Judging at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show

This week I am one of the two overseas judges at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. It’s my first experience of an Australian wine show, and so far it has all been positive.

I admit I was a little apprehensive before I got here. My image of Australian wine shows was informed by what I’d read. I’d heard that they were dominated by old, senior winemakers dressed in labcoats, working their way through hundreds of wines at ferocious speed, dogmatically leading their panels – conform or be cast out. I saw myself getting into an awful lot of trouble.

I’m glad to report that the RMWS of 2012 is completely different. Under the enlightened leadership of David Bicknell, there are no lab coats, and no one behaves dogmatically. There’s a great team of some 40 tasters, including not only winemakers but also journalists and merchants. It’s really friendly, and the standard of judging is very high.

The Aussies are red hot on faults, but wines with personality and slight quirks are being given a fair crack. It’s hard work, but there’s no rushing. There’s plenty of time to taste, with breaks, and our palates are not being worked to the point that they begin to perform erratically.

The wines have been pretty good, with some real stand outs. Some classes have been particularly strong: the 2010 Shiraz flight I judged today had some brilliant wines in it. Australian wine style seem to be shifting away from over-ripeness and a reliance on oak, which is a good thing.

Tim White tries to avoid being biased by the colour of the natural wines at the masterclass

Aside from the judging, we have had two masterclasses. James Suckling (who, it turns out, is very friendly and good fun) gave one on Brunello, and I gave one on natural wine. And then there are the dinners. Last night’s theme was old Aussie wines (these were incredible), and tonight’s is old European wines. I’m not getting all that much sleep, but that’s what the plane journey home is for.

4 comments to Judging at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show

  • Jamie: Though it may be too geeky to interest your general readership, I’d like to know at some point more of the logistics of the show – size of the panels, number of wines judged per day, how they are organized and presented, how awards are determined and so forth. Thanks!

  • Damien Wilson

    Nice to read of your experience with this show, Jamie. One of the strengths of the Australian wine sector is the ability to adapt when changes are required. I assisted at the Royal Adelaide wine show in 2002, and I vividly recall the experience that you were fearing. Great to hear that both wine styles and judging methods are evolving as required!

  • Richard

    Given your views (June 22nd) on the Princeton tasting I think they would be apprehensive of you:

    ‘Blind tasting is difficult, and few can do it well. Is it possible that the line-up of judges in the Princeton tasting wasn’t a strong one? I don’t recognize many of the names. Are they experienced wine judges with a broad experience of international wines and good palates…I don’t think the tasters did a good enough job…’

    Hope you recognised all the names in Melbourne.

  • As a first-time Associate Judge at the RMWS, I had the pleasure of being on the same tasting panel as Jamie on the first day of the show. It was a fantastic experience, we were lucky to share Jamie’s thoughtful insights on the wines that we are obviously more familiar with.

    I really enjoyed Jamie’s masterclass on natural wines, in the context of presenting to 40 or so fairly sceptical wine judges Jamie showed both wit and insight, he told us what he liked about natural wines, and it wasn’t the dogma that is so often associated with the movement. Some great wines in their own right, which is what it should be about.

    So thanks Dr Jamie, it was great to meet you in Melbourne, hope you had a safe trip home and got some sleep, and I hope to catch up with you again some time in this wonderful world of wine that we have the great fortune to share.

    Cheers, Damian.

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