Inside Australia’s Wine Awards: Agricultural Wine Shows

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.

Summertime…

– With Peter Bourne

The warmer weather of our summer months lures us out of our wintery shells into the dazzling sunshine – and the heat. Cool flavours are what we seek – be it food or drinks. When it comes to food, the duo of Australia’s abundance of seafood and our incredible array of multicultural cuisines offers fresh, bright flavours that suit the balmy weather. Oysters, prawns, tuna, salmon and all-sorts of cephalopods – served a la natural or cooked with exotic spices and served with a wedge of lemon.

The barbecue becomes the focus with grilled sausages, chops and steaks served with simple salads. In fact, led by cooks like Yotam Ottolenghi, those salads are becoming more complex with healthy grains and pulses giving them the protein boost for a stand-alone lunch or for a light evening meal.

So let’s explore the amazing range of summertime wines. Oh, and remember to cool your reds on a blazing hot day…..

PICNICS

Outdoor eating takes on a whole new guise when it’s packed in a picnic basket, lugged for miles before being set up in a cool, grassy glade. Equally heavy is the mandatory Australian icon — an Esky brim full of cold beer and appropriately chill-able wines.

One of the best tips when matching food and wine is to balance the weight of the wine with the complexity of the food. Picnic food is fresh and tasty, so select equally refreshing whites and juicy, light-framed reds. That hefty basket may include a quiche, frittata, pâté, terrine, a plethora of charcuterie and some stinky cheese.

Pop the cork on an Angullong Sparkling Rosé to salve the thirst before moving on to a crisp white such as the Nine Yards Sauvignon Blanc.

Eschew your heavyweight shiraz and cabernets for alfresco reds that welcome a gentle chill. Pull them out of the icy Esky to allow them to come up a few degrees before serving. The savoury, spicy Colab & Bloom Grenache works well with salami or pork and pistachio terrine. Pair the raspberry and aniseed flavoured Willunga 100 Tempranillo with a Manchego cheese for a true Iberian experience.

One of the great benefits of Australian winegrower’s universal move to the screwcap is that forgetting a corkscrew is no longer the picnic disaster that it was in the olden days of cork!

SEAFOOD FEAST

Australia’s incredible wealth of seafood offers the opportunity to indulge in a feast of fresh and simply cooked crustacean, whole fish and other underwater treats. Oysters are a delicious starter and just perfect with a crisp, dry riesling from the Eden or Clare Valleys. The riesling’s citrus bright acidity replaces the need for a squeeze of lemon. Semillon is another wonderful seafood white — try a zippy young Hunter Valley semillon with a salt and pepper squid. Sauvignon blanc is equally seafood friendly – try the Leura Park Estate Sauvignon Blanc with a Thai style prawn and glass noodle salad.

Whole fish makes a great centre point to a seafood feast. Pair breezy white like the Buller King Valley Pinot Grigio with a snapper spiced with lemongrass and ginger or a delicate pinot noir with a whole baked Tasmanian salmon. The pinot’s mildmannered tannins and tangy acidity will cut through the oily (Omega 3 rich) texture of the salmon like a hot knife through butter. Speaking of butter, if the budget allows, split a fresh crayfish and grill it with a smothering of herb infused butter. Serve it with a buttery ‘old-school’ chardonnay for a marvellous food and wine match. Salmon also lends itself to Japanese dishes like sashimi or sushi – serve with lightly chilled sake for a nice (nationalistic) match. Salmon also shines as the base for Nordic-inspired gravlax. Damien Pignolet, of Claude’s and Bistro Moncur fame, marinated the salmon in sauvignon blanc for his legendary gravlax – so there’s an obvious synergy in serving a savoury sauvignon blanc.

Bouillabaisse is the ultimate seafood dish, its gusty (saffron) spiced flavours typically paired with an acid-etched Beaujolais Nouveau. An alternative is a frisky rosé with soft redcurrant flavours and an incisive acidity to cut through the seafood rich bouillabaisse and its garlic-laced aioli. Serve by lapping water to emulate a truly Mediterranean experience.

LONG & LAZY SUMMER LUNCH

School and public holidays offer the opportunity to invite family and friends for a long, lazy lunch. Kick things off with a fruity, low-alcohol wine like moscato or an offdry riesling (labelled as kabinett in Germany) with those from the Mosel the exemplar of the style. Served well chilled, the wine’s sweet’n’sour flavours echo those of an icy lemon sorbet. Served at 11am with a platter of fresh fruit, at 5-7% alcohol, an extra glass or two of moscato won’t impede the pleasures of a lengthy lunch.

