Chair of Judges Report 2015

28 November 2015

This year we saw a total of 1,407 entries. Six percent of entries were awarded Gold medals, and 61% of all entries received awards.

2013, 2014 and now 2015 are all demonstrably good vintages across the country, and very clearly the effects of this can be seen in this year’s results, particularly with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

As befitting its status as New Zealand’s most planted grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc performed exceptionally well, with 11 Gold medals awarded, all of them coming from the Marlborough region. 2015 showed some excellent examples, with the best showing ripe fruit with restrained volatile thiols. The 2014 vintage wines were less consistent as a group, but with a few outstanding examples. The best wines balance ripe aromas with firm, edgy mineral characters to give depth and vibrancy.

Chardonnay was once again very strong, and with 12 gold medals it was the most successful white wine category, with six each from Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough. Ten of those Golds came from the 2014 vintage, and were made in a range of different styles. There was much discussion about reductive characters from high solids fermentation, and the need for such complexing factors to be in balance with the other facets of the wine.

Riesling always provides some exciting aromatic highlights, in both the dry and medium-sweet wine styles. Purity of fruit and elegant acid finesse are hallmarks of the best wines, and in the older classes the ability of good quality Riesling to age gracefully in the bottle was again shown clearly.

The general standard of Pinot Gris has shown steady improvement over the past few years, and the nine Gold medals in this year’s Awards must surely be a record. The best wines are florally scented with concentration and rich texture, but there is also a very large group of wines that are well below standard.

The Gewürztraminer class stepped up with three Gold medals, all showing classic varietal character and texture, whereas Viognier did not feature among the Golds this year and was somewhat disappointing. In the Other White Varieties Albariño featured again with a very aromatic example.

Sparkling Wine was once again a very strong class, with the bottle fermented styles showing refinement and yeast autolysis complexity. The best had freshness, vitality and finesse and were obviously made with great attention to detail.

The Sweet Wine class provided a very strong line up, with four Gold medals from a range of grape varieties. It was difficult to separate the quality of the best examples.

With 18 Gold medals, Pinot Noir is once more the most medalled varietal class in the competition. This year, however, we saw a much more diverse spread of regions in the top awards, with six from Otago, five from Marlborough, four from Wairarapa, and one each from Nelson, Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay. All show beautifully concentrated Pinot Noir fruit aromas and flavours, but with an elegance that is so characteristic of the variety when grown in the right place. A number of diverse regional Pinot styles and winemaking influences have been recognised and rewarded.

Rosé has become a popular and significant class at these Awards, with nearly 70 entries this year. The best wines are delightfully fruity, vibrant and balanced.

In the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blends we found five Gold medals from the Gimblett Gravels of Hawke’s Bay and one from Waiheke Island in Auckland. Both 2013 and 2014 are showing well here, with ripe fruit well balanced tannins.

Syrah gave up seven Gold medals, with a variety of styles from full, ripe and rich to more elegant, peppery Syrah. The judges are very wary (and weary) of excessive oak and charry characters than can dominate the fruit and balance of a wine.

The prestigious reputation of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards is particularly due to the quality of the judging panels. We have a very high standard of judges with a great deal of both local and overseas judging experience. The associate judges are also of a very high standard, and make an important contribution to the judging process, particularly at discussion time.

Our two International judges this year were Mark Protheroe from Australia, and Ronny Lau from Hong Kong. Ronny is a wine critic and author published across Asia, who also co-chairs the Shanghai International Wine Challenge. Mark is the Head Sommelier for Grossi Restaurants in Melbourne, and is a senior judge at the Royal Adelaide Wine Show.

Both are well experienced wine judges, and they were able to contribute greatly to the panel discussions, and give us the benefit of their insight and expertise.

The judging at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards always runs smoothly and without fuss, thanks to the very experienced and efficient back room. Thanks particularly to Competition Co-ordinator Shona White for her polished administration, and also to the team of stewards, led by Chief Steward Mark Compton and Assistant Chief Steward Michelle Little.

I would also like to thank Angela Willis and Amber Silvester from New Zealand Winegrowers for keeping all of the complex facets of the Awards running nicely and to schedule.

Michael Brajkovich MW
Chair of Judges
Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2015