On the first Friday of October (thanks to a good friend), I went to the Royal Adelaide Wine Show tasting, for the first time in around 3-4 years. There were nearly 3,000 entries on taste spread over about 60 classes – which would make around 50 entries per class if they were evenly spread. However, of course they are not. Most of the fortified classes have bugger all entries in them these days, whereas the class for the current vintages of Shiraz and Cabernet have hundreds in them. Along the way I tasted dozens of delicious and very drinkable wines which had not received any medals or at best “lowly” Bronze Medals. I guess that they weren’t near to technical perfection.
For years I have been saying that the current system of wine shows is passé and counterproductive. Originally wine shows were set up in the major cities so that winemakers from right across that state could “come to town” with their wines and compare them with what the “other fellas” were doing and get some constructive technical advice about improving the wine.
Over time and with the advent of Wolf Blass Esq, the shows shifted gear to become marketing tools rather than technical tools. So they went from trying to help you make better wines, to being an advertising platform to show how “shit hot” you were as a winemaker. The perfect example of that is Wolfie himself, who won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy three years in a row in 1974, 1975 and1976. Also, along the way a number of regional shows proliferated so that today we have the equivalent of more than one show per week right across the calendar year.
So what is wrong with the system? Well firstly its original purpose is no longer applicable or necessary. Almost nobody in Australia makes bad/poor wine, and if they do they very soon go out of business. In fact even our amateur winemakers are pretty darn good these days. I digress but each September I judge at the ANAWBS (The Australian National Amateur Wine and Beer Show) where 300-400 amateur winemakers from across the country enter their wines and there are very few faulty wines. This year over two days, I judged around 80-84 wines in the Emerging Varieties classes – probably the toughest classes for amateur winemakers to shine in, due to the least time/experience and access to the varieties. I only came across two faulty wines. Coincidentally, there were two Gold Medals plus quite a few Silvers and Bronzes awarded in the relevant classes.
These days most of the trophy winners at the major wine shows are wines that are approaching technical perfection BUT in many cases are challenging, or impossible for wine drinkers to consume, source or afford. After all they have been judged by winemakers and not consumers, so their drinkability hasn’t been considered/factored in.
What our wine shows should be doing today is reflecting today’s reality, in that they are marketing exercises aimed at informing and persuading consumers. Thus the Shiraz class which has well over 150 wines each year, should be split up into say 3-4 classes based on the RRP price point of the entries, in the same way that magazines such as Winestate do for their tastings. That way you do not get the likes of Jacobs Creek competing directly against $200-$500 wines. I have been shouted down many times over this notion with detractors pointing out all sorts of issues, from wineries using bodgy RRP’s to consumers misunderstanding the medals, etc. All of these issues could/would be overcome IF they were serious about making wine shows relevant to consumers again, rather than an industry “back slapping” exercise.
The most relevant wine show in Australia is the Sydney International Wine Competition, where finalists are judged with food, to add relevance to their awards (a fantastic step in the right direction). Also, they limit the number of entries they accept to make the event manageable.
The other reason I am standing on my “soap box” is that I recently found out about a brilliant wine competition in the UK. “The People’s Choice Wine Awards” (PCWA) which has been going for a few years and classifies wines into categories that mean something to consumer such as:
►Treat Yourself: White – Premium white wines for celebrations, treats and impressing the in-laws! Generally those wines retailing at £10 and above.
►War of the Rosés – Battle for the best rosés around.
►Bargain Buys – Bargain wines which stand out from the crowd. Generally, wines for £7 and below but still with a focus on quality and style.
►Back to Nature – Organic and biodynamic wines which are kind to the earth. This includes ‘natural wines’, made without the addition of chemicals, with minimal preservatives, no added sugars or artificial yeasts.
►Food Friendly Wines: Red for Easy Weekday Meals – Red wines that are perfectly matched for uncomplicated weekday food, such as pizza and pasta.
►Pass the Crackers – Wines that pair well with a wide range of cheeses. (Excluding sweet and fortified wines: see separate categories)
►One Man and His BBQ – Charcoal, man-apron and a glass of the good stuff. Wines which match well with robust barbequed foods to share with friends.
►Food Friendly Wines: Reds for Hearty Meals – Red wines which match perfectly with robust and complex dishes.
►Treat Yourself: Red – Premium red wines for celebrations, treats and impressing the in-laws! Generally those wines retailing at £10 and above.
The PCWA appeals to a wide ‘audience’ too, with a strong focus on wines for everyday wine drinkers, as well as those who are more knowledgeable, i.e. the ‘Treat Yourself’.
The sheer enthusiasm of the so called amateur wine judges is what makes the People’s Choice Wine awards stand out.
All activity is very much being played out on social media, in a supportive and inclusive way, The PCWA ‘community’ has taken on a life of its own and they even have judges flying in from Hungary, Vietnam, France and Dublin.
Just like in an ordinary wine show the wineries must enter all wines by the end of September. They are then judged by consumers and professionals in mid-October to see how well they fit into their category and in mid-November the finalists are announced, with a ceremony being held the next February. As you can see from the attached logo, they make no pretence of it being a Gold Medal, etc.
So is this the future of wine judging? I for one certainly hope so, and the sooner the better.
Cheers, I am off to enjoy a Treat Yourself – Red.
THIS WEEKS WINE REVIEW:
I have always loved Chardonnay and Shiraz from Padthaway. Maybe because I spent the 1990s working for Orlando, enjoying Lawson’s Shiraz and Orlando St Hilary Chardonnay. My love affair rekindled in the mid-2000s when I was involved with Padthaway Estate for a while, and then again recently when I discovered the superb wines of LANDAIRE.
I first came across them when I was looking for wines to include in my Graciano tasting for the article I was writing for WBM Magazine. I was very impressed by their classy Graciano as it was warmer and richer than one expected from an area as cool Padthaway – it had obviously had a lot of TCL put into it.
They very kindly sent me a bottle of their 2017 CHARDONNAY along with the Graciano sample, and I was smitten upon the first sip. It is drop dead gorgeous!! It instantly reminded me as to why I love Padthaway Chardonnay so much – complex, elegant, creamy and sophisticated.
The other week I had the opportunity to taste their full range of wines at the Padthaway Regional Tasting in the National Wine Centre here in Adelaide. The range consists of: Vermentino, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Graciano, Shiraz and Cabernet Graciano, along with the just released, super premium landaire 2016 Block 22 Shiraz.
Each and every wine was a really good example of that variety:
►The Vermentino was a cracker, spot on varietally with lovely concentration and superb flavours.
►The Tempranillo had some lovely savoury notes and to me, was about halfway between the Spanish “Joven” style and the “Crienza” style – young, vibrant but with considerable depth of flavour.
►The star of the line-up and indeed of the whole tasting for me was the landaire 2016 Block 22 Shiraz – it was so concentrated, deep, almost brooding, with lashings of superb, slick, rich flavours and had a very moreish finish.
So do yourself a favour and visit their website to check out these excellent Padthaway wines, they are well worth seeking out. www.landaire.com.au