OK. So I am on a crusade: regional wine shows serve the burgeoning needs of the wine industry very well, while the capital city wine shows - Canberra excepted - do not. To make matters worse, some of the capital city shows don't even admit there is a problem. Others, notably Sydney and Adelaide, are at least aware there is a crisis looming.
On the other hand, as a journalist judge I have to admit some bias: regional shows provide a great opportunity to assess the current state of vinous health of the region, and are one of the best ways I know of unearthing the existence of dozens of new wineries which for arcane reasons don't bother to seek to tap into the rich vein of journalistic reportage.
Read the article:
Is the French term 'TERROIR' relevant to The Hunter Valley?
So it is that I find judging at regional shows more fulfilling and rewarding, and hence will have traipsed around more than half a dozen shows in the second half of this year. The most recent was the Hunter Valley Wine Show, where the Godfather passed the baton on to one of his native compatriots, Iain Riggs (of Brokenwood), the Godfather being played not by Marlon Brando but by Len Evans.
End of an era
It marked the end of a 37-year era, but that is a story for another day. It also marked the end of a two-day show; the surge in entry numbers to over 1100 means that next year there will be a third day. And in five years time? I shudder to think.
The latter part of the second day was devoted to deciding the trophies, always a defining moment for a wine show. Here you are faced with the top gold medals decided by (in this instance) the three panels, so that - give or take a bit - you will assess two out of three wines for the first time. If there happens to be a strange or less than worthy wine, there will be a furious of shuffling of judges' sheets to make sure it was not your panel which had erred, and acute embarrassment if it was.
Happily, there was no shuffling, no blushes. Rather, time and again it came down to the difficult choice of deciding between wines of equal quality but differing style or varietal base.
Semillon versus chardonnay
The first such confrontation came between Briar Ridge's 2001 Early Harvest Semillon and 2001 McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Chardonnay, each of which had already won a trophy as the top wine in its varietal and vintage classes. The intense, lemony purity and length of the Briar Ridge prevailed over the sweeter complexity and incipiently toasty character of the Mount Pleasant Chardonnay, taking the HJ Lindeman Trophy.
Although we had no clue at the time, the next showdown pitted McGuigan Wines versus McGuigan Wines: its 2000 Bin 9000 Semillon and its 2000 Genus 4 Chardonnay. Once again, the finesse and intensity of Hunter Semillon prevailed over the subtly oaked, toasty complexity of the stylish Chardonnay.
View the show results:
The St George Bank 2001 Hunter Valley Wine Show
Then came one of the trophies which make the Hunter Valley Show user-friendly: the Maurice O'Shea Memorial Trophy for Best Dry White Wine Currently On Sale. Appropriately it went to 1993 McWilliam's Elizabeth Semillon, its buttery toasty richness offset by excellent acidity.
The Best Named Vineyard Trophy went to 2000 Petersons Back Block Shiraz, powerful and rich, edging out 1995 Tyrrell's HVD Semillon and 1996 McWilliam's Old Hill O'Shea Chardonnay. The HVD Semillon, however, had its day when it carried coals to Newcastle by winning the Tyrrell Family Trophy for Best 100 per cent Hunter Valley White Wine, then in turn yielding to the glorious complexity and richness of 1994 McWilliam's Semillon for the Best White Wine of Show Trophy.
Warraroong Estate's 1998 Shiraz won two trophies, respectively for Best 1999 and Older Dry Red and Best Dry Red Currently Available. It is a wonderfully elegant wine with an amalgam of spice, earth, berry and oak.
But in the taste-off for Best Red of Show it came up against the 2000 McGuigan Wines Personal Reserve Shiraz, which had already won the Drayton Family Trophy for Best 100 per cent Hunter Valley Dry Red. The McGuigan wine stood out with excellent fresh red cherry/berry varietal fruit, great balance and length, and perfect oak and tannin management - all this from a red vintage euphemistically described as 'difficult'.
Finally, there were the Museum Trophies for Best White and Best Red. Luckily, I judged each class, both stacked full of marvellous wines. The winners in hotly contested events were two classics: 1987 Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon and 1993 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz. These two classes had a total of 16 wines (six white, ten red) out of a total of 1100 entries, but those 16 wines alone would have made the Show worthwhile.
Previously published in The Weekend Australian September 15-16, 2001