Adelaide Hills Chardonnay takes out Prime Minister’s Trophy for best Australian wine

Photo: Prime Minster’s Trophy winner Michael Downer from Murdoch Hill

An Adelaide Hills Chardonnay described by Australia’s top wine judges as ‘an explosion of flavour on the palate’ took out the nation’s top wine award in front of an audience including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the National Press Club last night.

Murdoch Hill’s 2022 Rocket Chardonnay has won the National Wine Show of Australia’s Prime Minister’s Trophy for Champion Wine of Show, narrowly beating a Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon to claim the prestigious award.

National Wine Show of Australia chair of judges Matt Harrop said the Rocket Chardonnay, from a family-owned vineyard in Oakbank, was a beautifully made wine that stood out from the first round of tasting through to the trophy judging.

“The feedback from all 12 judges was just how much flavour this wine has. To get a Chardonnay with such powerful and precise flavours is due to a combination of a great vineyard that’s perfectly tended, with sensibly grown grapes and sensitive winemaking. It’s a great, great wine,” Harrop said.

Murdoch Hill’s chief winemaker Michael Downer, who travelled to Canberra to accept the award last night, said he was thrilled by the win.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to receive such a recognition, especially considering the high calibre of wines and the rigorous process of judging. To receive the Champion Trophy in the capital is simply thrilling.

“All the stars aligned to make this exceptional wine. The Rocket is the culmination of years of refinement in the vineyard and winery to craft the highest quality Chardonnay possible. The introduction of a greater portion of grapes from our Lenswood vineyard brings drive and complexity, while a smaller portion of fruit from high in Piccadilly Valley brings poise and refinement to the wine,” Downer said.

The 2022 Rocket Chardonnay is the sixth release of the wine which is crafted from the “absolute best parcels”, with Downer selecting only those barrels that most display the power, purity, minerality and tension that is sought for the Rocket’s trademark character. The 2022 release shows pristine lime and melon flavours laced with a spice complexity and a fine mineral finish.

The win marks the first time in the last five years that a wine from South Australia has been awarded the Champion Wine Trophy at the National Wine Show; the second time in the last decade. Both have been Chardonnays from the Adelaide Hills.

“It is such a delight to see Adelaide Hills Chardonnay stand up and be counted as the best of the best. To say I am over the moon with the success of our 2022 Rocket Chardonnay is an understatement,” quipped Downer.

As winner of the Len Evans Memorial Trophy for White Wine of Show, Murdoch Hill’s 2022 Rocket Chardonnay battled it out for the Prime Minister’s Trophy against the James Halliday Red Wine of Show, Devil’s Lair’s 2022 Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon.

“The Devil’s Lair has everything you could want in a young Cabernet – a lot of flavour, lovely colour, perfect aromatics. If you were going to say, ‘here’s an example of how good Australian Cabernet can be’, you don’t need to go further than this wine,” Harrop said.

Devil’s Lair ended the dominance of fellow Margaret River winery Xanadu, which has taken out the top Cabernet trophy in the nation’s leading wine show for the past nine years.

To be eligible to enter the National Wine Show of Australia, presented by Endeavour Group, wines must have won a gold or silver medal at one of 32 qualifying capital city or regional shows, meaning its winners have been through one of the most comprehensive wine assessment processes in the world.

This year, 952 wines representing 236 Australian wineries competed in the Canberra-based show, run by the Royal National Capital Agricultural Society. Of the 23 trophy winners, eight were from South Australia, seven from Victoria, four from Western Australia, three from New South Wales and one from Tasmania.

Victoria’s De Bortoli Wines made the most trips to the podium, picking up the Shiraz Trophy for its 2022 Heathcote Handcrafted Shiraz; the Alternate Red Blends Trophy for its 2022 Ancient Soils Tempranillo Touriga; and the Rosé Trophy for the De Bortoli 2023 Rosé Rosé.

Harrop said the five wines competing for the Sparking Trophy represented one of the strongest sparkling line-ups in the show’s nearly 50-year history.

“It’s unlikely we’ll ever see such a strong class again because a lot of the grapes that were going into sparkling are now being made into table wine. Sparkling can be more costly and time-consuming to produce as it needs longer in the bottle before going to market,” he said.

Among the sparkling finalists were three entries from Tasmania’s House of Arras, including the winner of the Sparkling Trophy, the House of Arras 2015 Grand Vintage.

Harrop said the varietal trophies were among this year’s most exciting classes, with the White Varietal Trophy going to an unconventional and daring French varietal never before seen in the national awards.

Winner Crittenden Wines’ 2018 Cri de Coeur Sous Voile Savagnin follows a traditional process from France’s Jura region in which wine is aged under a layer of yeast, allowing it to slowly oxidise.

“It’s quite confronting as it’s not fruit-based but an oxidised style of wine.

When done properly, it is a thirst-making, briny, salty, olivey thing with beautiful acidity and amazing length,” Harrop said.

“People can expect to be totally freaked out by the Savagnin. It doesn’t smell or taste like your traditional white wine; it’s more akin to a fino sherry with a powerful, piercing palate.

Crittenden has produced an absolutely outstanding example of this variety. It’s a really cool wine and I’m thrilled it won the White Varietal Trophy.”

The Red Varietal Trophy went to Bleasdale Vineyards’ 2022 Generations Malbec, in a class that saw entry numbers up 20 per cent on last year.

“The growth of the varietals classes reflects the evolution of Australian winemaking. With the impact of climate change, many winemakers are switching from more traditional styles such as Cabernet and Chardonnay to Mediterranean styles that need much less water and can thrive in the drier parts of Australia,” Harrop said.

“We’ll see more and more whites such as Albariño, Vermentino, Grüner Veltliner, Fiano and Arneis, and reds such as Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Malbec, as these non-mainstream vines begin to mature,” Harrop said.


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