Chair of Judges Report 2010

20 November 2010

The 2010 Air New Zealand Wine Awards is my fourth as Chairman and in this year we have started to achieve some significant milestones, not only for these awards, but for New Zealand wine. As we move towards a production system book-ended by a world leading program of sustainability, the 2010 vintage entries this year were a world first for any major wine competition anywhere in the world, where all had to be grown and produced sustainably. This approach is not just a symbolic message, it shows a commitment to sustainable production that no other primary based industry anywhere in the world has even got close to matching.

Almost 39% of all 1579 entries at this year’s Air New Zealand Wine Awards were grown and produced sustainably, up from 7% in 2007, when we introduced the category of entry, and the Champion Sustainable Wine Trophy has become one of the most coveted awards to win.

This year’s show also realised a significant achievement for the fine wine producers of New Zealand, whether big or small. Pinot Noir, now with a stellar run of three great vintages and a fleet of exceptional producers concentrating on the variety, realised eight Elite Gold and 24 Gold medal wines, by far the greatest of any wine style at any time during the 30 year history of these awards. The Pinot Noir entries were certainly significant, at 310, however for a class of this size for this variety to achieve more than a 10% gold medal haul is an incredible achievement and significant recognition for our place and our people. Many will say we were just too generous, but that is simply not the case; the judges were specialists and the wines were more than worthy. The process of repeated assessments of wines before they are awarded a top award removes that risk and with 56% of the wines not receiving any award, it shows the judges held a very high standard. It does show that with this variety more than any other it seems that if the wine is good it is often very good or even exceptional, there are no in-betweens. It is therefore quite fitting in this year that the trophy for the Champion Wine of the Show goes to a Pinot Noir.

The red wines of New Zealand are not however just a story of Pinot Noir, Syrah with seven Elite Gold and Gold medal awards continues to perform strongly. While the higher end showing from the Bordeaux red varieties was not as imposing, the red wines of New Zealand now have a status across three quite unique wine styles to take this story much more confidently to the world. The future of New Zealand wine depends on it being told.

While the red wines of New Zealand were a highlight, the white wine story is not quite so convincing, particularly for a country that prides itself on white wines. Don’t get me wrong, the Riesling (12 Elite Gold and Gold medal wines), and Chardonnay (14 Elite Gold and Gold medal wines) classes highlighted some exceptional wines at the top end that could sit on a fine wine stage anywhere in the world. Pinot Gris had a much better showing this year, as the cool, dry lower yielding vintage of 2010 shone a little stronger and producers seemed to have put their egos in the drawer. Gewürztraminer and the classic bottle fermented Sparkling classes had some beautiful world class gems in them. However, more than 61% of Chardonnay and 58% of Pinot Gris did not win awards – not really good enough.

The most difficult class to judge in this year’s show was Sauvignon Blanc. Unlike the 2008 vintage, there were no problems with lack of character here, in fact many of the wines were at fault for too much of many things. The top wines, 14 Elite Gold and Gold medal wines, were great examples of cool vintage Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and the numbers suggest the right sort of percentage of gold medals at 5%. However 56% of the Sauvignon Blanc’s entered received no award, in a vintage that many are reporting as exceptional. This is simply not good enough. The best wines in the class show great drinkability and balance, the most important factors in wine. But far too many were marked by excessive acidity, alcohol and phenolics. The Sauvignon Blanc winemakers of this country need to look long and hard at the winning wines and learn the lessons from them about sensitive viticulture and winemaking tuned to a cooler year.

The Judging Team
Another top class line-up of International and New Zealand judges gave us their time and expertise to judge at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards in 2010. The vastly experienced and widely acclaimed wine journalist, Stephen Brook, joined us from the UK; the somewhat younger, effusive and influential Eric Arnold flew across the Pacific from the USA; Ben Edwards, head of the Australian Sommeliers Association and renowned wine consultant and judge; and Philip Rich, noted Australian wine journalist, sommelier, wine judge and co-proprietor of The Prince, Melbourne’s most prestigious wine retailer. These four illustrious judges joined our own team of very experienced New Zealand senior judges and associates in five teams of judges. The diversity of styles awarded within each class was a highlight of the expertise these people bring. I am always highly critical of wine shows that reward wines according to a predisposed preference for a certain style and was delighted to see judging based on quality as the key factor.

Shona White and Mark Compton brought their normal professionalism to the table and were ably assisted by Ric and Michelle Little to ensure that the judging ran smoothly and without drama. I take great pride in the results of the 2010 Air New Zealand Wine Awards. They reflect our arrival on an international stage as a complex and diverse wine producing nation that should be celebrated by all those responsible for selling these wines to the world. I once again view this appointment, in what is my penultimate year, as a great privilege.

Steve Smith MW
Chair of Judges
Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2010