Chair of Judges Report 2013

23 November 2013

Sustainability continues to be a focus for this wine competition, and in 2013 we have achieved more than 97% of entries that were both grown and made sustainably. Next year only the Blended Sparkling wines with older blended material, and a few older vintage entries, will not be required to be certified sustainable.

The winning of a Gold Medal is a very difficult and demanding achievement, and the five panels of judges were very exacting in their awarding of such medals. Elite Gold Medals were awarded by the Chair of Judges, together with the Panel Chairs involved, to the Gold Medal wines that were considered worthy of going forward to the Trophy judging. These Elite Golds are trophy contenders that have something extra that sets them apart.

This year we saw a total of 1379 entries, which is slightly up on the 2012 competition. 8% of entries were awarded Gold Medals, and 47% of all entries received awards.

2013 was a very good grapegrowing season across the country, and it was very exciting to see such a strong lineup of outstanding Sauvignon Blanc wines from this vintage. These wines have very fine and fruity aromas, and the very best all have the weight, texture, length and balance befitting the Gold Medal standard. The best examples show a balance between very ripe and slightly edgy mineral characters which give these wines both depth and vibrancy. They appear to be drier this year, and with less obviously sweaty volatile thiol aromas.

Once again the showing of Chardonnay in this competition is very strong indeed, and indicates what can be achieved from a range of regions when the grapes are ripe, and the use of oak is carefully balanced with the fruit elements of the wine. The boundaries are continuing to be pushed with Chardonnay, with some very attractive and edgier reductive styles competing with the full, rich and weighty types.

The wonderful aromatic qualities of Riesling shone through this year, and its suitability as a medium- sweet wine style is clearly evident among the Gold Medal wines. The dry styles at their best are also very impressive, although the acid profile can be somewhat challenging to many consumers.

Pinot Gris is an important grape variety in the New Zealand wine sector, and with the quality of the 2013 vintage we have seen a big step up. It can sometimes suffer from overcropping and flabbiness, but the best wines from 2012 and 2013 are florally scented with concentration and rich textures, balanced with the clever use of residual sweetness.

The Gewürztraminer class was a little disappointing this year with only two Gold Medals. As in last year’s competition Viognier showed some very impressive aromatic profiles across the range, with richness and textured phenolics in this strongly flavoured variety. Albariño repeated its success of last year with a very attractive example.

Sparkling Wine should by rights be one of New Zealand’s very strong categories, and the Gold Medal wines this year showed what great results can be achieved when elegant refinement meets aged yeast autolysis complexity. This is an exciting class, and bodes very well for the future.

With 22 Gold Medals, Pinot Noir is once more the most successful varietal class in the competition. The top wines are truly outstanding and are becoming an international benchmark for the variety. They are characterised by focussed Pinot Noir fruit aromas and flavours, with an intensity that is hard to find elsewhere. The winemaking techniques and maturation methods are sympathetic with the attributes that come from the vineyard, and the result is a very complex and stylistically mature array of exceptional wines.

The fuller bodied reds produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are continuing their steady improvement. These classes are dominated by producers from Hawke’s Bay, where warm ripening conditions, well suited soils and improved viticulture are yielding grapes with a riper fruit profile than in the past. In the hands of careful winemakers the resulting wines have great flavour richness, balanced tannins and length, and are clearly very age worthy wines for the future.

Pleasingly, there was a very low incidence of microbiological problems in red wines in the Awards. This is testament to our very high level of technical expertise, and in a world wine market where many producers from traditional wine regions still struggle with problems such as Brettanomyces, we in New Zealand are producing red wines that stand up and get noticed because of their absolute quality rather than their historical reputation in the world of wine. Our wines speak precisely and clearly of the place they come from, and to a certain extent reflect the character of the people who produce them. This will become increasingly important as we compete for attention in the global wine marketplace.

The Dessert Wine classes this year highlighted some absolute gems, with beautifully ripe concentrated fruit characters often augmented with Botrytis Cnerea noble rot. Amazingly complex, the top wines are a rare treat.

The Air New Zealand Wine Awards is considered to be New Zealand’s premier wine competition, particularly because of the quality of the judging panels. We have a very high standard of local judging ability, many of whom have international judging experience. We also have a very capable group of associate judges who contribute significantly to the judging process, particularly at discussion time.

This year we welcomed two international Judges – Madeleine Stenwreth MW from Sweden, and Dan Berger from California, USA. These experienced wine professionals were able to give the judging panels a more global perspective on wine varieties and styles, and provide a better picture of where our wines fit in the international world of wine. Their contribution of time and professionalism is greatly appreciated.

A wine competition cannot function without an efficient backroom, and those of us at the tasting tables are very grateful to the stewards and competition organisers for their smooth running of the competition. I would like to particularly thank Competition Co-ordinator Shona White for her tireless efforts; Chief Steward Mark Compton, and also Ric and Michelle Little for the backroom organisation. Thanks also to Angela Willis and her team from New Zealand Winegrowers for holding everything together and making it all happen on time.

Michael Brajkovich MW
Chair of Judges
Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2013