Gold: Nick O'Leary at his Bywong winery. His Nick O'Leary 2011 Shiraz has taken a gold at the NSW wine awards. Photo: Canberra Times
It was Tumbarumba's year at the 2013 Citi NSW Wine Awards, with top wine of show going to Armchair Critic 2012 Chardonnay, as well as two other trophies and five gold medals. The Armchair Critic Chardonnay, which costs just $21, was also awarded best chardonnay of show.
And two other Tumbarumba chardonnays to win gold were Hungerford Hill Classic 2010 and Moppity Lock & Key 2012 - the latter a $15 wine.
The other great Tumbarumba performers were two sparkling wines: the trophy for best sparkling wine went to Courabyra 805 Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier 2001, for the second successive year, and the other gold went to Charles Sturt University Reserve Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2009. The latter also won the trophy for best sparkling at the Boutique Wine Awards in July.
It's no accident these five wines are all white wines, and all involve chardonnay: Tumbarumba is a high-altitude, cool-climate region suited to growing grapes for fine dry whites and delicate sparkling base-wines.
Armchair Critic is a brand owned by Echelon Wine Partners, an offshoot of McWilliam's Wines, and was initiated by marketer and former Sydney sommelier Nicholas Crampton. The wines were made by Adrian Sparkes, overseen by McWilliam's winemaker Corey Ryan, who departed after the 2012 vintage. The various sub-labels of Echelon, including Zeppelin, Under & Over, Partisan and Last Horizon, are all terrific value for money. The 2012 Armchair Critic Chardonnay is $21, and that's a slight increase: it used to sell below $20.
This year's NSW Wine Awards judging was distinguished by two features: a small drop in the numbers of entries and exhibitors, accompanied by an increase in quality, and by the diversity of grape varieties and wine styles which were successful in winning gold medals. The last is important in this competition because its background is one of domination by traditional regions, especially the Hunter Valley. Nothing wrong with Hunter semillon and shiraz - we love them - but range of choice is important if NSW wine is to attract attention in other states and countries. This year there were 13 categories in which trophies were awarded, and gold medals went to no fewer than 44 wines, which didn't so much break the record as pulverize it.
The category winners were: sparkling - Courabyra 805 2001 ($65), young semillon - Tyrrells Belford 2013 Hunter Valley ($28), riesling - Capital Wines The Whip 2013 Canberra ($19), sauvignon blanc - Trentham Estate 2013 Murray Valley ($14), other white varietals - Centennial Woodside Savagnin 2012 Southern Highlands ($20), aged whites - Brokenwood IRL Reserve 2007 Hunter Valley ($50), white blends - Westend The Boxer Roussanne Viognier 2012 Riverina ($15), pinot noir - Swinging Bridge MAW 2012 Orange ($40), red blends - Bimbadgen The Regions Cabernet Merlot 2012 Orange ($26), cabernet sauvignon - Quilty Running Stitch 2012 Mudgee ($28), young shiraz - Ross Hill Pinnacle 2011 Orange ($40), aged reds - De Iuliis Limited Release Shiraz 2009 Hunter Valley ($60), and sweet white - Bunnamagoo Autumn Semillon 2010 Mudgee ($25).
These trophies encompass no fewer than eight regions, while the 44 gold medals range across 10 regions - a great boost to NSW's claim to be a diverse and exciting winescape. Hidden in the gold-medal list are Nick O'Leary 2011 Shiraz (a former NSW Wine of the Year, from Canberra); two more rieslings - Capital Wines 2013 Gundaroo Vineyard and 2011 Artemis from the Southern Highlands; and two more pinot noirs - Logan 2012 from Orange and Tertini 2010 from Southern Highlands.
The Hunter Valley as usual, cornered the lion's share of gold medals - 20 - comprising 12 dry white semillons, four chardonnays and four shiraz. Then came daylight, then Tumbarumba with five, Orange with 4.5 (the half is a blend), Riverina 3.5, and Southern Highlands and Canberra three each.
As chief judge, I was especially impressed by several wines. The Quilty cabernet is as good a Mudgee cabernet as you're ever likely to see. It has pristine fruit of ideal ripeness, and while the structure is firm, the tannins are not hard or aggressive as they can sometimes be in Mudgee. The De Iuliis Limited Release Shiraz '09 is youthful and promising to age long-term, showing superb flavour with power and length, and the soft structure of a great Hunter shiraz. The Ross Hill Pinnacle Shiraz is a beautiful shiraz of a quite different stripe: with an array of spicy, smoky/meaty charcuterie aromas, it was tight and elegant in the mouth. The Courabyra sparkling is an outstanding bubbly in anyone's language: tremendously complex and fine, and reserved despite its maturity. The Armchair Critic Chardonnay is delicately piercing in flavour, very fine and taut with tremendous energy on the palate. And finally, the Centennial Woodside Savagnin, from Bowral: I really like this wine. I'm quite impressed by the fresh, appetising, pure-fruit wines that quite a few Australian wineries are making with this obscure grape, but Centennial's adds an extra layer of complexity to its flavour without sacrificing its refreshing properties. Bravo, winemaker Tony Cosgriff and owner John Large.
Full results at nswwine.com.au.