This week, I'm judging at the National Wine Show of Australia. These shows are an important part of the fabric of the wine trade down under, and are run by local agricultural associations. Years ago, wine was judged as a category alongside the other traditional elements - cattle, sheep, llamas, vegetables, fruit and so on.
Back then, most Australian wine was fortified, but as the table wine industry developed from the 1960s onwards, the wine category grew and was soon separated into its own event. However, many of the traditional elements have been retained - so the wines are referred to as 'exhibits' and judges often wear white, three-quarter length dust coats.
Each capital city has its own major show, plus there are regional events on a smaller scale. The National Wine Show is based in Canberra, and is slightly different in that wines must have won a medal at other major shows to be eligible for entry. This should mean that the average standard is high.
Each judge assesses the wines by themselves in a booth. Flights (called 'classes') are poured by stewards, the wines are scored independently, then the panel comes together to agree a final score.
Today, Tom Carson was my panel chair. Each of us read our scores out for the entire flight, which can be quite daunting - especially if you have to go first. It's potentially embarrassing if your score is significantly misaligned with the rest of the panel - however, if you can justify your decision, then a constructive debate can ensue.
Many of the judges here are winemakers, so anything perceived as a fault is highly criticised. There were a couple of wines which I rated highly, but which were rubbished as being either affected by Brettanomyces or volatile acidity - or both. I defended them, but they were rejected on the grounds that an important criteria for Australian shows is technical cleanliness. There's a danger that this excludes some really worthy wines, but so long as the policy is applied consistently then I suppose it's fair enough.
Each night, the judges go out for dinner, and bring a bottle along - more pressure! Last night we had an informal meal at Sammy's Kitchen, a Chinese and Malaysian restaurant. We drank pretty well, including these (no prizes for guessing what I brought):
But the wine of the night was a new discovery: Ravensworth Gamay, an absolute beauty, full of flavour at 12.5% and loaded with the most important quality a wine can have: drinkabloodybility, mate!