Step the pace up a bit with a Champagne or sparkling wine. Australia’s top bubbles stand proudly alongside the French stuff, as they’re made with the same grape varieties using the methode traditionelle technique. The only thing missing in Australia is Champagne’s terroir Defining chalk. Serve the Saddler’s Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir with freshly shucked Port Stephen’s oysters for the ultimate palate cleanser.

It’s time for an entrée – perhaps a retro prawn cocktail served on a bed of shaved iceberg lettuce and doused in Marie Rose sauce. A crisp dry rosé such as the Leura Park Estate Rosé is a blushing companion to the equally rosy prawn cocktail.

Turkey and ham sneak their way into many family lunches with yester-year’s roast vegetables replaced by complex salads in the Ottolenghi style. A fuller white such as Monterra Chardonnay would work with the dense protein of the turkey. However, for a curved ball, try a sparkling red with the ham. The French despise the concept but sparkling red is as Australian as an Akubra hat. Sparkling reds are traditionally made with shiraz but the Saddler’s Creek team use cabernet sauvignon as the base for their Bluegrass Sparkling — and it’s a ripper. Serve the ham with your choice of mustards and don’t over chill the Bluegrass.

Now for dessert, a rare course for a weeknight meal, but the mandatory finale to a long lunch. Grandma’s pudding is legendary, usually accompanied by a brandy infused custard. Now’s the perfect moment to serve that port stuck at the back of the drinks cupboard. Buller Tawny is lush and plush, its raisiny flavours just perfect with grandma’s pudding. It’s now time for an afternoon nap.

Regional Wine Shows, Special Purpose Shows & Competitions

Regional Wine Shows

While capital city shows accept entries from all over the county, the (smaller) regional shows are limited to the wines from their region. For instance the Royal Hobart Wine Show is a national show, while the Tasmanian Wine Show is limited to the Island’s wines. The Royal Adelaide Wine Show is national, while regional wine shows are run in the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and the Limestone Coast, which incorporates Coonawarra. The National Wine Show of Australia only accepts entries that ‘qualify through Australian regional & capital city wine shows, and special purpose competitions’ and is essentially looking for the best of the best.

Special Purpose Shows and Competitions

While the agricultural and regional wine shows are run on a not-for-profit basis, there are a number of commercial wine shows. The Australian & New Zealand Boutique Wine Show, the Sydney International Wine Competition, the National Cool Climate Wine Show, Australian Small Winemakers Show, the Canberra International Riesling Challenge and the Great Australian Shiraz Challenge are just a few of the names out there. All are professionally run, but consumers may be baffled by the difference between a small winemaker and a boutique one.

How important are these competitions for winemakers and vineyards?

While the winning of these awards can create a splash in the media, it is certainly not mandatory for winegrowers to enter into wine shows — and is actually a very costly process in terms of dollars, time and wine for the winemaker. Often small prestige producers with limited stock would rather sell via their cellar door. Large companies and those new to the business can gain attention by boasting of their gold medals and trophies, but on the flip side, a cult maker may not want to tell their dedicated customers their latest chardonnay scored just 14 points!! It happened to one of our iconic winegrowers and he’s never entered a wine show since.

The 100 Point System

What is this 100 point system I keep hearing about in the wine world??

Robert Parker Junior published the subscription-based Wine Advocate for over 30 years, predicated on his ability to pick winners. The great 1982 Bordeaux reds were overlooked by the traditional English wine critics, but Parker trumpeted their virtues. He was right, and his reputation was set in stone.

Parker began using a 100 point system, with all his top wines scoring in the high-90’s. Parker has awarded 100 points to the Chamber’s Rosewood Rutherglen Rare Muscat. The US-based Wine Spectator followed Parker’s lead with their 1995 Top 100 Wine of the Year awarded to the 1990 Penfold’s Grange with a rating of 97 points – a wine listed at $100 USD per bottle!!

Australian Wine Shows have now adopted the 100 point system with wines scoring less than 85 points in the N.B.M. category, a silver medal awarded at 90 points and a gold above 95. James Halliday follows the 100 point system, scoring the Morris of Rutherglen Old Premium Rare Liqueur Muscat at 100 points.

