Top of the class in the red zone

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - James Halliday

AUS­TRALIA and New Zealand were locked to­gether with three wins each when I fin­ished last week’s re­port on the first six classes in the Aus­tralian, New Zealand and South African Tri Na­tions Wine Chal­lenge.

Class seven was for mer­lots, an­other cliffhanger, with NZ (39 points) pre­vail­ing over Aus­tralia (35) and South Africa (31). But, as I ex­plained last week, the win­ning coun­try did not nec­es­sar­ily have the top wine, and so it was here with 2005 Poacher’s Ridge Louis Block from West­ern Aus­tralia’s Great South­ern re­gion emerg­ing on top (www.prv.com.au). Flush with se­duc­tive red fruits, it also had good struc­ture, edg­ing the 2005 Craggy Range Te Kahu into sec­ond and South Africa’s 2005 Waterk­loof Cir­cum­stance into third place.

The re­verse oc­curred with shi­raz (class eight), where Aus­tralia (57) was far ahead of NZ (35) and South Africa (20) but the im­pe­ri­ous Shi­raz Le Sol of Craggy Range came first, with 2005 Yer­ing Sta­tion Shi­raz Viog­nier and 2005 Mount Langi Ghi­ran sec­ond and third. I placed Le Sol first and Craggy Range’s other Hawke’s Bay Shi­raz Block 14 sec­ond. Le Sol went on to win the best red wine tro­phy by one vote over the 2004 Stella Bella Caber­net Mer­lot.

None­the­less, the shi­raz class set a pat­tern fol­lowed for the next four red wine classes, with Aus­tralia tak­ing all four, ul­ti­mately win­ning eight to NZ’s five. More­over, the win­ning mar­gins were far larger than those of the white classes (ex­cept for class five, other whites).

In class nine (caber­net sauvi­gnon), Aus­tralia (81) oblit­er­ated NZ (19) and South Africa (12) with 2004 Houghton Glad­stones (rich and bal­anced, with lovely mid-palate vi­nos­ity; www.houghton-wines.com.au) first, 2005 Bal­naves The Tally sec­ond and 2004 Ma­jella third, un­der­lin­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Coon­awarra and caber­net sauvi­gnon. Both showed per­fect ex­pres­sion of ripe caber­net. I placed Ma­jella first for its de­li­cious cas­sis line and flow, but there was lit­tle to sep­a­rate th­ese three wines; it was the first time all three places went to one coun­try.

In class 10— bordeaux blends, typ­i­cally caber­net mer­lots (with caber­net less than 85 per cent) — Aus­tralia (50) led South Africa (20) and NZ came last (15). The dam­age was done by 2004 Stella Bella Caber­net Mer­lot (www.stella­bella.com.au), with its per­fect bal­ance and com­po­si­tion (I placed it first), with Thorn-Clarke Shot­fire Ridge Quartage (from 2005), show­ing all the silky rich­ness ex­pected of it, sec­ond (where I placed it). NZ’s most ex­pen­sive and revered 2005 Stonyridge Larose (from Wai­heke Is­land) came third, at­tract­ing twothirds of NZ’s points in the class.

Other red blends (class 11) went to Aus­tralia (79), South Africa (17) and NZ (16). Mar­ry­ing flavour with el­e­gance, the 2003 Ma­jella The Malleea (caber­net 55 per cent, shi­raz 45 per cent) got my first-place vote and sup­port from all other judges. Coon­awarra also gave birth to 2004 Mil­dara Caber­net Shi­raz, pow­er­ful and po­tent, which came third. It was left to 2005 Cross Roads The Tal­is­man (Hawke’s Bay) to spoil the party with its se­cret blend of seven va­ri­eties com­ing sec­ond.

In class 12, other red va­ri­eties, Aus­tralia (62) saw off NZ (26) and South Africa failed to score. The top wine was 2006 Trin­ity Hill Tem­pranillo, mark­ing a suc­cess­ful show for the Hawke’s Bay Gim­blett Grav­els re­gion; the tem­pranillo was strongly sup­ported by all judges for its depth of fruit and soft tan­nins. Ruther­glen pro­vided two 2005 du­rifs for sec­ond and third place, from Stan­ton & Killeen and Ruther­glen Es­tates re­spec­tively.

NZ fought back when it was too late, de­mol­ish­ing Aus­tralia and South Africa (62 to 12 and 10 re­spec­tively) with three beau­ti­ful botry­tised ries­lings, the top from Wither Hills, the next two from For­rest Es­tate, which has been reel­ing off one tro­phy af­ter an­other for its 2006 Botry­tised Ries­ling fol­low­ing sim­i­lar suc­cess for its 2005 Col­lec­tion Noble Ries­ling, so the only mild sur­prise was that Wither Hills should spoil the For­rest party.

Aus­tralia won eight classes to NZ’s five; South Africa came close once or twice, but not close enough.

Is the Tri Na­tions a fair re­flec­tion of the over­all qual­ity of the best wines of each coun­try? It’s hard to say it’s not, or that it is the only yard­stick.

It’s just the best we have to­day.

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