Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

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It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Royal Melbourne Wine Show 2019 - Results!

On Friday, I attended the industry wine tasting event – and the Jimmy Watson Trophy lunch – at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards. It’s a big deal.  Let’s talk numbers.

This year they had 3,050 wines entered, from over 500 wineries.

39 judges tasted these wines, and gave them points out of 100, ranking them and awarding medals in 18 categories, then awarding 8 trophies for best overall, such as the “best white wine of the 2018-19 vintages”.

It’s a lot to take in.  What's that? How many wines did I try??? Well, while we’re still talking numbers, let’s see:

  • 6 classic method sparkling white +9 months
  • 1 rose sparkling
  • 19 chardonnay 2018
  • 4 chardonnay 2017 and older
  • 32 Pinot Noir 2018 and younger
That’s 62 wines.

Then at the lunch they gave us 9 wines, 6 of which I hadn’t tried at the tasting; bringing the variety up to 68.

Erm... A bottle of red passed around on the bus which we necked from the bottle. 69.

Then back to Jimmy Watson’s where I had a couple of glasses of real French champagne for an even 70 wines sampled in a day.

As I said, it’s a lot to take in. At the tasting I experienced for the first time in my life what the experts call “palate fatigue”.   Though curiously no hangover. Unless you count the day I spent in bed on Sunday.

Now in its 135th year, the Royal Melbourne Wine Show claims to be the No. 1 wine show in Australia – if you believe the organisers. And I’m inclined to agree; the numbers stack up.

But with numbers like that, reporting on the best wines in Australia is difficult.

Not all wines made are even entered; it’s an expensive business for wine makers. There’s a one hundred and fifty dollar fee per entry, you need to supply at least a case of wine for tasting, six more cases if you’re shortlisted for a trophy, then you need to have a certain number of boxes in your storeroom available for sale; let’s say four hundred dozen for a smaller winery.

My host – Frank Butera, from Bass River wines – had won a silver medal for his pinot the year before, and this year won the best wine in show in Gippsland for his chardonnay… but he only entered his pinot in the Melbourne wine show this year, cursing his luck since he might have picked up a gong for the chardy.

One of the experts on the panel at the lunch explained that the judges were no longer about “making the varieties better”, because we (in Australia) have got developed varieties, but now it’s more about “celebrating the diversity” within a variety.

The most prestigious trophy to win in this wine show is the Jimmy Watson Trophy, awarded since the sixties, for the best young red wine. Why? Well, Jimmy Watson’s wine bar, in Carlton, is famous as being one of the first places you could drink wine in Melbourne when, under the “white-Australian culture” of the time, wine was generally considered being the drink of “winos”. Men drank beer, women drank sherry, and hopeless sots drank wine. Which came as quite a shock to Italian and Greek immigrants in the fifties, let me tell you.

The Watson trophy was set up to demonstrate and advocate that wine didn’t have to be old to be good. In addition to the trophy awarded to the winery, the Watsons’ also supply a medal to the wine maker (who often go unrewarded) at a private informal ceremony at the Jimmy Watson bar after the media lunch.

So without any further ado, and in fairness to the winemakers and in consideration of the numbers above, I’ll cut to the chase and reveal…

The Trophy Winning Wines (and some I had at the lunch):

The Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy - Best Young Red Wine

2018 The Wild Fig SGM (Shiraz Grenache Mouverdre)
Bleasedale Vineyards
Langhorne Creek SA

A controversial choice, having a blend win the best wine overall, but it was tasty and originally retailing at about $20 a bottle. I wonder if it’s gone up? SGM’s are very trendy at the moment, and are produced to compete with pinots (which are notoriously tricky).

The Francois De Castella Trophy – Best Young White Wine

2018 Shaw + Smith
Adelaide Hills SA

Not, you will note, Robert De Castella.  There was some controversy when the slide for this went up at the lunch, saying it was from McLaren Vale.  Wrong!  They were making jokes about it for hours, and this will probably be a call back at next year's event.

James Halliday Trophy – Best Pinot Noir

2017 Pressing Matters Pinot Noir
Aziz Melick

Tasmania goes from strength to strength, with their cool climate wines, and as they say in the trade “If Cabernet is King, then Pinot is Emperor. Long may the Emperor live.” 

They also say: “Once a king, always a king. But once a knight is enough.”

Trevor Mast Trophy – Best Shiraz

2017 Isolation Ridge Vineyard Shiraz
Frankland Estate Wines
Great Southern, WA

The majority of wines entered into this competition are shiraz, something like half. So winning this prize, you’ve got to be no slouch.   I sat on the table with the winner at lunch, a lovely man named Hunter from Frankland Estate in Rocky Gully. Eminently drinkable. 

Best single white varietal

Hahndorf Hill
White Mischief
2019 Gruner Veltliner

This cheeky little number was served at the lunch, and my goodness. To smell it was to love it (I almost couldn’t drink it it was so nice to smell), with lovely long legs, and the smells of apricots and warm summer days. Too too good, I could have bathed in it.

Best Rosé

Brokewood Rosato
2019 Nebbiolo

Lovely, dry, but I got to say that when in the tasting room, there were dozens cracking the pinots, and not a soul at the rosés, which only goes to show you what fashion is like…

Best Cabernet Sauvignon

2017 Cabernet Sauvignon

These guys won the overall trophy last year with their cab sav, and came mighty close to doing it two years back to back.

Dessert Wine

Riversdale Estate
Botrytis 2014 Riesling

This was served after lunch, with a kind of lime curd taste and a clean clear finish. Oh la la!

Honourable mention:


Chandon Whitlands Plateau
Blanc de Blancs 2015

The winning best sparkling was actually the NV Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier by Brown Brothers, South East Australia.   But at the lunch they served us the blanc de blancs which came a close second. It’s a straight chardonnay, and some might say "give me meuniere in the mix, or give me death - otherwise it's not champagne”. Still, this had a fine bead and a clean palate, just right for brushing your teeth after all the wine tasting and gearing up for the lunch.