Show judges in a bind with the blind leading the grind
YOU must expect the unexpected when you gather 2002 judges from 45 countries to judge 5460 table wines and 273 spirits coming from 47 countries (and hundreds of regions).
The panels of six are organised so that each judge comes from a different country, the language spoken being that of the president of the panel (in my case, English, of course). Each panel is given 50 or so wines each morning broken into five classes typically ranging in size from seven to 18 but are told nothing about the criteria for creating the class, other than stipulating the vintages (largely useless because most of the wines are young and could come from the northern or southern hemispheres).
The judges receive and mark the wines one by one, with no chance of retasting, and discussion is not allowed about the individual wines or the criteria used to group them.
Just to add a little spice, the judging sheets have a strong affinity to Tattslotto if you take them literally. There are 46 options to arrive at a final points score, ranging between 40 and 100 for any given wine, with an overriding square for disqualification (on the grounds of quality). But the permutations and combinations by which you may arrive at a given total score are astronomical.
Having participated in the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles for four years, this time in Maastricht, The Netherlands, I have developed a fast ready reckoner that will get me to the points I have decided the wine should receive. During this time I have had judges who randomly ticked boxes all over the place and had no idea how many points they had given, and one judge who gave 96 points to most wines ‘‘ because I don’t know what they are and so can’t penalise them’’. A few carefully chosen presidential words of advice sorted out some of the problems.
A preordained 30 per cent of all entries in the show will receive a medal: a great gold medal for a wine gaining 96 points or more, a gold for 87 to 95, and a silver from 82.5 to 86.9 points. The lack of any clue about the wines you are judging gives rise to a March Hare type of objectivity and a dash to the official stand to get a list of the wines you judged that morning.
This year the first class emphasised the downside of the blindfold, turning out to be what I had guessed they might be: 10 Portuguese vinho verdes. None went close to receiving a panel medal because of their teeth-chattering acidity. I was in a bind: only three were really poor wines and had I been certain they were vinho verdes I would have given at least five silver medals. (I gave one but only one other judge had done the same.)
The next class was 12 intensely rich and sweet wines from Moravia, steeped in botrytis and spectacular in flavour, seven winning silver or gold medals. My knowledge of Moravian language is, to put it mildly, limited, but I was pleased to recognise riesling, chardonnay, gewurztraminer and (I think) sauvignon blanc. I had thought they were from Austria, which makes similarly rich wines.
By coincidence, one of the other classes to stand out was a group of eight late-harvest muscats from Spain, Italy, Romania and Chile. Four wines were in the silver and gold points strata.
We did no justice to a class of good champagnes (which had the misfortune to come immediately after the Moravian sweet wines) but were rightly dismissive of 13 coarse sparkling wines from Brazil, Chile and Argentina. Seven Spanish chardonnays from Penedes showed every winemaking fault imaginable and failed to win a medal, the same fate as 11 Swiss reds from Vaud, urgently in need of climate change. A gaggle of reds from areas around Madrid had sun but only two won silver medals, bitter extraction spoiling the others.
Twelve Bordeaux AC (the lowest appellation) reds proved the old adage of silk purses and sows’ ears, notwithstanding they all came from the great 2005 vintage. Here 2005 Chateau Marjosse was an exception to prove the rule: Michel Dovaz (a celebrated French judge and writer, arguably more qualified than your columnist to be panel president) and I both gave the wine very high points, taking it into an overall gold medal.
What must have been the worst class of riojas assembled (mercifully only eight) and 14 Portuguese red wines from Alentejo, almost as bad (a single silver), had the amiable Spanish and Portuguese judges on my panel distraught when the identity of the wines was revealed at lunchtime.
The big surprise on the upside were 12 Sicilian IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) reds from a rainbow selection of varieties: petit verdot, cabernet-syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese-merlot, others not disclosing the variety. Understandably, we had no idea what on earth the class represented and there was a scattergun of points. Despite this, five, and possibly six, wines won medals.
Where does Australia fit in this? FromtheRegion provides the answer.