Wine shows: pros and cons

Wine shows: pros and cons

Australia has lots of wine shows, ranging from small regional shows to state-based shows and major shows held in capital cities. At the top of the tree sits the National Wine Show in Canberra.

Overall, wine shows are well supported by the industry but there are critics too.

A real plus of the show system is the objectivity of the process. All the wine judges see is an array of numbered glasses with 50mls of wine in each. Typically, three judges will assess the wines independently, then they confer. Wines thought worthy of a silver or gold medal may then be randomised and tasted again, perhaps with some input from the chair of judges.

With such a rigorous process some people ask why a wine can be awarded a gold medal one day and just a bronze medal a fortnight later? Of course, style preference comes into play. Some judges may prefer medium-bodied wines from cool climates while others may go for richer styles from warmer regions. Which style is ‘better’?

One of the great successes of the wine show system has been the increase in the quality of Australian wines over the last 50 years. No-one talks of ‘sweaty saddle’ character (wine fault) in Hunter reds these days or of a regional ‘barnyard’ character (wine fault) in McLaren Vale reds. Our show system forced winemakers to eliminate significant faults from their wines.

Some have argued that the focus on technical perfection in wine shows went too far and that medals ended up going to very clean, fruity wines that were nice but a bit boring and lacking in complexity. These days there is more tolerance of minor wine faults if they add to the overall character of a wine. The slight sulphury pong in your chardonnay would have been marked down a decade ago, but today it’s rewarded.

In bigger shows, the sheer size of some of the wine classes is an issue. For example, at the last Royal Sydney Wine Show there were 85 entries in the young shiraz class. Judging many red wines one after the other is tough going on the palate. In these circumstances a fine, elegant wine can be passed over when judged next to a big thumper. Also, ‘showy’ wines with lots of new oak may stand out in a big line-up, only to disappoint at the dinner table.

One of the advantages of regional wine shows is the smaller class sizes which give all wines a chance to shine. These shows also give judges in-depth insight into some of Australia’s smaller, developing wine regions.

At Colmar Estate we find the feedback the shows provide very useful, but they aren’t the be all and end all.