Chairman of Judges’ Report

Warren Gibson

Warren Gibson chairman Sydney Wine Competition

Warren Gibson – Chairman

The judging of the 2020 Sydney International Wine Competition (SIWC), now in its 40th year, took place in early October in Wentworth Falls, NSW, Australia. Once again under the excellent direction of show coordinators Brett and Michaela Ling, judges from around the globe spent five days tasting over 1500 wines, initially screening this total to the strongest 25%, then re-judging these 300+ wines again with appropriate food matchings.

This year the judging team was made up of a diverse range of wine professionals, all with significant judging experience and included six Masters of Wine. The team in the kitchen was again headed by renowned chef Michael Manners and he, together with a large support team, created a range of dishes to complement each wine style to match the second phase of the judging.

The premise of this show has always been; wine is best consumed with food. The initial phase of judging is with two judges per panel, one “style” judge and one “technical” judge. At the completion of this phase the selected wines move forward to be judged again, this time with food.

In the second phase of judging, apart from certain specific variety and style categories such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sparkling, sweet and fortified wines, the remaining wines are ranked in three categories of body; light, medium and full in both white and red styles. These categories are then matched with appropriate dishes and scored between 1 to 10 points. Uniquely for a wine show, there is deliberately no collaboration or discussion between the judges at any point during this stage. This allows both style and technical opinions to progress without bias.

Within the food phase, judges are also asked to rate each wine and food match using a five-point scale from “not at all” to “ideal”. Judges’ comments on the wines are also analysed using content analysis in order to advance the knowledge about what sensory attributes may make a wine “a good food wine”.

The hope is that by measuring certain physical parameters there can be a formal link established between subjectivity and science. This will be an ongoing exercise to potentially help demystify the wine tasting experience.

Following last year’s trialling of Plumm Redorwhite Mini glassware, the entirety of the entries were tasted in this glassware this year. Anecdotally, I believe the use of high-quality glassware like Plumm can add considerably to ensuring more reliable results.

Some trends become obvious over time. In the past, cooler climate styles have tended to be strongly rewarded. Continuing on from this trend, it seems that in recent years warmer climate wines are encroaching into this space. There appears to be a general “freshening” of style in the new generation of Australian wine. This year Australia fought back in many categories; there are now many more wines entered with fantastic freshness and balance. I strongly suggest to future potential exhibitors that fresh, vibrant, savoury wine styles, both white and red will consistently be rewarded in this show. Contrastingly, there are still many heavy, clumsy, apparently sweet and tannic wines entered which simply don’t fit the model.

New Zealand managed to hold on, as expected, to the Sauvignon Blanc category with complete domination, together with Sparkling wine. Two very different Australian Chardonnays, both regionally and in style, competed for the medium and full-bodied white wine trophies and ultimately for the Wine of the show. Both wines have had good successes recently in capital city wines shows as well as internationally. This demonstrates the current strength and diversity of Australian Chardonnay. A fantastic light-bodied Grenache from McLaren Vale was a huge judge favourite all week and shows a recent trend of “what’s old can still be new” particularly when made in this delicious style.

Australia reclaimed the Pinot Noir category for the first time in some years with a somewhat polarising wine from the Mornington Peninsula. Otherwise the category was dominated by New Zealand’s Central Otago and Marlborough regions.

South Australia’s McLaren Vale and Western Australia both performed well with three trophies each.

New Zealand’s St Clair and Yealands Wine group and Australia’s De Bortoli had the strongest overall success with each having totals of nine award winning wines. Special mentions to Bird in Hand, Robert Oatley Vineyards and Kirrihill Wines for their strong results.

There were some consistently strong results from the bottle-aged white wine styles of Semillon and Riesling again at the trophy level with the Coolangatta Estate Wollstonecraft Semillon continuing its historical success at this show. The D’Arenberg Dry Dam Riesling also repeated the success of last year and the Lillypilly Estate Noble blend triumphing again in the sweet wine class. The Morris Wines Old Premium Liqueur Topaque was an absolute show stopper in the Fortified class.

Sixty-eight different grape varieties were entered into the show from a large range of different countries. Wines from twelve different countries, and more than fifty different regions were entered in this year’s competition. Less major successes this year from the more diverse countries’ entries.

The Casa Santos Lima Winery from Portugal again the stand out European producer with two wines in the Top 100.

This year the Chairman of Judges’ trophy for a Wine of Outstanding Quality is given to De Bortoli Wines Villages Tempranillo Touriga 2019. A delicious young wine that perfectly encapsulates the new generation of Australian winemaking with one foot either side of tradition.

I believe the results of the 2020 SIWC have provided a strong and diverse range of award winners and trophies. The show both attracts and awards a very broad range of wine styles, regions and varieties and there should absolutely be something for everyone in the list of winners.

One again I would like to thank all those involved in the 2020 SIWC this year for their hard work, diligence and patience. Truly a special and unique wine event.

Warren Gibson