Top of the class in the red zone
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.