Olympic wine tasting

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If you have ever wondered how the shiny medal stickers make their way onto wine bottles, you might be surprised to hear that a great deal of work and scrutiny goes into the process. RACV Club and Resorts Sommelier Christian Maier explains.

June 2018


Wine shows have been in existence in Australia since 1884 and have been about developing, supporting and promoting excellence in Australian wines. While the idea of sipping many different wines over the course of a day may seem appealing, I can assure you that it can be far from that.

I have been casually involved with various wine shows over the years and have just taken part in the International Cool Climate Wine Show where more than 700 wines were presented to be judged. There is little glory and lots of pain in assessing close to 200 wines per day on a benevolent basis as it is more like running a marathon than a stroll in the park.

Appraisal demands a great deal of concentration skill and effort, especially when maintained for the duration of a day. In order to minimise palate fatigue, classes of wines are usually kept below 40 and none of the wine is swallowed, as to do so would impair judgement. To have the most objective outcome and results, a number of judges from different backgrounds are used. Traditionally winemakers formed the jury panel but this has now changed to include other areas of the wine industry such as wine writers, sommeliers and wine wholesale retailers, as this brings a less technical and more complete picture in the assessment of wine.

In the larger shows such as the Royal Melbourne Wine Show, one of Australias most respected wine shows, about 20 judges and 12 associate judges assess a gruelling 3200 entries. Each wine is scored out of a 100 points scale and, as in Olympic fashion, there are three types of medals awarded: Bronze; Silver; and for outstanding quality, Gold. Each Gold medal in each class is eligible for a trophy after being reassessed by the judges. In some cases, each trophy can also compete for best in class, and in turn, for best wine of the show.

Since there are no absolutes in wine assessment there is no such thing as the perfect appraisal of it, but with the current Australian Show system, regarded as one of the best in the world, we are getting close to at least a clear and objective evaluation of the wine. So, next time you spot a shiny Gold sticker, spare a thought for the hard work that has gone into sifting them out amongst hordes of more average wines.

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