Behind the curtain: Judging at the NSW Wine Awards
|27 young Semillons = the breakfast of champions|
For breakfast yesterday I had 27 2010 and 2009 Semillons (served blind)….
Ok, so it was more like second breakfast (I had a slightly dry muffin for my actual breakfast. I’d give it a 15/20) but the impact was still the same. Wonderfully bracing…
The reason I was starting my Monday with a bracket of young Semillon was because I was judging at the 2011 NSW Wine Awards, an annual wine show dedicated to finding the finest in NSW wines. My job yesterday was as an Associate – the one judge on each panel who’s scores don’t count (though they can influence the other judges). Our role (as a judging flock) was essentially as ‘stunt judges’ (as winemaker Mike de Iuliis called it) with normal bronze, silvers, golds etc handed out, yet with all the silver and gold medal winners then retasted again today by the ‘real judges’ (essentially many of the same judges – with a few new interlopers – but on different panels).
The aim of such a multi-step process is that it should (hopefully) produce more consistent results, with the Top 40 wines and NSW Wine of the Year the ultimate end game. To further level the playing field in this show there are no restrictions on the size of the producer (unlike nearly all other wine shows) so big company wines are tasted alongside tiny boutique products. Further still, the wines are also sorted by the climate they are drawn from in an to attempt to marry up similar wines (and produce more equitable results).
This show also aims to get a very broad cross section of judges – rather than just the same old faces – for interest, with young punk writers like me, winemakers from both big (Corey Ryan from Mcwilliams) and small (Xanthe Freeman from Freeman Vineyards) NSW wineries and some wisened wine men (like Peter Bourne and Nick Bulleid MW). It’s a balance which tends to give more rounded results. Or at least I think so. You be the judge (when the awards are announced in October)…
Now at this point I can’t tell you who won what, or even what looked good as I just don’t know what will end up pleasing the judges today. I only hope they nod and agree about everything that our panel kicked up and remark to themselves ‘now that was a good panel yesterday, who was on that? Oh I know, that was the panel that Andrew Graham was on’… (that’s how it goes in my head at least).
What I can comment on however is styles, trends and vintages, as all played a part in dictating results. Obviously these are broad generalisations, but you get the gist. Of course at the time you judge each wine on it’s merit, conscious only of picking out the gooduns’ in each bracket and placing any notion of region/vintage etc out of the picture. Still, looking back at my notes now I can see some patterns emerging.
|Young Light Red
A more challenging bracket…
In particular I’d have to say that the 2009/08 Young Shiraz bracket was easily my favourite of the day. Given that the 2009 vintage was a particularly strong one in the Hunter, Canberra district (most of Canberra’s wineries are actually in NSW so they are eligibly for this show) and Hilltops this is probably of little surprise. Suffice to say I loved this bracket and had to really work hard to pick the best wines from just the ‘good’ ones (which I’m totally comfortable with). The 2008 Shiraz tasted as part of this bracket however didn’t woo as much as the 09s, which again is probably of little surprise given the challenging 2008 vintage (which in the Hunter they just call ‘the vintage that didn’t’).
Conversely, the hardest class of the day to judge was that of the ‘Young White Other’, which was largely 2011 and 2010 vintage Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and Viognier. The challenge in this instance was wading through so many neutral wines with high acidity and low varietal intensity. The 2011 Pinot Gris line in particular was a task in itself, the cool wet year throwing up searing acidity and a distinct lack of flavour. Teeth ouch…
Perhaps the highlight of the day though was the hilarious judges dinner last night, an excuse for the older judges to bring out old wines and for us Associate judges to be picked on (though our young wines did go down very well). I’ll post on that separately…
In the meantime I just need to wait for my teeth to stop hurting…
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