style tho. 17.7/20, 92/100+
Hardys Eileen Hardy Pinot Noir 2021
Trophy for Best Pinot Noir & Best Red Wine. I thought this was excellent – really complex and complete. A big Pinot, but carries it all off with aplomb.
Lovely nose. Bright blueberry with a little sous bois and stems, the palate is varietal, the fruit has cool blueberry and then riper red fruit. So much going on. Finessed tannins. You get the whole essence of top-shelf fruit. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Shingleback The Gate Shiraz 2019
Trophy for Best Shiraz. This tastes a bit cheap to me – especially against the wines around it.
Confected and dusty nose – plums and a little reduction too. The sweet and sour palate has fruit, but it’s also a bit grubby and less polished than it should be. Plenty of flavour, but not the quality for a trophy. 17/20, 90/100.
Shingleback Local Heroes Shiraz Grenache 2021
Trophy for Best Shiraz Dominant Blend. This could almost come from an entirely different winery to The Gate above. It’s that big a step up—less dusty commercial style, more polish.
Dark. Plums and red fruit, each component singing. It’s a lovely silken wine too. Purple fruit, vibrant, polished. I like the flow here. 18/20, 93/100.
Fermoy Wilyabrup Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
Trophy for Best Cabernet Sauvignon.
Arch classic Wilyabrup nose. Bay leaf and cocoa powder meet mint and dark berries. Expansive dry palate, long and with finessed tannins too. Top shelf. Every bit the Margs classic in a ripe but (good) minty mode. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Devils Lair Honeycomb Cabernet Malbec 2021
Trophy for Best Cabernet Dominant Blend. You can see the step down in intentions after the Fermoy, but it’s still a nice wine.
Mid weight, dark dusty berries, not a heavy hitter. You can feel a medium intensity, approachable and well-made Margs red. But not a top-shelf wine – it’s just pleasant. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Tintara Tempranillo 2021
Trophy for Best Other Red Varietal. I don’t see this as anything more than a pleasant drink. Surely there was more interest in the bracket?
Plump, generic Tempranillo. There is a nice choc leather berry fruit core, but gee, it’s a simple and plain wine. 17/20, 90/100.
Shingleback Davey Estate Tempranillo Touriga 2021
Trophy for Best Other Red Blend. By contrast, this is just excellent. Like a little shot of Portugal, landing in McLaren Vale.
Purple fruited and lovely glossy texture. Purple fruit, with a sort of mulberry gloss and that Touriga vibrancy. This is excellent – texture and feels defined. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Mcguigan Personal Reserve Shiraz 2017
Trophy for Best Mature Red.
Chocolate, so much chocolate oak. It’s easy to see why this would win trophies – it’s a sweet oak and sweet fruited old school Hunter red. I can appreciate so much of this style, to be honest. It’s not for me, but the commercial appeal is through the roof. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Singleback Red Knot Classified GSM 2021
Trophy for Best Value Wine.
Glossy red fruit nose, but the palate is just a little weedy by comparison. Friendly enough, but a little sour for big scores. 17/20, 90/100.
Lerida Estate Shiraz 2019
Trophy for Best NSW Wine.
Lovely. The Lerida renaissance continues. The lightly peppered. Seamless cool climate Shiraz fruit here is so lovely. Perfume, silken palate, and enough tannins to keep you interested. Polished. Plenty of life left. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Morris Old Premium (Rare) Topaque
Trophy for Best Fortified.
Ultra-concentrated sultana and prune dipped in chocolate. It’s quite an upfront concentrated richness that is more mid and front palate than truly back. Sublime intensity, regardless. Plenty of those Topaque green olives at heart too. 19/20, 96/100.
Aphelion Confluence 2021
A little confected and a bit skinsy, I can see why it didn’t win anything – you’d look at the sweet and sour palate and give it nothing. Has palate texture and complexity, though. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Willunga 100 Smart Vineyard Grenache 2021
Bronze medal. In an extensive lineup, you could skip the quality of this. I didn’t.
Lovely wine. Open red fruit expression – it just flows on and on. The palate is excellent too – significant expenses of raspberry with meaty edges plus sufficient tannin. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Gala Estate Pinot Noir 2019
Has the classic east coast nose. Red strawberry with a bit of mushroom complexity. Pretty classic. The palate fills you with more earthen cherry, but it’s just a smidgen sweet and sour to finish. Still quality. 18/20, 93/100.
Forest of the Echoes Pinot Noir 2021
Well, this is a lovely wine. Open ripe red fruit with a bit of cranberry and meat. It’s pretty soft and straightforward, but the style, flesh, and varietal interest are great. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Bream Creek Pinot Noir 2021
Immediately attractive. Slightly soapy, but there is this onslaught of almost plum Pinot fruit. It has tannins and body, too, especially compared to wines around it. Top flight length. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Orlando Centenary Hill Shiraz 2018
No medal. Incidentally, I tasted the Cellar 13 Grenache 2020 on the way out, which scored a deserved gold medal (and got one). I didn’t feel the Centenary Hill, though.
So much lush oak toast. In fact. It’s hard to see the fruit underneath. There is quality here, but it is trying to peak out. I can’t shake the oak. 17.5/20, 91/100+
Kaesler The Bogan Shiraz 2020
Bronze medal. Just a smidgen disjointed.
Dark fruit and plum, but the acidity feels a bit tightened. Maybe it will come out? Dark core of flavour, but you want a bit more oomph in your Bogan. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Mount Pleasant O.P & O.H Shiraz 2021
Bronze medal. Easy to see why it just scored a bronze – this looks really primary. Easy to miss the depth underneath.
Beautiful purple fruit and silken flavours. Back to the classic style. Pretty and vibrant. Zooms through your palate. Spot on, mid-weight, and so polished. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Morris Old Premium (Rare) Tawny
Gold medal. I had a very rushed run-through of a few tawny styles to finish, and this shone like a beacon. Penfolds Grandfather, by comparison, had the richness and sweetness but less complexity. The Galway Pipe Rare 25YO Tawny was right up with the Morris – it was so deep and complex. Really fine. The Mr Pickwick Rare was the odd one out – sweet and sour and a bit disappointing. This Morris looked sublime even compared to the real old tawny I had in Portugal.
Sublime. Coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, prunes, and mocha spice, the cascading layers of flavour. It’s dry, and it gets nutty. And rancio. Then it gets drier before a sort of compressed molasses finish. It goes on for days. I don’t have enough points for a wine like this. 19.1/20, 97/100.