It's always a great honor and privilege to be asked to participate in an Australian wine show as an international judge. For one, it means that the organizers think you might actually know something about the wines being presented—or, alternatively, that someone thinks that you need to be educated on the wines being presented.
At last year’s Royal Adelaide Wine Show
, I was impressed with the overall quality of the entries. Yes, “no award” wines outnumbered medal winners (as they should), but there were very few wines I would identify as being flawed or not commercially viable. It was rare that wines were criticized on technical grounds.
That said, I did find many entries that struggled to differentiate themselves from others within the same class. If there is any criticism I would make of the show system and the culture that surrounds it, it’s that it tends to promote mimicry. On occasion, wines were criticized by the judges in terms of style rather than quality. If not reined in, this has the potential to stifle creativity and innovation among producers.
On one hand, it’s easy to reward wines that are drinking well, without obvious oak and having silky tannins. Those fresh, medium-bodied wines showing immediate drinkability tend to garner the medals these days. It’s much harder to identify wines that have the ability to age well over a period of years, integrating the oak and taming the tannins over time while developing secondary and tertiary complexity.
At the same time, it’s true that some of the best-known and age-worthy wines aren’t entered in wine shows. For some, there’s too much to lose. For others, there’s not enough wine to go around, even without another medal or trophy. The problem is that those wines weaken the show system by not participating in it.
One by-product of this is that show results don’t have much impact overseas, in export markets. Followers of Australian wine may take note of a trophy-winning wine, but after scanning the full results and seeing what other wines were entered, a trophy can lose some of its luster.
Having noted that, I believe it’s an exciting time for Australian wine lovers abroad, particularly in the United States. While overall volumes may be shrinking, we’re seeing growth in some of the higher-priced market segments. We’re seeing a greater diversity of wine styles and producers than in previous years.
A new generation of American consumers is coming of age. Largely free of preconceptions about Australian wine, these wine drinkers are open to trying new products, new producers and new packaging. And for the most part, the New Wave of Australian wine mirrors what modern consumers are looking for: drinkability, a sense of place, and authentic stories behind the wines.
Yes, there will always be a place for big, traditional styles. I’m a huge defender of them. But there is also room for wines that show refinement, elegance and sometimes even delicacy. Wines that expand on the finish, gaining interest and complexity. Wines that reflect the diversity present in a country nearly as big as the United States.
Czerwinski will be returning as international judge for The 2019 Royal Adelaide Wine Show in September.
This article first appeared in The Society, the publication of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia.
Hero image courtesy of Royal Adelaide Wine Show/Facebook.
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