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On Tasting
A Morning at the Mount Barker WA Wine Show
Sunday, 20th November, 2011  - David Farmer
Chairman of Judges, Nic Bullied - an old hand on the wine circuit

The exhibitors show at The Mount Barker show was held on 14th October and I spent a profitable four hours working through the range of wines. Only WA wines are allowed - a feature I applaud. First up I headed to Class 7 - Rosé 2011, to confirm my prejudice that no one has the foggiest idea what a rosé should be. This was confirmed by the two gold medals, one from the odd assemblage of shiraz, merlot, tempranillo and pinot noir and the other from that recognised variety for great rosé, shiraz. The latter shone with the most unusual, bright, fluorescent, pink colour. In the plant world this would signal to animals looking for food 'stay well away'. The only wine with any character was a very pale, ruby to garnet coloured malbec from Xanadu which scored nothing.

The Chairman of Judges was Nic Bullied, an old hand on the wine circuit and he spoke keenly about the show results and the great number of promising wines while mentioning the odd disappointing class. About 50% of the wines won medals which apparently is normal for regional shows. Mention was made of the superb wines in Class 10 - Chardonnay with 6 golds and Class 24 - Shiraz also with 6 gold medals. What should have been the strength of the show, Class 2 - Riesling 2011, was singled out by Nic as a disappointment, or perhaps a mystery, as try as they did no gold was awarded. I liked a Singlefile Estate Porongorup Riesling 2011 which showed great delicacy and lightness but I kept these thoughts to myself as it did not even get a bronze. I thought the panel was a bit hard on the variety for which the Mount Barker-Porongorup district is noted.

What had brought me to WA were white wines and I studied the Class 1 - Sauvignon Blancs and Class 5 - Semillon Sauvignon Blanc's in detail. The only gold in Class 1 went to Watershed Margaret River and I note for consumers that Watershed is turning out many superb, well priced wines. In Class 5 there were four gold medals and I was attracted to the Singlefile Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011. This was a great and exciting class and I'm now comfortable that the blend of these two varieties is indeed a natural fit. To qualify this point I have often wonder if the SSB blend was created because not enough SB had been planted.

The flavours of these WA sauvignon blancs and semillon sauvignon blancs are greatly controlled by the climate of the great Southern Ocean, the influence of which is never far away. When compared with Marlborough wines they are not as overt, pungent and floral being firmer with a coarser texture, while more robust and fuller in flavour. The sauvignons are more like semillon and the semillon has moved to taste more like sauvignon. Marlborough wines are softer, with a silkier texture and to the novice are easier to understand with the pungent whiff causing delight. These WA styles have a very great future but need a bit more work from the drinker to understand as they appear much drier.

Marlborough also has a strong ocean influence and with the lower latitude the grapes flavours are altered to a softer more delicate profile. Please note I am not discussing here 'better' but different. To illustrate this difference between the white flavours further it's like the shift riesling makes from the apparent drier, taught flavours of Eden Valley and the more 'Germanic' softer style you find with New Zealand riesling. In New Zealand there is no continental land mass to suddenly send a burst of hot weather into the coastal zones. You can see from these comments that I relate all wine flavours now to complex weather patterns.

Next I moved to the Class 10 - Chardonnay which was studded with awesome wines. Who could argue with a glass or two of the Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2010 or the Xanadu Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2010 both gold medal wines, and both world class.

I have mentioned when reviewing other shows that wine judges seldom make mistakes when judging wines they make and deal with every day and there is little value working down a class testing your skills against theirs thinking you will find the great overlooked wine. Thus for all the red classes I went straight to the gold medal wines and a few others I was interested in. In no particular order I liked these gold medal wines:

Juniper Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Class 16)
Nannup Ridge Estate Merlot 2010 (only a silver Class 17)
Juniper Estate Tempranillo 2010 (Class 18) - superb aroma
Cape Mentelle Shiraz 2009 (Class 24)
Xabregas Wines Shiraz 2009 (Class 24)
Howard Park Shiraz 2009 (Class 24) - fantastic
Evans and Tate Redbrook Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Class 25)
Harvey River Bridge Shiraz 2008 (Class 32) - an adventurous judging choice
Palmer Wines Reserve Shiraz 2008 (Class 32)

I was pleased that the pinot noir Class 14 was reduced to 15 wines as the west should give this variety away. Winemakers who must make pinot might consider going to live in Otago.

All in all a great show and I learned a lot. The interested consumer would also learn a lot by attending such a tasting as they provide for a tiny entry fee an unequalled opportunity to acquire another depth to your wine appreciation and perhaps help to break out of the tasting rut we all fall into. Please try a range of WA wines soon as many are brilliant.

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