North East region making ‘capital’ alternative wines
LEADING wine judge Jane Faulkner has described North East wine grape growers’ and vignerons’ pursuit of alternative varieties as ‘zeitgeist’ – emblematic of the spirit of the time.
The Australian Alternative Wine Varieties’ Show judge last week in Myrtleford made the observation at the end of the two-day North East Wine Challenge, a distinctive competition which ranks wine by style from the wider region’s five geographical indications, or districts – Alpine Valleys, Beechworth, Glenrowan, King Valley and Rutherglen.
Ms Faulkner chaired a panel of five, which included Gapsted Wines’ winemaker Blair Jensen and Ringer Reef’s Julie Holm as associate judges, to assess 213 entries – an increase of 50 on last year.
“Often these regions are really good in one particular thing – like the Alpine Valleys’ tempranillo is fantastic and Beechworth chardonnay is outstanding,” she said.
“But when I looked at the results it’s clear that something’s going on.
“It’s zeitgeist. The number of entries and quality are at a higher level right across the board.
“It’s incremental year-onyear and it demonstrates that producers are saying ‘Well, we think this show is really worthy of us putting our wines in’.
“That’s an effort and always an expense. But the numbers are increasing – and the result is better wines.”
Ms Faulkner said vignerons and winemakers in the wider region were “making a mark” with alternative grape varieties, such as tempranillo, vermentino and barbera.
“These are varieties in which the Alpine Valleys, in particular, are doing so well,” she said.
“It’s just a matter of time before (the wines made from them) get more recognition.
“For example, the chief of judges’ trophy went to a tempranillo.
“It’s gone beyond being a wine to watch – it’s truly making its mark.
“There was a 2016 tempranillo in the challenge that I felt was so good – complex, with such beautiful fruit, balance and length. “It was quite spine-tingling. “It’s exciting, it’s lovely and it was from Mayford.
“It was just so good and needed to be recognised.
“There was another really fantastic wine, Billy Button’s ‘The Affable Barbera’, one of Joanne Marsh’s wines.
“It’s probably one of the best barberas I’ve had in a long time and made faithfully to variety and style.
“And what I love is that when you look at these so-called alternative varieties you know that there’s not a lot of plantings, but what’s coming from them is so good – and that’s what makes this show so exciting.
“We’re tasting the best of what these varieties can be.”
Ms Faulkner said the challenge demonstrated that the wider North East was becoming what could be described as an ‘alternative varieties’ capital’ of Australian wine.
The ‘wine of show’ was Brokenwood Indigo Vineyard’s 2016 chardonnay, which scored 96 points – as did another Brokenwood Indigo Valley 2016 called ‘Mendoza IV, made from a chardonnay clone.
Billy Button’s 2017 pinot blanc was judged best alternative white variety and 2016 barbera the best alter- native red variety.
The regional shield went to Alpine Valleys.
Porepunkah Pub is planning an early December dinner featuring awarded wines from this year’s North East Wine Challenge.
Details of the dinner should be available next month.
TOP FIELD: North East Wine Challenge chief judge Jane Faulkner with Baileys of Glenrowan winemaker Paul Dahlenburg, whose topaque was awarded silver in the Wine Challenge and classic muscat bronze in last week’s Myrtleford show. PHOTO: Jamie Kronborg