Wine shows in Australia can be treacherous affairs. Often conducted in silence, judges typically wear white coats – possibly to avoid the inevitable occupational hazards of enthusiastic swirling prior to a wine’s assessment. They’re usually arranged in conjunction with other traditional Australian agricultural competitions, including; cattle, sheep, pig, and horse judging, but also, fine food shows, and cheese and dairy shows. At any traditional Australian wine show a judges’ mission is, fundamentally, to ‘improve the breed’.
“We are looking for deliciousness and drinkability over all else.”
Which is why I was a little worried when Attica’s restaurant manager, and Chief Judge, Banjo Harris Plane, emailed me to ask if I would like to participate in judging at this year’s Adelaide Review Hot 100. ‘Improving the breed’ is not exactly how I approach wine, but in reality, I’ve only been taking wine seriously – and by seriously I mean slowly forging a penury career out of it – for the last four years, so as far as I’m concerned, I’ve still got a lot to learn.
The only other time I’d ‘judged’ at a wine show was back in 2013, when Max Allen fatally asked me if I’d like to participate in the Organic Wine Show. I say fatally, because it was this invitation by Max that encouraged me to continue writing The Wine Idealist, which in turn has led me to experience so many incredible things, including being asked to judge at the 2015 Adelaide Review Hot 100. Thanks, Max.
The Hot 100 is not your typical wine show. Rather than trying to ‘improve the breed’ of Australian wine, its objective is to ‘find and celebrate the most drinkable wines in South Australia’. Past winners include, Domaine Lucci, 2012 Noir de Florette (2012), Lofty Valley 2012 ‘Steeped’ Single Vineyard Pinot Noir (2013), and Gentle Folk 2014 Blossoms (2014)…
[ Listen closely and you can hear the sound of quickening heart beats, of blood pressures rising fast, and the frustrated sharpening of barbs and quills ready to pen derisive comments about the Hot 100 being just another annex of ‘Hipster’ culture, while on the stove top, a hefty stroganoff bubbles, glugs, and boils over… ]
Far from being a show that embraces natural wine – and all the undeserved baggage that goes along with it – the Hot 100 merely seeks to identify and reward those producers who can grow and make seriously delicious wine for people to derive joy and pleasure from.
“Wine styles are a moving target, subordinate to the ebb and flow, push and pull of the producer and consumer.”
“We are looking for deliciousness and drinkability over all else,” says the welcome note from Banjo to the judges in this year’s itinerary. A directive in broad brush strokes if ever there was one, but that’s the point.
Wine styles are a moving target, subordinate to the ebb and flow, push and pull of the producer and consumer. Just when you think you’ve got a lock on what’s hot, the goal posts are gone. A directive like this is designed to embrace subjectivity by introducing numerous peoples of various perspectives; differing, divergent, even divisive, but all unified underneath the big umbrella of a love and passion for good wine, whatever that may mean.
The fact that the Hot 100 aims to push the progression of Australian wine shows, by trying to ‘find and celebrate the most drinkable wines in South Australia’, rather than merely ‘improve the breed’, is a good thing.
Back in colonial Australia it made perfect sense to want to ‘improve the breed’ when it came to wine. There was very little intelligent industry to draw upon, and so many winegrowers and makers were flying blind for a long, long time – probably, developing the dreaded ‘cellar palate’ in the process.
“Back in colonial Australia it made perfect sense to want to ‘improve the breed’ when it came to wine.”
Wine shows were practical and allowed producers to get together, talk about wine, and offer valuable feedback to each other about each other’s wines. This in turn allowed them to improve and progress as winemakers, taking home new ideas and techniques to apply in the vineyard and cellar during the upcoming vintage.
For Australian wine to improve (and be taken seriously on the world stage), its producers had to improve. After all, wine is an agricultural product, so it made sense to adopt the agricultural show model of ‘improving the breed’. And, it worked. The skill and knowledge of Australian wine producers grew at an exponential pace during the latter half of the 20th Century, with many of the innovations and advancements in winemaking coming from Australia.
Having improved the breed to a standard where Australian wine exports now accounts for A$1.96 billion (October 2015), the time has come for Australian wine shows to look at new ways of pushing the progression.
To my observations during last week’s judging, The Hot 100 wine show isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. Rather, it is happy to stand on the shoulders of giants, taking essential ingredients from the traditional Australian wine show system and bolstering them onto a more contemporary (and, dare I say, relevant) way of doing things. It still has loosely defined roles within the judging panels, it uses a points based system to score each wine (out of 100, rather than the traditional 20), and it awards trophies and top honours for those wines which are judged, by all, to be the best – if only by a small, select group of people, for just a brief moment in time.
“We already know what shiraz and chardonnay is supposed to taste like…”
What makes the Hot 100 unique – sharpen your quills, chaps – within the realm of Australian wine shows, is that it embraces style over varietal, allowing the taster/judge to asses the wine not on whether it is a varietally sound example of a shiraz or chardonnay, but instead, whether or not the wine is actually good, tasty, delicious, textual, moreish… drinkable! You have to ask yourself, would I drink this? Do I want another glass?
Of course this is subjective, but that’s the point… (see above). We already know what shiraz and chardonnay is supposed to taste like. What we now want to know is, what could they taste like.
It was a privilege to be associated with this year’s Hot 100, and I look forward to the results being announced later this year, in December.
Thank you to all the organisers for such an amazing week of South Australian wine, food, history, and culture! Special thanks to Ashely Huntington for being an awesome room mate, Amanda Yallop and Tristan Habeck for being supportive panel mates, and Banjo Harris Plane for the invite to take part!
D// – The Wine Idealist.
Links and Further Reading
- Buy Photos, Tees, Caps, Support The Wine Idealist!
- Adelaide Review Hot 100 (website)
- Wine Shows: A Force for Good (James Halliday)
- A World Without the Aussie Wine Show (Christina Pickard)