Show judges in a bind with the blind lead­ing the grind

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

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.

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