The National Wine Show's new chairman of judges, Stephen Pannell, called in his own troops for the 2012 event, judged at Exhibition Park early this month. In town for the trophy presentation dinner on November 21, Pannell says, ''I picked people I like working with.'' He chose judges who had worked harmoniously together, keep their egos tucked away and focus their energy on the wine.
''It's important as a judge to walk away from a show thinking I'd like to buy and drink these wines,'' he says, referring to the award winners. This hasn't always been his experience.
In the end, Pannell is happy with this year's award winners. But he's far from happy with Australian wine shows, citing the inflexibility of the agricultural societies behind many of them. He singled out the Adelaide wine show and its 2012 results as ''a time warp'', saying people shouldn't be able to enter wines in shows they're judging.
Pannell says wine shows have lost relevance to consumers. Show organisers must improve the way wines are judged, he says, and he also wants to see sponsors becoming more involved and promoting the winners.
He believes wines should express their origin. Wine shows should therefore start parochially, looking at individual regions first before moving on to broader state and national events.
He would like to see trophies limited to varietals, and he wants shows to drop awards like best red, best white or best wine of show. It's an absurd apples-versus-oranges situation, he says, to line up, say, trophy winners for riesling, chardonnay, semillon and sauvignon blanc and voting on an overall best white wine. And it's even more absurd after that to taste the best red and best white to determine the wine of the show.
The bigger issues of how shows are organised, who runs them and how wines find their ways into them remains on Pannell's radar. But for the 2012 national show, he focused on judging - choosing the right people and finessing the process.
Pannell says, ''Even though we judged only 120 wines a day, some people didn't break for lunch and we ended up spending a huge amount of time in the wines.''
In most shows, a panel of three judges and one or two associate judges work independently on a class of wines. They then tally their scores for each wine, and call back potential gold medallists for group tasting and discussion. The panel awards its gold medals for the class, sometimes in collaboration with the chair of judges.
In this situation, the judges know the exhibit numbers and therefore who originally backed each wine for gold. From my own experience, judges tend to support the wine they've previously backed.
Pannell slowed this process down and removed one important bias. He asked his judging panels to line up fresh, randomised pours of potential silver and gold medallists and look at them with fresh eyes (or noses). As chairman, he would also show wines to other panels, allowing the conversation and assessment to linger on.
Pannell also encouraged discussion on style issues. For example, with everything cool climate being cool at present, he ''didn't want to throw the baby out with the bath water'' - meaning traditional warm-climate styles, especially shirazes, deserved rewarding if they scrubbed up (and plenty did).
Another hot topic during the show, he says, was whether ''artefact in chardonnay is overwhelming a sense of place?'' Roughly translated, that means when do the aroma and flavour of sulphur compounds, resulting from winemaking techniques, become too much. The debate largely replaces earlier ones on the roles of malolactic fermentation and oak in chardonnay flavour.
So, the debate moves on with each new generation of judges. But, Pannell says, ''the results won't ever be perfect''. He believes the award winners at this year's event should mean something to consumers. And he hopes the awards and debates about style will show the industry ''some direction and sensibility about where we go''.
Certainly there's plenty to excite in this year's results. The 2012 rieslings, especially those from Clare, offer delicious drinking at reasonable prices and rated very highly in the judges' view. And high quality cheaper wines of many styles liberally adorn the gold-medal list.
For various reasons, only five Canberra producers entered wines in this year's show. Quantity requirements, even though reduced by show organisers in recent years, restrict the number of entries - especially following the disease-ravaged 2011 and 2012 vintages.
However, four of those five Canberra wineries won medals. The few shirazes entered fared sensationally well. Eden Road the Long Road Gundagai Shiraz ($22 at cellar door) won the shiraz trophy - a notable achievement in a class of generally more expensive wines. And Eden Road Canberra District Shiraz 2001 won a silver medal.
Nick O'Leary repeated a stellar performance at the recent Melbourne show. His Bolaro Canberra District Shiraz 2011 - from Wayne and Jennie Fischer's Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman - and Canberra District Shiraz 2011 both won gold medals, with Bolaro ahead by a nose. O'Leary also won bronze for his 2012 riesling, a gold medallist and trophy winner from the recent NSW Wine Awards.
Ken Helm, too, waved the Canberra riesling flag, with a bronze medal for his Classic Dry Riesling 2011. And Lerida Estate earned a silver for medal for its Josephine Canberra District Pinot Noir 2009.
