Within the first eight minutes out on the streets of Canberra, I saw a dude on an e-scooter almost cleanup a pedestrian on the footpath.
Welcome back to Australia’s capital city!
These drunken Canberran’s chosen vehicles of pleasure are both loved and loathed, but to me, they just feel like a welcome mat. And it’s good to be back.
So, I’m here this week to judge the Winewise Championships 2023, aka my favourite wine show on the calendar.
What sets this competition apart is that every entrant must have bagged a gold medal at an Australian wine show. It’s a context that theoretically guarantees high quality (bar the odd faulty wine/judges brain fart), with the sort of dross wines that usually make judging a chore have already been filtered out by other judges.
No other wine show is this pleasurable to judge.
I can’t give away any results of how this week is tracking, but three brackets have been especially impressive over the first two days of judging – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Cabernet Sauvignon. Pinot Noir of bright fruit AND structure, a welcome return to Chardonnay that manages to balance flavour with taut acidity, then Cabernet that marries integrated oak to real tannins.
A real pleasure.
On that tangent, the small Barbera bracket was fun, and the joys of Grenache were apparent in that flight too. By contrast, Pinot Gris, Fiano and Vermentino brackets all underwhelmed today, and Sangio wasn’t much fun yesterday.
More positively, the other great element of this show is the before and apres judging activities. In the mornings, I run up the mountains/around the lakes of Canberra, and each night we visit Canberra’s best BYO restaurants with a bag full of bottles under the arm.
It makes for super long days but also a sense of not just being in Canberra but experiencing it.
I landed just in time on Monday for dinner at Bamiyan, a casual Afghani restaurant in Braddon (aka central Canberra). I have limited experience with Afghani, but the Middle East meets Indian-esque style of Bamiyan was a delight (and I was starving). Lester Jesburg (Winewise founder) had a stack of northern Rhone delicacies for this feast, with many highlights.
The Cuilleron didn’t do much for me (just a bit heavy), but the Roche Paradis La Madone Rouge 2020 was notably good, with a generosity of flavour with an unmistakable Rhonish smoked meats charisma (if just a little glossy). The Coursodon was even better, although fascinating how new worldish (and Adelaide Hills-esque) it tasted. Not pictured was a bottle of Woodlands Colin Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, which came from my cellar for something different. It was a dumb choice for spice-laden Afghani food, but ho-boy is that a wonderous aged Margaret River Cabernet. Fully mature, all leaf litter and cedar but with this mid palate raspberried power and weight that carries it forward. A lovely gold medal wine (and arguably the best on the table).
Then, last night we ventured to the leafy, embassy-heavy environs of Yarralumla to hit Bentham Street Bar ‘n’ Pizza. From the outside, this looked like just another cosy corner trattoria. But this is next-level corner pizza, with mature service and gloriously autentico food.
My terrible photo does it no justice, but this was pizza made with love. Would go again five stars. Then, in the bag was a swag of Barbera, just for more of an Italian experience.
The Tenuta Le Calcinaie Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2021 was anchovy on toast friendly wine in its ideal form – freshness, phenolic crunch, enough texture for a second glass. Many ticks. The Conterno Vigna Ceretta Barbara d’Alba 2000 was a reminder that this grand Piedmont name doesn’t just make storied Nebbiolo. In fact, the Conterno was a relatively straightforward Barbera, with this exuberance and red fruit fun that was quite disarming. I just wanted to finish the bottle. For another expression the 15% alc Elio Altare Larigi 2009 was Barbera on steroids with this long, unmissable wall of sweet oak and dense dark fruit that even now, at fourteen years old, looked formidable. Man, it would have been an oaky beast in its youth! Now it’s just beastly (yet surprisingly attractive thanks to its lusciousness).
Finally, tonight was the judges and stewards dinner at Wild Duck in Kingston. This is typically the biggest night of the week, with the grandest wines. And the bar was set above head height when three bottles of Bollinger B13 Blanc de Noirs 2013 landed on the table with a Champagne bottle thud.
Yeah, forget Dom; this is my sort of grand marque fizz.
Grandiose power, on-the-razor edge-of-tautness acidity, and then this energy and seriousness. Wow. Wine of the night, right there. Thanks for coming.
It’s always hard to follow such a statement wine, but the Arnaud Lambert Les Perrieres Saumur 2000 followed up well. Power of suggestion, but this stony, ‘are we in Burgundy, Toto?’ Chenin was just a complex and fresh pleasure maker and the most drinkable wine of the night (once the Bollinger bottle is empty). I thought the Huet, by contrast, looked monotone which was interesting (I’m not having a great Huet run fwiw). I was expecting the Roda Reserva 2018 to be too youthful and brash, but it was actually rather seductive – polished, bright, undoubtedly ripe but playful too. I’d still wait 2-3 years before cracking another bottle, but the appeal was there.
In the meantime, the Telmo Rodríguez Molino Real Mountain Wine 2014 was outrageously good. I was expecting a little fading, a little fatness, but it just felt so juicy, fresh and vibrant in its honey-suckle Moscatel mode. It’s rare to see such delicacy in a sweet Moscatel but this had it all. On sheer quality, this was only outclassed by the B13, with the Saumur a close third.
Now, it’s bedtime, and with another mountain to run up and a few flights of Semillon in the morning, it’s time for bed.
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Firstly Andrew re your opening remarks re the “Dude” . Just watched for I think the third time since release, “The Big Lebowski”. Another Coen Brothers gem.
I have been a very early member of Winewise and fondly remember the days of their Sydney tastings of stuff like Wendouree and Mount Mary.
Thanks for your always interesting reports and also those BYO recommendations that have come in very handy on our visits to Canberra(from Wagga Wagga).
Will be using some of your wine advice on our Portugal and Spain adventure which sees us leaving home this Saturday.
Best to you, mate