Chairman of Judges’ Report

Warren Gibson

Warren Gibson chairman Sydney Wine Competition

Warren Gibson – Chairman

The judging of the 39th Sydney International Wine Competition (SIWC) took place in early October in the tranquil and picturesque Wentworth Falls, NSW, Australia. Under the considered direction of show coordinators Brett and Michaela Ling, thirteen judges from around the globe spent five days tasting ~1700 wines, initially screening this total to the strongest 25%, then re-judging these 350+ wines again with appropriate food matchings.

The judging team included five Masters of Wine and a range of wine educators, winemakers and wine enthusiasts. The team in the kitchen was headed by renowned chef Michael Manners alongside Marcell Kustos from Adelaide University. Together with their large support team, they created a range of dishes to complement each wine style for the second phase of the judging, plus feed the entire cast the whole week.

With a wine show that has been running for this extended length of time, it is important that there are elements of evolution. The premise of this show has always been to focus on the idea that wine is usually best consumed with food. When food and wine are enjoyed together, they can potentially enhance the sensory perception of each other. All wine shows have inherent flaws, the main one being; a bottle of wine is generally not made to be lined up alongside hundreds of others in some sort of bizarre beauty contest. The history and ongoing development of this show is to de-emphasise the beauty contest nature and focus on not just wine quality but also compatibility with food. The initial phase of judging is by two judges per panel, normally one “style” judge and one “technical” judge. Once this phase is complete, the selected wines are judged again, this time with food. In what is a rarity in wine shows, there is no collaboration, discussion or judging by committee between the judges at any stage. In general, the judges find the format less fatiguing and the re-scoring of the wines with food is a refreshing and eye-opening experience.

Research by the University of Adelaide’s Associate Professor Sue Bastian and her team is currently ongoing on a subset of the competition wines that make it through to the food and wine pairing stage. Judges were asked to rate how ideal each wine and food match was using a five point rating scale from “not at all” to “ideal”. Also, specific wine chemical and physical parameters are being analysed in these wines in order to understand the drivers of why certain wines work well with food. Judges verbal comments of the wines are also being analysed using content analysis to advance our knowledge about what sensory attributes may make a wine “a good food wine”. I believe this is an entirely unique concept whereby the relatively subjective nature of wine show judging can potentially be underpinned by scientific research.

Once the first phase of the judging is over, apart from certain specific variety and style categories such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and sparkling wine, the remaining wines are re-tasted and positioned in three categories of body; light, medium and full in both white and red styles. These are then matched with appropriate dishes. The hope is that by measuring certain physical parameters such as viscosity, residual sugar and extract, that there can be a formal link established between subjectivity and science. This will be an ongoing exercise with potential to somewhat demystify the wine tasting experience.

Further evolution this year was the trialing of new glassware. The use of the Plumm Redorwhite Mini glassware provided enhanced visual and sensory benefits and on occasions where the old glassware was used, the contrast between the two glasses was quite noticeable. I believe that use of high-quality glassware like Plumm can add considerably to ensuring more reliable results at intensive wine-tasting events like the Sydney International Wine Competition.

Having judged in this show over several years now, some trends have become obvious to me over this time. This year’s competition showed an apparent overall increase in refinement and food-friendliness in the general entries. In the past cooler climate styles have tended to be strongly rewarded and awarded and whilst this appears to still be the case, there was definitely a sense this year that the warmer climate wines were encroaching more into this space. This is seen particularly in this year’s trophy wine winners but also within the general results.
There is also increased focus on “alternative varieties” in both entries and awards. This year close to seventy different grape varieties were entered into the show from a large range of different countries. Wines from fifty-eight wine regions moved into the second phase of judging. Successes were achieved with other white varieties such as Roussanne, Gruner Veltliner, Fiano and Vermentino. Similarly, relatively unheard of (in Australia) red varieties (Saperavi and Castelao) were award winners.

Major successes this year were wines from countries as diverse as Portugal and Georgia. The Badagoni – Alaverdi Tradition 2015 (Saperavi) from Georgia was awarded The Ted Radke Perpetual Trophy for Best Table Wine made from a Lesser Recognised Grape Variety. The Casa Santos Lima winery from Portugal was particularly successful with eight Awards from a range of robust red varieties.

Once again Marlborough closed out the Sauvignon Blanc category and was also strong in both Rose and Pinot Noir and significantly, also competed with Margaret River in the Chardonnay stakes. Chardonnay dominated the Full-bodied white class with a good range of styles awarded.

Central Otago and Marlborough dominated the awards for Pinot Noir with the cooler Australian region of Tasmania close on its heels. The Adelaide Hills region performed very well in the light and medium bodied white wine categories. In the medium and full-bodied red classes this year the warmer South Australian regions of McLaren Vale and Barossa performed extremely well, including with the food matchings. Shiraz in general tends to be leaning a little more towards the spicier Syrah style, not just on the label but also in character. Grenache showed beautifully in the light and medium bodied classes. It was also pleasing to as see some bottle-aged white wine styles from Semillon and Riesling excel at the trophy level.

The Yealands Wine group once again won most successful producer with total of nine wines winning significant awards.

A question asked during the week of the show was “Are Australian and New Zealand wine styles becoming less distinctive in a more open world of wine?” This is not an easy question to answer. I feel there is a refinement and freshening of wine styles globally that also helps to create a sense of place and regionality in the wines. In a show where food friendliness is rewarded, freshness and vitality are key characters.

Once again there were some exceptional wines retailing for under $20 that performed strongly. This is always an attention gatherer with both consumers and wine commentators alike enjoy seeing these results. It is a comfort to see many of these same wines having had recent success in other shows showing a good consistency of judging.

I believe the results of the 2019 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.

Finally, I would like to thank all involved in the SIWC 2019 this year for their hard work, diligence and patience. This is a unique and special wine event and concept and with the continuing evolution of the show it promises to be an even more exciting wine show in the future.

Warren Gibson