Wine shows have become ubiquitous in Australia. It seems there are more awards than wines!
The wine shows started out as a section in the agricultural shows – just like the cattle, cake baking, spun yarn, and poultry. The purpose of the shows was to promote improvement in all forms of agricultural endeavour, with the awarding of championships, blue ribbons and so on. This was fine and the state agricultural societies have conducted wine shows as part of their programme for many, many years.
It is widely believed that Wolf Blass was first responsible for mass promotion of wine show success. In the early eighties he publicised his success in winning the Jimmy Watson trophy for best one year old red at Melbourne wine show for three years running. This resulted in not only Wolf Blass and his wines becoming well known, but the Jimmy Watson trophy as well. In fact the Jimmy Watson trophy isn’t even for the best red wine at the Melbourne wine show!
What is judged in a wine show is technical perfection. Not drinkability, not value for money, not ability to age and improve, but technical perfection, on the day, in the eyes of the group of judges involved. The judges are generally conservative, so new or different styles tend to do less well. Wines made to age and mature are handicapped. Wines from obscure varieties are often under rated. There are also trends – in the eighties it was always considered a good red would beat a good white. In the nineties it seemed a good riesling would beat anything. Now if it doesn’t have viognier in it, beware!
Medals are awarded for achieving a minimum quality standard, not first, second, third, like the Olympics. Good sound flavoursome wine should win a bronze medal. Gold medals are for exceptional wines of outstanding character. Wines are judged according to type and variety, and also price and quantity produced. So in many wine shows, particularly the larger ones, there are classes for commercial, premium, and sometimes museum wines. So not all gold medals are equal! Trophies are normally awarded across a group of classes and represent the best wine in that particular category (such as best red or best wine under $20).
Beware a single wine show result – many wines are entered in numerous wine shows and the results across a range of shows is a better reflection of a wine’s merit than the highest result in any one show.
Not all wine shows are of equal standard. The best wine show is one that engages the most experienced judges and has a wide range of wines. And these are the capital city wine shows. Smaller wine shows often have a less experienced judging panel, and there are fewer wines – it is easier to stand out in a small line up.
Winemakers should be able to judge the quality of their own wines. However there is still benefit in having one’s wines independently assessed against one’s peers. By attending the exhibitors tasting after the judging, and discussing the judges’ assessment, winemakers can gain fresh insights into “improving the breed”. And this is the real purpose of the wine show.
There is no doubt that wine show results are over promoted. In such a crowded market place where wineries are doing everything possible to stand out, the paradox is that claiming wine show success doesn’t make a wine stand out! Wine show results are becoming devalued because everybody has one. The worst situation is the lazy winemaker who fails to engage you and describe their wine, but simply suggests that because it has received such and such a result you should drink it!
At Faber we will continue to enter wine shows, as we pursue all means available to improve our wines. However we understand the limitations of the judging. The sheer drinkability of our Verdelho is not rewarded, and the full bodied edge to our Reserve Shiraz, which is part of the style and improves its cellar potential, is not taken into account. And whilst we will happily report our wine show successes, we know that you can’t drink a gold medal.
By the way, the pinnacle of wine show trophies is the Tucker Seabrook Perpetual Trophy for the Best Show Wine Exhibited at Major State Wine Shows within the preceding 12 months, which John won in 1998 with the 1995 Houghton Show Reserve Shiraz. We opened a bottle earlier this month and the judges certainly got this one right – it was fantastic!