2020 Vision: State of Play
As a wine judge, it is usual to judge at a number of shows each year. Maybe three or four. Perhaps one capital city show, plus several regional shows. The benefit to judging (both as a wine maker, and as a wine commentator (be that a sommelier, buyer or critic)) is the deep insight gained into the current state of play. Regional shows focus on wines from their GI and will indicate which varieties or styles are performing best, year to year. They might accept anywhere from 200-1000 wines. Capital city shows accept wines from all over the country, in any style, made from any variety and give an overview of the vintage, as seen from a national perspective. These are much bigger shows as you would expect – upwards from 1500 and way beyond.
2020 has been a weirdly busy year for many reasons, not the least of which has been directly related to the overload of shows at which I have agreed to judge. Every show in the state this year, including two new, smaller shows and the Perth Royal (on the capital city circuit). In total, eight shows (about four more than is comfortable).
On the bright side, here is the summary of what I’ve learned so far:
2018 cabernet sauvignon is on another level.
The best wines are ripe, harmonious and excellent wines of the highest order, showing purity, class, power and length. These truly are collectors’ wines – but they are delicious now, too. Margaret River asserts dominance over most, but there are some shining examples from the Great Southern, too. As in all great vintages, there is beauty to be found everywhere.
2019 chardonnay: Beautiful.
The wave of 2018’s has now mostly passed (with the exception of a few high-profile estates yet to release) and we have moved onto the cooler 2019 vintage. These are wines of energy and vitality; overall malolactic fermentation is more common than it was in 2018 (due to higher acids from cooler growing season) and the array of styles produced is vast. Again, Margaret river has most of the state pegged, but the Great Southern (again) and some Geographe wines have been outstanding.
2018 and 2019 shiraz
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Margaret River and Frankland River have been standouts on my scorecard. As a whole, th 2019’s have been more consistent, and more stunning (in every sense of the word), the 2018’s when good, have been EXCELLENT. Very different beasts, but each beautiful in their own way. Frankland River has power, density, layers and poise. Margaret River is silky red fruits, spice and elegance. Between them, a jacket for every season.
2019 Cabernets: look out… these are beautiful.
I have been utterly impressed and excited by these wines. The cooler year has birthed spicy wines of elegance, ripe leafiness and black fruits. An underdog vintage – perhaps not for long term cellaring – but medium term and great pleasure. Of course, again Margaret River is the place to be, but not to be overlooked are the streaks of utter brilliance from the Great Southern.
2020 Riesling: If this isn’t on your watchlist you’re doing it wrong.
2020 is responsible for wines of poise power and delicacy…. Layers upon layers of spice and interest and beauty. Of course, the Great Southern is responsible for most/all of the excellence coming out of this state in the context of riesling. An interesting and increasing number of producers are working with older oak and lees too, which is adding another dimension to what is usually a very traditionally constructed, tank fermented wine.
The Swan Valley and Margaret River are the two areas in the state that are excelling at chenin blanc, and the diversity in style is something to behold. The very best example from the Swan Valley is leading the country in chenin blanc, and Margaret River is really diversifying the directions that chenin is willing to be pushed. In particular, the regionality of Margaret River is clear: the cooler south vs the warmer north expresses with crystalline clarity in this grape.
Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
A really interesting category of wines that seem to be made extremely well in most of the regions within WA. At this point, I would say we haven’t really nailed our preferred style of sauvignon blanc and blends. In one hand, we have the thiol-heavy, passionfruit, juicy green wines which have been picked, pressed, tank fermented and bottled. The best of these are beacons of purity and intensity but can express as a little ‘straight up and down’. In the other hand are the skinsy, funky, worked, leesy, complex sauvignon blanc and blends which, depending on their makers and growing areas can show us a vast array of expression that isn’t altogether clear (in the dominance of one style over another). There is excellence to be found in both scenarios, but at this point, no one style is definitively better than the other. I have opinions about which style has more validity and is more interesting, but that can waver depending on the wines in question!
‘Alternate’ doesn’t always allude to ‘alternative’, it is just a way to group a disparate bunch of varieties together. In my opinion, this is where much of the dynamic excitement lies, especially when tasting in regions such as the Geographe, Swan Valley or the Great Southern. This class includes malbec, barbera, tempranillo, grenache, mourvedre and beyond. The best are truly delicious and exciting. I believe that the best of what we have here in Western Australia are a clear match to the best of South Australia. A big call; perhaps bold at this stage, but not untrue or gilded. Australia as a whole really excels in this space and judging them in shows is a pleasure and a delight.
Alternate white varietals: coming up big this year is arneis, fiano, vermentino and more. Many of them are Mediterranean in origin and are thus perfect matches for our climate and culture. It pays to shop around in this category – the styles are still being solidified as we all work out what we want to drink, but overall this is an exciting group of wines that has a lot of promise.
The rose revolution is something to behold – it seems everyone has jumped on the bandwagon and many producers have a rose in the ranks. Interestingly, the divide between ‘great’ and ‘the rest’ is widening, not closing, as I expected it would. The very best are thrilling, layered, textural wines that are usually dry and spicy. Texture is often overlooked as a vital part of the experience, but not one rose among the best of the best, is a rose without structure, phenolics and texture. Many roses feel fabricated and sweet, with more attention paid to colour than substance. In good news, there are some flipping sensational roses on the market currently, and as 2020 was a warmer (albeit lower yielding) season, the wines coming out this year are showing brilliant ripeness, succulence and interest. Siraz, tempranillo, sangiovese and nebbiolo seem to yield the most exciting results, but the best are not limited to that.
So. Where to from here?
I don’t know – but get drinking. There’s plenty to buy and to collect, and with the 2020 reds and textural whites ahead of us, there’s a lot to get through!