Canberra International Riesling challenge tasting

14 Oct

I’m loathe to write about this event. And not because it was bad. No.

I’m loathe to write about it because it was so very good.

(And part of me doesn’t want to share it.)

I’d never heard of the Canberra International Riesling challenge until this year, but its website shows it’s been around for more than a decade. In addition to a panel of judges tasting ~500 rieslings from around the world and awarding winners, the challenge also brings with it seminars, masterclasses, a dinner at the Hyatt, and a public tasting of the wines.

Having never heard of it, I’m completely sceptical. What’s more, the website is a little amateur, which always sends alarm bells ringing. That said, at $30 a head, I’m willing to give the public tasting a chance (even though there’s barely a mention on the website).

Eerily quiet

Eerily quiet

We arrive at Albert Hall at 11.30 on the Saturday, and it looks eerily quiet on the outside. Boyfriend predicts that this isn’t going to be very good, but fortunately we’ve got a back up plan to attend the Indonesian Festival if it’s not.

Inside, it’s a simple matter of paying our $30 (EFTPOS available), grabbing a catalogue of results and a wine glass, and heading on in. The hall isn’t packed but there’s enough people to create a murmuring echo.


We’re a bit lost with what to do. The tables are lined with wine after wine – all the wines submitted for judging are available for tasting. But, is this self serve? Which ones are the good ones? And why are people only standing on one side of each table?

Wines, wines and more wines

Wines, wines and more wines

Fortunately, I’m in the right place at the right time (and with the right coloured hair): a Twitter follower who knows this event well (at least, better than I do) recognises me, introduces himself and explains it simply:

– the wines which have one a trophy or award are at the front on table, and they’re being served by others. For the first time in 14 years, the trophy wines are being rationed (I can see why later)

– the rest of the wines are pretty much ordered as they’re listed in the catalogue, by class and region and relative sweetness, and then it’s a matter of looking on the table for the ones marked in the catalogue as having done quite well (awarded Gold, mainly). These wines (the majority) are self-serve

Sounds simple enough! I head to the trophy table and try a few wines. They are, unsurprisingly, all excellent – particularly the dessert rieslings.

At the trophy table

At the trophy table

It’s – not surprisingly – a little crowded, so I throw myself back into the big tables. Opening wine bottles from just one side of the long tables keeps things in order. But, even with the sage advice, it’s overwhelming. Where am I? Okay, I know where I am, but where’s that in the book? I eventually work out that there aren’t many Czech Republic wines, so station myself there, and then find it in the book. From there, I’m sorted. I easily pick out those awarded Gold (and any others I’m interested in), and it’s very simple.

Finding myself at the Czech table

Finding myself at the Czech table

This ice wine and I belong together

This ice wine and I belong together

I’ve lost Boyfriend and our other companions by this point, but it’s no bother. It’s an event you could easily attend on your own; indeed, many people are on their own and complete strangers strike up conversation.

That said, it helps to have someone in the know. Boyfriend gets some hot tips from friends of his who are wine buffs, and some more encounters with Twitter and other friends point me in the direction of wines I wouldn’t otherwise try.

This wine is $$$ and AMAZING

This German dessert wine is $$$ (so we’re told) and AMAZING

Otherwise, (having now reunited with my companions) we systematically work our way through the tables, hunting for Golds, and pouring ourselves servings. I only spot one or two people being a little generous with their self-serves, but otherwise it’s an entirely civilised affair. Wine is swirled, swallowed, spat and poured out into plenty of well-placed barrels. A lot of people makes notes on their results catalogue. I wish I did!

US rieslings

US rieslings

Spotting event organiser Ken Helm (of Helm Wines) in the distance

Spotting event organiser Ken Helm (of Helm Wines) in the distance

Food is a little lacking. Near the entrance to the hall is water, as well as some water crackers and cubes of tasty cheese. It’s basic, but enough to remove the pucker that too many rieslings in a row causes from my mouth. Later, sandwiches appear, but the bread has been left uncovered for too long; regardless, these are snavelled up almost as soon as they appear.

Canberra wines

Canberra wines

It would be utterly un-In The Taratory for me not to seek out Canberra wines. We do so almost last. Only the Ravensworth has a trophy; the rest don’t do as well as I would have hoped.

I spot the Canberra Centenary Riesling in a strange, hidden museum category; from memory it was awarded a Silver

I spot the Canberra Centenary Riesling in a strange, hidden museum category; from memory it was awarded a Silver

It’s a really lovely afternoon, and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s very adult, and under cover (take note, Small Brewers Beer Festival) (!), and quite straightforward (thank God for Twitter friends!). There are a few things which could be improved. A little more food could go a long way (but it’s hardly an event where one needs to line their stomach). The tables could be set a little wider apart; it’s not crowded but by the end it’s a little harder to move than at the beginning, and there’s a lot of unused space, which, although probably intended for mingling and taking a break from the wines, remains unused. If you haven’t been to the event before, you need to know someone who can explain how it all works. My inability to suffer crowds took me away from the trophy table, but I stayed away too long: by the time I returned – and despite the rationing – a number of wines were gone.

Totally staged photo

Totally staged photo

I’m reluctant to mention any of that. The beauty of this event is in its simplicity. It probably works so well because there are no frills. The $30 is all about the wine, and there are no real distractions from that. It’s a brilliant event. I can’t believe I have to wait another year!

Date: Saturday, 12 October (11am-3pm)

Cost: $30 per person including a results catalogue and wine glass

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile. This is how you run a tasting event!

Want more? The Riesling Challenge website is here. The media release with the trophy and award winners is here. And, just when you think it can’t get better, Jim Murphy’s Market Cellars offers ‘pot luck’ mixed cases the following day for $120 ($10 a bottle).

I was also lucky enough to quickly catch up with Le Bon Vivant on the day; her review of the event is here.


19 Responses to “Canberra International Riesling challenge tasting”

  1. rea francis October 17, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    Hey Tara – appreciate your email please. Rea Francis (PR for Jamie’s Italian Canberra)

  2. theunicornmum October 27, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Woah! Have never heard of this event but it is exactly up to my husband’s alley, will definitely be making our way to the next one. Thanks for sharing 😉

    • Daisy November 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

      Great review of the Riesling event and of the Albert Hall – love your work!


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