Chair of Judges Report 2014

23 November 2014

This year we have achieved more than 98% of entries that were both grown and made sustainably. This is important because sustainability means delivering excellent wine to consumers in a way that enables the natural environment, the businesses and the communities involved, to thrive.

The Awards attracted a total 1551 entries, which is 12% up on the 2013 competition. 7% of entries were awarded Gold medals, and 48% of all entries received awards.

I stated last year that 2013 was a very good grapegrowing season across the country, and very clearly the effects of this vintage continue to be seen in this year’s results, particularly with the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. 2014 had some challenges in many regions, but the quality of the best wines is still as good as ever, showing the signs of well managed vineyards and good winemaking.

Sauvignon Blanc wines from 2014 have some excellent examples, with the best showing complexity of fruit characters and an absence of green flavours. The 2013 vintage wines still shine with another year of bottle age, retaining the weight, texture, length and balance that marked them from the beginning. Once again, the best examples show a balance between very ripe and slightly edgy mineral characters which give these wines both depth and vibrancy.

Chardonnay is very strong indeed, particularly from 2013, but the success of some older vintage wines certainly shows the ageing capability of this superior grape variety. Among the best wines are a wide range of styles and regions, and show what can be achieved with Chardonnay when the grapes are ripened correctly for the region concerned, and the use of oak is carefully balanced with the other components of the wine.

Pinot Gris has enjoyed a significant lift in quality compared to previous years, and is clearly a variety on the rise in New Zealand. The best wines have rich, luscious characters that do not rely solely on sugar to give texture and length.

In the dry styles the best Riesling wines show elegance and purity with beautiful aromatic, minerality and flavour persistence. The medium wines were generally outstanding with great fruit aromas, flavours and acidity balanced carefully by sugar sweetness.

Gewürztraminer was a variable class with some great pungent fruit aromas and palate richness among the best wines, but with too many examples lacking in fruit weight and texture.

It was very encouraging to see such good examples of Albariño, Arneis and Grüner Veltliner in the other white varieties section as the number of wines exhibited has risen and the competition has become keener.

The Sparkling Wine category had a very large number of entries, and the standard was very high. The Gold Medal wines show the complexity and finesse that is required for recognition at this level.

Pinot Noir is once more the most successful varietal class in the competition with 27 Gold Medals. This is an outstanding group of red wines, particularly from the 2013 vintage but also in the more aged categories. There is diversity of style ranging from strongly coloured, robust wines with richness and tannin, through to more fresh, elegant and silky wines. The best wines exhibit layered complexity and palate length, always with tannin and acid in harmony with the fruit and oak characteristics.

With the class of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and their Blends, the 2013 vintage is certainly showing its quality. The Cabernet Sauvignon component seems to shine through in particular with ripe cassis fruit, rich tannins and flavour complexity, but also with the Merlot and Malbec having a significant impact on the blends.
Syrah provided a quality class of wine displaying a diversity of styles from fresh, vibrant peppery and herbal to full-bodied rich and ripe black fruit styles with significant oak impact and earthy tannins.

It should be noted that the judges are now being much more critical of oak characters that are too dominant and out of balance with the other components of the wine.

The Sweet White Wine class this year was wonderful, with a number of varieties showing beautifully ripe concentrated fruit characters, often augmented with botrytis cinerea noble rot, and made into a diverse range of styles.

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 local 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.

This year we also welcomed two international judges – Sebastian Braun, from Sweden, and Dave Brookes, from Australia. It is always worthwhile having such international experience as part of our judging panels to ensure we are keeping up with wine quality trends from a worldwide perspective. These two gentlemen fitted in seamlessly with our judging style and both made extremely valuable contributions to the discussions and the judging process. Their contribution of time and expertise is greatly appreciated.

The Air New Zealand Wine Awards is blessed with a very experienced and efficient back room who keep the judging moving smoothly and without fuss. The judges are very grateful to the stewards and competition organisers for their exemplary running of the show. Thanks go particularly to Competition Co-ordinator Shona White for her peerless administration, and also to Chief Steward Mark Compton, and Ric and Michelle Little who organise the backroom so well.

I would also like to thank Angela Willis and Liv Goudie from New Zealand Winegrowers for keeping the whole thing together, and for making everything happen on time.

Michael Brajkovich MW
Chair of Judges
Air New Zealand Wine Awards