>> Results at rncas.org.au
>> Chris Shananan is a wine judge, former liquor retailer and Canberra Times wine writer, chrisshanahan.com
National Wine Show trophies
Best dry white commercial classes: Leasingham 2012 Bin 7 Riesling
Best riesling premium classes: Jim Barry 2012 the Lodge Hill Dry Riesling
Best sauvignon blanc premium classes: Houghton 2012 Wisdom Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc
Best semillon premium classes: Tyrrells 2005 Vat 1 Semillon
Best chardonnay premium classes: Peter Lehmann Wines 2011 Hill and Valley Chardonnay
Best sweet or medium sweet: Nugan Estate 2008 Cookoothama Botrytis Semillon
Best rosé: Alta Vineyards 2012 For Elsie Pinot Noir Rosé
Best bottle-fermented sparkling: Coldstream Hills 2008 Pinot Noir Chardonnay
Best bottle-fermented sparkling red: Leasingham 2005 Classic Clare Sparkling Shiraz
Best dry red commercial classes: Rosemount 2010 Limited Release McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon
Best pinot noir premium classes: Bay of Fires 2011 Pinot Noir
Best shiraz premium classes: Best's Wines 2010 Great Western Bin No. 0 Shiraz
Best cabernet sauvignon premium classes: Redman 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
Best blended dry red premium classes: Rosemount 2011 GSM
Best table wine aged classes: Brokenwood Wines 2007 Stanleigh Park Vineyard Semillon
Best fortified: Morris Old Premium Rare Liqueur Muscat
Best single-vineyard dry red: Coldstream Hills 2011 Roslyn Vineyard Limited Release Pinot Noir
Best single-vineyard dry white: Seville Estate 2011 Reserve Chardonnay
The semillon trophy: Audrey Wilkinson 2006 Museum Reserve Semillon CL 27:6
The chardonnay trophy: Evans & Tate 2010 Metricup Road Chardonnay
The shiraz trophy: Eden Road Wines 2010 the Long Road Shiraz
The cabernet sauvignon trophy: Watershed Premium 2010 Awakening Cabernet Sauvignon
Best dry white: Jim Barry 2012 the Lodge Hill Dry Riesling
Best dry red: Redman Wines 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine of the show: Jim Barry 2012 the Lodge Hill Dry Riesling
>> Open-class trophies (including wine of the show) are awarded to the best wines in premium and single vineyard classes after a judge-off of the top gold awards from eligible classes. Special trophies are awarded to the top wine in each premium gold class, namely the semillon trophy, the chardonnay trophy, the shiraz trophy and the cabernet sauvignon trophy.
For bargain hunters
Many modestly priced wines won gold medals and trophies, often in company with far more expensive products. This list highlights award wines likely to cost around $20 or, in some cases, considerably less. The list gives the vintage of each award-winning wine.
■ Leasingham Clare Valley Bin 7 Riesling 2012, $16-$18, gold medal and best dry white, commercial
■ Jim Barry the Lodge Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2012, $21-$24, gold medal and best riesling, premium; best dry white; wine of show
■ Houghton Wisdom Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc 2012, $22-$25, gold medal and best sauvignon blanc, premium
■ Evans and Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Chardonnay 2010, $17-$20, gold medal and chardonnay trophy
■ Peter Lehmann Hill and Valley Eden Valley Chardonnay 2011, $19-$22, gold medal and best chardonnay, premium
■ Eden Road the Long Road Gundagai Shiraz 2011, $22, gold medal and shiraz trophy
Gold medal winners
■ Leo Buring Clare Valley Dry Riesling 2012, $15.20-$17
■ Logan Weemala Orange Riesling '12, $17
■ Jacob's Creek Reserve Barossa Riesling 2011, $10.40-$16
■ Hardys Oomoo McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011, $10.90-$14
■ Evans and Tate Margaret River Classic Shiraz, $9.90-$14
■ Evans and Tate Margaret River Classic Cabernet Merlot, $13-$14
■ Evans and Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2009, $16.95-$20
■ Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2010, $16-$20
■ Gramps Barossa Cabernet Merlot 2009, $16.20-$20
■ Wicks Estate Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2010, $16.20-$20
■ Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2012, $14-$17
■ Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2011, $14-$17
■ Jim Barry the Lodge Hill Shiraz 2010, $17.85-$20
■ Jacob's Creek Riesling 2012, $6.95-$10
■ Houghton Red Classic 2011, $8.55-$10
Eden Road Wines
■ The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz 2010 – gold and the shiraz trophy
■ Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – silver
■ Canberra District Off-dry Riesling 2012 – bronze
■ Canberra District Riesling 2012 – bronze
■ Canberra District Bolaro Shiraz 2011 – gold
■ Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – gold
■ Canberra District Classic Dry Riesling 2011 – bronze
■ Canberra District Josephine Pinot Noir 2009 – silver