Last week, I judged at the most unusual wine show I’ve been a part of.
It wasn’t the show itself – the Australian and New Zealand Boutique Wine Show has been around since ’96, and aside from an exclusive focus on small wineries, it’s a conventional operation.
Instead, what set the 2021 edition apart was that due to the perils of the pandemic and Sydney’s everlasting lockdown, this ANZBWS was held remotely.
How would such a thing even work?
Most of the day-to-day running of the show wasn’t revolutionary. Wines are arranged into small classes (no more than 60 wines in a class, and the max I did was 75 wines a day for three days, then trophies on the fourth day) and judging still happened in small groups of three judges (one panel chair, two judges).
A key divergence is the actual judging happened at home, rather than in a hall or function centre. And each of us were in our own home, putting our scores into an online judging platform and then talking about it over Zoom/Whatsapp/whatever platform at the end of each day.
Same same but different.
Where it gets logistically nightmarish is the wines themselves. One option is to send out 75 bottles of wine per judge per day for 4 days, plus glassware. But that’s a shedload of wine. 650 wines, and you’ll need 3 bottles of each. Oh and if a wine gets to the trophy tasting, you’ll need a further 9 bottles of each wine. Those are not good numbers…
To get around that ocean of wine, the ever-resourceful Show Director Ross Anderson hired out a spirits rebottling machine and instead magically rebottled (with inert gas) the 650 wines into 100ml whisky minis. Then, Ross also hired out 3 Toyota Hilux utes, and had his stewards drive the boxes of minis (and fresh glassware every day) to nine judges, from Hornsby to Caringbah.
As a judge, we ultimately landed the easiest part of the equation here. Wines turn up every day, and because the catchup is not until later, you could largely taste at around normal workday activities. And the small brackets meant it’s only a few hours out, rather than a full day commitment – so I spent a lunchtime session tasting, and that was pretty much it. Job done, save for a few retastes late in the day.
For judging convenience, this show was fantastic. And others loved that they could spend the whole day mulling over details, or retasting and retasting. It’s a wine geek delight! Wine shows are useful as calibrators, and they often force you to be even more precise tasters. So after a few days of tasting and retasting, you get your eye in and start seeing every wine like a beachball, to use an old cricket analogy.
Yet this show also felt hollow. I like the chat, the networking, the dinners and the camaraderie that comes from show judging. I look forward to the excuse to pull out a magnum from the cellar and pour it for others who might appreciate it. Or to share a well-earned beer and talk shit after a hard afternoon of young Cabernet. All of that was MIA, and it felt more like another day at the home tasting table.
Regardless, this show is ultimately a triumph in challenging circumstances. I dip my lid to what the team behind the show pulled together, and after whipping through the trophy-winning contenders on Friday, it was pretty obvious that we’d done a good job.
Now, when do we get to go out for that beer?
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