Wine shows and Judging – Nelson Mail 20.06.18

Wine show season is rapidly approaching.

The range of competitions that showcase the finest of wines includes the New World Wine Awards, for which entries are now open, that has a focus on quality wines priced $25 and under, The Bragato Wine Awards that recognise single vineyard wines, and hence grape growing, and New Zealand’s premiere wine awards, The Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

In the case of the New World Wine Awards not only must entries be for wines $25 or less the producers must have 5,000 or more bottles available so wines that make the Top 50 can be sold through every new branch in the country. That has to be a very good thing for the winning wines.

It is arguable that being successful in this show directly results in increased sales, something that is likely in other shows but not guaranteed.

Wine shows, of course, are guides to wine quality, not a guarantee you will like the winning wines. For example, if you don’t like red wine then it doesn’t matter how successful a wine is in the show ring you probably still won’t like it.

Wine after all is a very subjective; it would be a pretty boring place if we all liked the same wine variety and only drank that.

We also need to remember that it doesn’t matter whether the awards are restaurant awards, wine awards or architectural awards, the winners are selected purely on how the entrants present their product on the day to a particular judge or judging panel.

Judges are just people who, as individuals, have different tastes and their taste can depend on everything from personal preference, what they had for dinner last night right through to the individual’s interpretation of what is technically correct.

Awards are judged by an imperfect human being or panel on one day. I have had some wonderful meals at restaurants that have not won awards and I have seriously questioned some of the decisions made by some wine judges over the years.

While the big shows are gearing up with entries for their 2018 awards and preparing for judging thousands of wines I recently helped judge the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy for Nelson’s top chardonnay, something I have done for the last 10 years.

Colin Harrison was a phenomenal supporter of Nelson produce, both food and wine, before he passed away in 2001 and I think he would be incredibly proud of the many producers that now call Nelson their home, just as he did.

In recognition of Harrison’s love of chardonnay the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy was established to recognise the region’s best chardonnay at the original Nelson Wine Awards. The first awards ceremony was held in 2003 at the Rutherford Hotel with the trophy being awarded to Kaimira Wines for their Brightwater Chardonnay 2001.

When the organisers of the Nelson Wine Awards (part of the Taste Nelson Festival) moved on to other things a few years later the trophy floated around a winery for a number of years before Nelson Winegrowers decided to resurrect the competition in 2008.

Each year since then the organisation holds a degustation dinner, where great food is matched with excellent wines from around the world, to present the trophy.

This competition is tiny compared to the big national wine shows and not every winery enters. This year there were 21 entries compared to thousands that enter other competitions, but irrespective of size the judging criteria are the same, with a focus on quality above personal taste.

Because the trophy is awarded to the best wine on the day the winning wine must be very good and preferably of gold medal standard so the judges take the responsibility very seriously.

This year a secret judge and I judged the 2018 award with Jane Docherty from Wine Nelson organising the tasting. Of course the wines were served to us blind and also covered four vintages, with one wine from 2014, five from the 2015 vintage, 10 from 2016 and six from 2017.

Tasting wines from different vintages is always interesting as you get to see how climate conditions affect the finished wines, as well as how winemakers treat the production.

I have to say the wines we tasted from the 2017 vintage showed it was a difficult vintage and of the wines entered I don’t think many of them will stand the test of time; they are drinking ok now but are very forward and will be best consumed young.

We tasted the wines in four groups (or flights) and selected our top wine from each flight and then re-tasted the wines in a different order to select the winning wine. Judge 007 and I selected two different wines as our top chardonnays so Jane, who is also a winemaker, joined us and tasted the top two wines with us.

We decided the winning wine best represented the bright, fresh flavours typical of Nelson chardonnay as well as being an outstanding wine. The winner is? – you will have to wait until after the awards dinner at the end of July to find out, but rest assured it is a fine wine indeed.

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