Chair of Judges Report 2016

12 November 2016

This year we tasted 1,392 entries. 6.5 percent of entries were awarded Gold Medals, and 70% of all entries received awards.

Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s most planted grape variety and understandably performed very well with 14 Gold Medals awarded, with almost all from the Marlborough region and from the current 2016 vintage. These are good quality wines with an increasing diversity of styles showing now from a number of sub-regions.

Chardonnay was particularly strong, with 13 Gold Medals spread around the country from Gisborne to Central Otago, with six from Hawke’s Bay and three from Marlborough. Nine of the Golds came from the 2015 vintage, and were made in a range of different styles. As a group of wines, this is an outstanding statement of how good the quality of New Zealand Chardonnay has become, and in my opinion it is clearly our best quality white wine class.

Riesling is a beautiful class of wines that deserves more attention. This year we gave six Gold Medals, with floral fruit purity and elegant, fine acidity in the dry styles. In the medium category the juicy sweetness gave depth and richness to the palate without compromising the acid balance.

With eight Gold Medals, Pinot Gris shone through again in 2016 with a group of top wines that are well textured and balanced. There is much less reliance on sweetness in the Gold Medal wines these days, and more emphasis on fruit concentration from improved vineyard and winery practices.

In Gewürztraminer we found two Gold Medals with the classic varietal character and texture, and both dry. There was one exceptional Viognier that earned Gold Medal status this year, and one beautifully aromatic example of Albariño in the Other White Varieties class.

Sparkling Wine was strong, with three Gold Medals in the bottle fermented styles combining fruit freshness with the yeast autolysis complexity from lees maturation. Two of these Golds were Blanc de Blanc wines, showing some lovely Chardonnay characteristics.

The Sweet Wine class was an excellent array of aromatic and complex styles, with four fruity Gold Medals from Riesling and one beauty from Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are difficult and expensive to make, and the best of them are wonderful expressions of the winemakers’ art.

Pinot Noir is once again the most successful varietal class in the competition with 17 Gold Medals. It has been thus for each of the five years I have been Chair of Judges, and it reinforces the overall outstanding quality perception of this red wine style in New Zealand conditions. Nine of the Gold Medals came from the 2015 vintage, seven from 2014 and one from 2013, all very highly regarded Pinot vintages.

With 100 entries this year, Rosé has become a significant and important class, reflecting the rapidly increasing popularity of this wine style. The best wines are simply delicious.

In the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blends there were eight Gold Medals, all from the warmer climate of Hawke’s Bay, and showing well the desirability of properly ripening conditions to get the most from these quality late season varieties.

All of the Syrah Gold Medals also came from Hawke’s Bay, with lovely ripe and rich characters and an elegant, peppery edge.

In the Other Red Varieties class we had an exceptional Cabernet Franc wine gain Gold, and for the first time a wine made from the Northern Italian variety Marzemino also won a Gold Medal. Both are from Hawke’s Bay.

2013, 2014 and 2015 are all demonstrably good vintages across the country, and the effects of this can be seen in this year’s results, particularly with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and the Cabernet/Merlot classes.

The two international judges this year were Ralph Kyte-Powell from Australia, and Michael Franz from the USA.

Ralph is a Melbourne-based wine critic who is well known on both sides of the Tasman, and particularly here in New Zealand through his regular articles and appearances in magazine tasting panels, and at various New Zealand wine competitions. Michael Franz, Ph.D, is based in Washington DC. He is a wine writer, educator, and consultant. He is editor of Wine Review Online as well as Sommelier magazine, and is a freelance contributor to many national and international wine magazines. He was previously an International Judge at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards in 1999.

Both guests were able to contribute greatly to our panel discussions, and gave us the benefit of their experience and expertise from an international perspective.

We have a very experienced and efficient back room team at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards which ensures the seamless conduct of the judging process. Thanks go especially to Competition Co-ordinator Shona White for her thoroughly professional running of the show, and also to the tireless team of stewards, led by Chief Steward Mark Compton and Assistant Chief Steward Michelle Little.

Thanks also to Angela Willis and Amber Silvester from New Zealand Winegrowers for their excellent administration of all the unseen aspects of a wine competition of this scale: the things that must be done, and done well.

As Chair of Judges, it has been my privilege to work with this same diligent and wonderfully effective group of people for the last five years.

Michael Brajkovich MW
Chair of Judges
Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2016