Another good day at the Challenge. After two big days (of 160 and 140 wines), our panel today worked at a slightly slower pace, taking more time to decide over some rather tricky flights.
A mixed collection of southern French whites, from a wide array of grape varieties, proved quite a challenge to score. When is quirky good, and when should it be marked down? A flight of Rhones was riddled with faults, which was a surprise, because yesterday’s Rhone flights were sensational.
I want to reassure people that we’re not just awarding big, shouty wines in the IWC. The flights are kept short, and there’s alternation between styles, to avoid that phenomenon where the only reds that stand out from a line-up of 40 are the big sweet ones, for example. Subtlety and elegance get rewarded. But we take care not to simply reward the wines that lack bigness (without posessing elegance), which can be a mistake in the other direction.
And sometimes big wines are good. You have to be open-minded. A flight of Provencale reds, including the likes of Bandol, was just stellar: it had some dense, tannic wines, but they were superb.
A big surprise was a flight of Australian Chardonnays from Victoria. It is amazing how Australian Chardonnay has changed: to a wine, these were precise, fresh, low in alcohol, and quite elegant. One was showing a bit of reduction, but it was nice reduction. I think we medalled 11 out of 12 of these.
At the end of the day it is time for a beer. Today, Dark Star’s Hophead was on: pale, bright, hoppy and full flavoured. A superb beer. There was also a mini Rioja tasting, of which the stand-out was Finca Allende’s 2008 Blanco. Complex and ageworthy, but approachable now, with some sweet spicy oak supporting multi-layered fruit.