Inside Australia’s Wine Awards: Agricultural Wine Shows

Posted: December 16, 2019

By Peter Bourne.

The origins of the Australian wine show system date back to the early 19th century, when they were a small part of the agricultural shows set up to improve the breed – be it cattle, sheep, wheat, wool or wine. The Sydney Royal Wine Show has been running since 1826 and is managed by the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales. The RAS website claims the Society has been ‘an influential force in the direction and development of Australian agriculture through competitions, education and events since its foundation in 1822.’ Other capital cities followed their lead.

However, over time, these wine shows have morphed from their original purpose to become a marketing tool used by wine producers keen to encourage hesitant consumers to buy their brand. This coming August the 2019 KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show chairman P.J. Charteris will lead a highly qualified group of 24 judges and associates in the blind tasting of 2200 wines. The wines will be tasted in classes (variety and style) by 3 judges each to determine which of the 20, 50 or more wines in the class should be awarded a bronze, silver or gold medal.

In the ‘olden days’ a pencil, rubber and clipboard were the tools — in the modern age i-Pads are the go. Traditional scoring was out of 20 (more about the 100 point system soon) — 3 points were awarded for colour & condition, 7 for aroma & bouquet and 10 for flavour. Wines that scored less than 14 were considered N.B.M. (nil by mouth) i.e. faulty and undrinkable. Nowadays our university trained winemakers ensure very few wines fall into his group. Around half the wines will be deemed a decent wine within the parameters of the class and scored between 14.1 to 15.4. The real action starts at 15.5 with a wine scoring up to 16.9 awarded a bronze medal, those between 17.1-18.4 a silver and above 18.5 a converted gold medal. Typically 25-40% of entries will score a bronze, 5-10% a silver and just 3-5% a gold medal. The tasting of the 2200 wines will go on for 3 days with each judge tasting 300-400 wines — a gruelling process, believe it or not! Gathering their tired tongues on the 4th day, all the judges taste the gold medal wines to determine the trophy winner for that class, or group of classes. Trophy winners are then eligible for the white or red wine of the show and finally the top gong — the wine of the show. Exhausted, the judges retire to the pub for a beer.

Extract from Vendimia Harvest Issue No8.

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