Blog 10: Royal Adelaide Wine Show tales

2009 Grenache class begins

I have been away from my computer this week locked down judging at the Royal Adelaide Wine Show. An awesome 4 days of judging around 150 wines per day. I thought it may be interesting to share how the wine show system works.

The capital city wine shows are run by the Royal Agricultural Societies. There are also regional shows, generally run by the local wine industry associations. Added to that there are a number of other specialist shows, such as the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show or the Shiraz Challenge.

Generally, most of the shows are run in a similar fashion. Winemakers enter their wines into specific classes- i.e. 2009 Shiraz or 2010 Pinot or Sparkling wines. Then these classes are judged by ‘panels’ of judges. There can be anywhere from 2 panels to 6 panels- depending upon how many wines need to be judged and the number of days available.

 There is quite alot of hierarchy with the judges and each panel is made up of a Panel chair, 2 Senior judges and 2 or 3 Associate Judges. All judges taste all the wines blind (i.e. we dont know what the wines are- and dont find out until the results are released following the completion of the show) in one class seperately, without discussion, giving each wine a score out of 20 points. A score of 18.5 or more is a Gold medal, 17 to 18.5 a Silver medal, 15.5 to 17 a Bronze medal, <15.5 no award. Once all the wines are completed, the panel get together and read out all of their scores. Then the discussion begins! Generally, there is alot of agreement between the judges, but sometimes one judge may miss a wine that the others rate highly. Wines that have gold medals against them all get looked at again as a panel in fresh glasses. Discussion continues and the final decision as to whether the wine is of gold medal standard or not is made. The Chief Judge, who is the most senior judge and in charge of running the whole show, then will generally come over and have a look at the gold medal wines and give the final approval.

Outgoing Chief Judge Brian Walsh, Adelaide Wine Show Committee Members Andrew Hardy, Mike Farmilo & Philip Laffer, and incoming Chief Judge Sue Hodder (Pic stolen from the lovely Louise Radman)

As you can see, it is a pretty amazing achievement to get a medal at a wine show! Especially a gold medal. Generally each judge will taste 150 wines per day, plus all of the retastes- so you get pretty good at spitting!

Wine writer Jane Faulkner after a very long day tasting Cabernet Sauvignon (photo thanks to Louise Radman)

You can also imagine that it takes a mission to make sure all the wines get poured correctly- not to mention the glasses all washed! I hate to think how many glasses were washed- 150 glasses per day times 4 days times 5 people per panel times 5 panels…….that equals lots!

The fortified class....30+ years worth of loveliness

At the end of all the judging, we do the trophy judging. This is when we taste the gold wines that are eligible for a particular trophy and pick the best of the best. For example, the Chardonnay Trophy may have gold medal Chardonnays from a number of vintages to choose between. This is the fun part and the hardest part- sometimes it is terribly difficult to choose between a number of brilliant wines.

David O'Leary in between trophy judging classes (photo thanks to Tom Carson)

This years Adelaide Wine Show was great- I found the Chardonnay’s and Cabernet’s particularly impressive- but you (and I) will have to wait a week to find out the winners…..

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