James Halliday has shown plenty of heart with the publication of the 2021 Wine Companion. After a vintage ravaged by drought, bad weather, bushfires, smoke taint and COVID-19, Australia's leading wine authority has decided not to reduce any winery's rating in this year's edition, recognising that winemakers have been doing it tough.
"This was a year most vignerons would prefer to forget," Halliday says.
"It was a deadly cocktail of full-on drought as the growing season got underway, then extreme heat and windy conditions that badly affected flowering and fruit-set.
"Of course, this also fanned the flames of never-ending bushfires that devoured vineyards, farm equipment and wineries; the ensuing smoke taint ruined such red grapes that withstood all that had gone before."
He also recognised the impact COVID-19 has had on the wine industry, especially on small- to medium-sized wineries, who rely on tourism for the bulk of their income, imploring us to visit wineries when possible.
And there are plenty of high-rating wineries in the Canberra District for us to do just that.
Clonakilla was once again recognised as the district's best, maintaining its red name/five red stars rating - Halliday's highest accolade which recognises a long track record of excellence - with eight wines receiving 95 points or more.
Over at Helm Wines, Ken Helm was pleased to see the winery gain five red stars.
"It is very satisfying to continue to be rated as a top Australian winery by James Halliday," Helm said.
"Our attention to detail in the vineyards and winemaking, plus the excellent climate and soils of our sites, shows in these results."
Other Canberra District wineries to receive five red stars were Eden Road Wines, Mount Majura Vineyard, Nick O'Leary Wines and Bryan Martin's Ravensworth.
Others to receive five stars included Lake George Winery, Lark Hill, McKellar Ridge Wines and Poachers Vineyard.
"The Canberra District was headlined with brutal courage by Tim Kirk of Clonakilla announcing on February 18 that the winery would not make any wine from any vineyard in NSW this year," Halliday said.
"Other Canberra District wineries told the same mournful story.
"The silver lining was the high quality wine from 2018 and 2019 that Clonakilla and many others will be selling over the next 18 months."
The companion features full tasting notes for 4063 wines, as well as ratings, drink-to-dates and prices for a further 4056 wines from 1165 wineries, including 59 new operations.
The best rating wines from the Canberra District were:
97 points: Clonakilla's 2019 riesling; Clonakilla's 2018 shiraz viognier; Clonakilla's 2018 O'Riada shiraz.
96 points: Helm's 2019 premium riesling; Mount Majura's 2018 Canberra District shiraz; Mount Majura's 2018 Rock Block; Nick O'Leary 2019 White Rock riesling; Nick O'Leary 2018 Bolaro shiraz; Collector Wines 2017 Tiger Tiger chardonnay; Gundog Estate 2018 Marksman's Canberra District shiraz; Gundog Estate 2019 Smoking Barrel red; Murrumbateman Winery 2019 riesling.
95 points: Four Winds Vineyard's 2019 Chapel Block Canberra District riesling; Nick O'Leary 2018 Heywood shiraz; Poachers Vineyard 2019 sauvignon blanc; Poachers Vineyard 2019 Canberra District sauvignon blanc; Helm 2019 classic dry riesling; Helm 2017 premium cabernet sauvignon; Ravensworth Murrumbateman 2019 riesling; Ravensworth Estate 2018 shiraz viognier; Ravensworth Murrumbateman 2018 sangiovese; Eden Road's 2018 The Long Road syrah; Eden Road's 2018 Canberra Syrah; Mount Majura's 2019 Canberra District riesling; Mount Majura's 2018 Canberra District tempranillo; Mount Majura's 2018 Little Dam; McKellar Ridge 2018 Canberra District shiraz; McKellar Ridge 2018 shiraz viognier; Gundog Estate 2019 Canberra District riesling; Gundog Estate 2019 The Chase Hunter Valley semillon; Gundog Estate 2018 Canberra District shiraz; Gundog Estate Rare Game Hunter Valley shiraz.
He also had a few other local favourites. Of Sapling Yard's 2019 Braidwood riesling, he said "Only 30 dozen made; fermented in stainless steel. Amazing - it's a powerhouse with intense unsweetened lime/lemon flavours. It's possible the level and nature of the acidity may upset some, but not me." And he gave it 94 points.
The winery of the year went to the Barossa Valley's Henschke; the winemaker of the year was Brett Grocke from Eperosa Wines, in the Barossa; wine of the year was Brokenwood's Graveyard Vineyard 2018 shiraz from the Hunter Valley; best new winery was Varney Wines in McLaren Vale; dark horse of the year was Yarran Wines in the Riverina; and the best value winery of the year went to Best's Wines, in Great Western, Victoria.
- Halliday Wine Companion 2021: The best-selling and definitive guide to Australian Wine, by James Halliday. Hardie Grant Books, $39.99.