edited by Sue Courtney
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Waipara, New Zealand
It's a privilege to be asked to judge at a wine show. Not that I am a 'senior judge' - yet. One day maybe. But for the past five years I've been an 'associate' at the Liquorland Top 100 International Wine Competition, which is judged the last week of August. This competition is unique in New Zealand in that it allows entries of wine from other countries across all categories.
Being an associate means that one assesses the wine in exactly the same manner as the senior judges and scores are recorded but the associate's scores are not included in the averaging that determines a wine's award.
I was as pleased as punch when I heard I was on the Riesling panel, for this is one of my favourite varieties. I waited in anticipation.
The stewards entered the judging room, carrying trays of anonymous glasses filled with pale golden liquid. They placed the glasses, one by one, into the same numbered position on each judge's table.
The judges, sniffed, swirled, slurped and spat, recording their comments and scores as they went.
There was one wine in the flight of medium Rieslings that was right up my alley. It was 'number 19'. My comments read 'talcy, floral, rose petals, rich full spicy flavour, oily texture, limes, honey, terrific citrus on the follow through, great aromatics, excellent balance'.
The judges finished the flight and came together to record the scores. Then we had time to relax before the next flight came out.
"You know", I said to Ivan Donaldson, senior judge and panel leader, "that wine 'number 19' reminds me of a Pegasus Bay riesling". Pegasus Bay is the Donaldson's winery. "It can't be", he said, "our wines aren't entered in the competition". Mmmm, that had me wondering. Who else produces a wine like the Pegasus?
The wines that scored 17.8 and above, came back as a single flight together with the dry rieslings (residual sugar 7 grams or less) for a second judging to determine the final awards. My favourite 'number 19' was amongst them and it was easy to pick in the line-up. It was still the best as far as I was concerned. The seniors put in their secret vote for the trophy. I would have to wait a month to see if they did the right thing.
A couple of weeks ago I was given the entry list and was able to identify my 'number 19'. It was the Melness Riesling 2001 from Canterbury. And the funny thing I then found out, was that the wine is made by Matthew Donaldson and Lynnette Hudson, the Pegasus Bay winemakers. Their magic touch had given the low alcohol and impeccable balance that is a hallmark of the Pegasus Bay rieslings.
A couple of days later, the Riesling resurfaced in a blind tasting. I just loved the aromas and flavours of this ripe sweetish wine with its nice seam of seam of lemon, honey - runny honey and flowers together with a terrific aromatic pungency and impeccable balance. "Fantastic, fantastic wine", I wrote.
Then last Thursday night at the Liquorland Top 100 awards evening, the complete Top 100 selection, which included the 73 gold medal winners and the best of the silvers, were there. I made a beeline to the Riesling table. Tasting the wines in a line-up, the Melness Riesling 2001 wooed me a third time. So it was no surprise when it was named Champion Riesling.
The owners of Melness Wines, Colin and Norma Marshall, were at the awards to accept the trophy. I spoke to Colin afterwards to find out more about Melness Wines and their little ripper of a Riesling.
The home vineyard and vineyard restaurant is at Cust, that is north of Christchurch in rural Canterbury, about halfway between Rangiora and Oxford. But the grapes for this wine came from their growers in Waipara. While they usually have Burnham fruit in the Riesling, none was in the 2001 because of frosts. There is also no Marlborough fruit although this was written in the Guide to the Top 100 wines. "We haven't used Marlborough fruit in our riesling for years", said Colin.
The 2001 season was dry and long. "We were able to hang the grapes on the vine for as long as possible" said Colin. "This give the grapes a maturity before they are picked". It also meant that were able to pick up a touch of botrytis, which imparts the floral honey flavours.
Colin puts the success of his wine down to team effort - that team includes Norma, his growers and of course his winemakers, Matthew and Lynette.
The Melness Riesling 2001 has 23 grams of residual sugar and just 9% alcohol by volume. This means there are 5.3 standard drinks in a 750ml bottle - perfect for those who are watching their alcohol intake or a refreshing drink for the driver.
The wine costs $20 at the winery. In retail expect to pay about $21.50. Just 300 cases were made but as it is a Top 100 wine it should be available at a Liquorland store. Also check out discerning Fine Wine retailers and of course you can buy from the vineyard at www.melnesswines.co.nz. The website tasting notes are out of date but the contact details stand.
© Sue Courtney
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