Wine Show Secrets
I’ve been involved in various WA wine shows since 2008, occasionally acting as a judge or associate judge. Last week I had the honour of being invited to fill in as an associate wine judge at the Perth Royal Wine Show. I don’t like to brag, but I did judge my way through 71 big Aussie Shiraz tastings in 8 hours! I’m sure you’ve seen various gold, silver and bronze medals from all sorts of wine shows displayed on wine bottles – perhaps these awards have even swayed your choice on occasion. Do you ever wonder what mysterious machinations resulted in the awarding of these shiny stickers? Because wine shows aren’t open to the public, I thought I’d give you with a peek inside the secret world of WA’s wine shows: how the shows work, how the wines are judged and why their awards are generally a reliable indicator of quality.
The second half of the year is wine show season and we have a number of world class wine shows happening right now. The Perth Royal Wine Show is the biggest in the state and runs from the 31st of August to the 3rd of September each year; it accepts entries from anywhere in Australia. This year 2200 wines were judged in the four days – I might think judging 71 Shirazs was heroic, but judges in this show can be presented with up to 150 wines a day! How do we do it? Lots of water and lots of breaks are the key – in fact, your brain gets more fatigued than your palate because of the concentration required to taste and judge. The Qantas Wine Show of Western Australia is a medium sized show that runs through October and only judges Western Australian wines. In addition, there are various regional shows that feature only wines from a particular region.
I was also a judge this year at the Swan Valley Wine Show, which took place on the 28th of August. This year the Swan Valley celebrated its 180th year of wine-making and 249 wines were entered from around the region. I’ll run you through how the wine show judging process works using this show as an example. There were 9 wine experts judging on the day: one chief judge, 6 judges and 2 associate judges (judges in training). The 6 judges were divided into 2 panels of 3, each with an associate judge. Before judging we were briefed by the chief judge about what to look for and how to approach our judgements in that class. All the wines were masked and a team of stewards followed a strict procedure of lining up the glasses and pouring blind. We didn’t know anything except the variety and year of the wines in the class we were judging (for example, Class One were all 2014 Verdelhos.)
In Australia, wine judging follows a 20 point system where 15.5-16.9 is considered a bronze, 17 – 18.4 is a silver and 18.5 and over is a gold. As a general rule, 3 points are awarded for colour, 10 for the bouquet and 10 for the palate. By this measure, one of the ways I make judging more manageable for myself is to eliminate by bouquet first; I begin by nosing all the wines and then proceed to tastings. So, each judge on the panel tasted and scored each wine and then we discussed who we felt deserved each medal (however, associate judge’s points are not included in the final score). We then asked for a comment from the chief judge, who had also been tasting, and took this into consideration before reaching our final decision. In this way, the judging was not just a matter of adding up everyone’s scores, but a consensus decision involving diplomacy and compromise – if there were large discrepancies between scores then the wines in question were tasted again. The awards were then presented.
So, who are these judges making the big decisions? Well, I must say we’re an outstanding bunch! Being invited to join a judging panel is a great honour and it’s not just wine-makers who give their time to judge; wine shows aim to have a variety of wine industry experts, including knowledgeable retailers, take part. Whatever their background, the calibre of judges is always extremely high. Having associate judge positions also wisely provides training for the next generation of judges.
It’s really no secret at all – Western Australia’s wine shows are world class. From the judges and the stewards to the glassware and organisation, my experience has been one of seamless professionalism. Everything is done to showcase Australian wine at its best, which is why I would recommend taking notice the next time you come across a wine awarded by a WA wine show.
This month’s blog special – Please note this special has now ended, please see our latest blog for an up-to-date special offer
Speaking of the Swan Valley, I have a wonderful mixed dozen to share with you to celebrate this very productive region.
For just $250 (valued at $285) you will receive a Swan Valley mixed dozen featuring:
- 2 x 750ml bottles NV Sittella Sparkling Chenin
- 2 x 750ml bottles Lamonts Verdelho
- 2 x 750ml bottles Pinelli Breanna Rose
- 2 x 750ml Sittella Shiraz Grenache Tempranillo
- 2 x 750ml bottles John Kosovich Petit Verdot
- 2 x 750ml bottles Faber Riche Shiraz
You can order more than one case, but the selection of wines is fixed as listed above. Order by opening the order page below and once you have submitted your order, I’ll be in touch to arrange payment and delivery.
Wine Order Form Please note this special has now ended, please see our latest blog for an up-to-date special offer