Victories versus value… is it worth it??

In reality, medals and trophies are only a guide and rarely take into account price. A $15 bottle can rub shoulders in the same wine-show class as a $150 bottle. Is the $150 bottle ten times as good? No—it may be better but the multiplier effect really doesn’t work with wine. Wines in the $10-$20 range are made to drink now and not necessarily cellared for a decade. Winning a medal — or even better, a trophy — is a quality guide but in the end, trust your palate and buy the wines that bring pleasure to you, your family and your friends.

 

Journals of a wine buyer: Day Three

Heathcote is Victoria’s premium Shiraz producing region. It is positioned in the heartland of central Victoria – mid way between Shepparton and Bendigo. The countryside is truly Australian – harsh, dry, dusty and has a low rainfall. The conditions here are difficult, with some years suffering from drought and others from too much rainfall or frost. The vines are low yielding, small and gnarled. The lack of moisture and harsh circumstances sends the root structure deep into a narrow belt of Cambrian high mineral soil that runs north from Heathcote township. This unique terroir produces intense, deeply coloured and flavoured fruit – and wine with unique savoury flavours.

First call is to the areas’ benchmark pioneer and producer, Ron Laughton from Jasper Hill Estate. Ron started the whole Heathcote journey some 40 years ago and is hailed as the pinnacle producer of the region. His wine is simply stunning – and so is his generosity. He takes me for a full tour, including tasting barrel samples of new vintages that will be blended to make up the next Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz. Next up is a visit to Bob Downing from Downing Estate, just over the road from Jasper Hill with vines planted in the same band of Cambrian soil. Some of Bob’s Shiraz’s are included in this month’s subscription. Sanguine Estate is next – this winery, along with Jasper Hill, Downing’s and Paul Osika are Halliday 5 Red Star rated – the highest awarded. Sanguine’s Shiraz’s are regularly rated amongst the 10 best in the world, along with the likes of Penfolds’ Grange. Heathcote is one of our finest Shiraz producing regions – producing wine of an acquired savoury taste profile. However, it’s not a tourist area with destination wineries. To see a broad selection from the region, visit The Wine Hub Cellar and Store in Heathcote Main Street – they stock products from almost all the area’s producers.

Who is James Halliday & What Are His Ratings?

You’ll notice that in many of our wine descriptions we include reference to James Halliday and his wine & vineyard ratings. But why should this particular man and his personal rating system shape our impression of the wines offered by Vendimia each quarter?
James Halliday is one of Australia’s most respected wine critics and vignerons. His career spans 47 years, and he is widely known in the industry for his witty and informative writing about all things wine. He was one of the founders of the Brokenwood vineyard in the Hunter Valley and Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley, and is an unmatched authority on every aspect of the wine industry, from planting and pruning to making and marketing. Over his career James has contributed to more than 60 books on wine, with his most notable publication being the annual Australian Wine Companion — recognised nationally as the industry benchmark resource on Australia vineyards and the wines they produce.

HALLIDAY WINERY RATINGS
As part of developing the content for the Australian Wine Companion and its supporting website www.winecompanion.com.au, James developed his own system for rating wineries and their wines. With Australia broken down into its 63 distinct wine regions, James began nominating the best wineries in each regions using a three-tier classification system.

DOUBLE-RED 5-STAR RATING (TOP 3.5% OF WINERIES)
At the very top are the wineries with both their names and their star rating printed in red; these have been generally recognised for having a long track record of excellence – truly the best of the best.

RED 5-STAR RATING (FOLLOWING 8.3% OF WINERIES)
Next are wineries with their stars (but not their names) printed in red, which have had a consistent record of excellence for at least the last three years.

BLACK 4/5-STAR RATING (FOLLOWING 28.2%)
Those wineries with black printed names and stars have achieved excellence this year (and sometimes longer). The vast majority of wineries that supply Vendimia are Halliday 4 star rated or greater.

HALLIDAY WINE RATINGS
After rating the winery, James then rates most of the individual wines produced by them. These wines are rated numerically by him within a range from 75 to 99 points. Wines from 86 to 99 points are considered Bronze/Silver or Gold medal standard wines. The wines included in Vendimia subscriptions invariable carry James Halliday ratings of between 90-95 points.