Huon Hooke (Australia) replacing
Michael Fridjhon (South Africa) –
It should be Michael Fridjhon writing this, but Michael unfortunately could not attend this year’s judging due
to an accident which resulted in a broken shoulder. Being made of stern stuff he selected the 100 South
African entries and we look forward to his return for the judging in 2018.
As a result of Michael’s late withdrawal, the show was judged with five judges rather than the usual six. There was a new face at the table in the person of Patrick Comiskey, who very capably took over as the USA’s representative Judge.
It was our first competition with new owner Ross Anderson running the show, and things ran as smoothly as ever, with founder Judith Kennedy AM occasionally popping in to check on progress.
Shiraz was one of the strongest classes. I noted a remarkable number of spicy wines, including some with evident use of whole-bunch, mostly to their benefit.
Sparkling was a strong class with many fine wines, and many styles being rewarded – rosés, blanc de blancs and blends; young and mature wines, vintage and non-vintage.
The Other Reds (Full Bodied Varieties) class was also strong, and a great pleasure to judge. It was diverse in varieties and styles, and loaded with interest. Zinfandel in particular excelled, which is probably a good sign for the USA. (At time of writing I have no knowledge of the results, except that both the trophy winner and runner-up in this class were zins.) Other varieties to excel were cinsault, durif, malbec, montepulciano and tempranillo.
White blends on the other hand was not a strong class.
It is a pity there have to be winners and losers: Chile this year did not score any trophies, but at the time of writing, the identities of the class winners (determined on aggregate points) and the ‘country of show’ are still secret.
We do however know the trophy results: New Zealand again topped the trophy list with six, USA scored four and Australia, South African and Canada scored two each. Arguably, inordinate importance is attached to these trophies, whereas the aggregate scores – based on the gold and double-gold medals won – are a more meaningful measure of the performance of each country. All will be revealed on October 11!
Finally, I encourage you all, in your respective countries, to spread the word about the Six Nations Challenge. It is a worthwhile – indeed unique – testing ground for fine wine.
Huon Hooke (Australia) –
It was another year of changes at the Six Nations Wine Challenge, with Canada entering for the first time, and two new faces at the judging tables. They were Canadian judge Christopher Waters and our new USA representative, Jon Bonné. Both fitted into the competition seamlessly, and both achieved plenty of success with their wine selections.
As you may know, each judge has the opportunity to invite 100 of the best wines (as he sees it) from his own country. The USA of course has a larger wine industry than any of the other countries, while Canada is somewhat smaller, but both came away with accolades.
It is a humbling experience to be involved in this competition – both as a judge and as a selector. Nothing can be taken for granted. A selection which has already won mountains of accolades in its own country cannot be assumed a certain award-winner here. While there is a remarkable degree of agreement among the six judges, their disparate backgrounds to some extent conspire against unanimity of opinion.
One trophy wine about which we agreed to an extent I hadn’t witnessed before, was the Stark-Conde 2015 Field Blend, a roussanne, chenin, verdelho, viognier from South Africa. This wine scored three first placings, two seconds, and an eleventh. Every judge rated it, and this is a very good sign, but such a near-unanimous high ranking is extremely rare.
Not far behind it was New Zealand’s Akarua 2014 Bannockburn Pinot Noir, which won its class with two first placings, a second, a third, a tenth and a single no-ranking. In a big class (of 50 wines), that was a clear favourite – winning by the length of the straight, as they say at the racetrack.
But it’s probably invidious to single out specific wines, as there were so many excellent wines, and the margins between winner and runner-up, or between a medal and no medal, were often slim.
We all look forward to a return bout next year.
So please, in your respective countries, spread the word about the Six Nations Wine Challenge. It really is a worthwhile and indeed unique testing ground for fine wine.
Eduardo Brethauer (Chile) –
To have on your table 600 of the best wines of the New World is a big challenge for our senses, but most of all a privilege for the judges. There is not time to get tired. You are so concentrated, so excited and so curious, that the time flows and twists inside your glass, blending with the lights of the beautiful and cosmopolitan Sydney.
Perhaps there is no other city in the world to get together six judges and a various selection of their viticulture. The different characters of the wines, born in the most distinctive origins, from the dizzy mountains of The Andes to the wavy terraces of Tasmania, match perfectly with the colouring spirit of the city.
Why this challenge is so special and transcendental for the New World? First of all the wineries don’t choose to participate. Previously they must receive an invitation of the judges. Therefore the level of the wines is very high and really reveals the potential of the different valleys.
Second because it is a huge opportunity to savour what the New World wines are delivering in terms of quality. The Six Nations is an open window that shows the excitement of a viticulture that is always moving forward, discovering new spots, innovating with varieties, experimenting with styles, reflecting the tradition and bright future of the New World scene.
And finally because this annual challenge helps us to demolish some myths. Nobody can predict which country will win a class Trophy or the best in show. This year New Zealand really seems to be following the steps of the All Blacks. But who knows in the coming seasons? The Six Nations Wine Challenge represents a crucible of styles, wishes and truly unexpected results. And always reminds us that we must be humble and unprejudiced to the nature of the grapes.
Fabricio Portelli (Argentina) –
Interestingly, the results are a clear demonstration of the high level of competitiveness, year after year, at the Six Nations Wine Challenge.
And 2014 will be marked by surprises, something that should be very welcome by global consumers, because it would help them to open their minds and palates. A South African Sauvignon Blanc over New Zealand´s or a Chilean Riesling highlights some of Australia’s best representatives. Somewhat more surprising is an Aussie Malbec chosen over many from Argentina. And there is revenge at the hands of Argentina’s Syrah. The United States has taken one of the most competitive classes of the show; Bordeaux Blends, and New Zealand has dominated the Chardonnay class.
Each year it becomes more difficult to select because the qualities are very close, and the typicity of terroirs and styles tend to be a more subjective assessment, especially in these blind tastings of almost 600 wines.
However, it is still very entertaining and interesting to taste all the wines in the Challenge when judges from each country choose their top wines regardless of commercial quantity available. It is during the judges’ discussions and exchanges of views with other references in all classes, where we learn more, and so can better communicate to our consumers.
The contribution of the Six Nations Wine Challenge to the development of the wine in the New World regions is surprising. To bring us back to the Challenge it´s enough for the judges just to see the enthusiasm from participating wineries and their anxiety to know the results, and also the consumers’ response when tastings and presentations are carried out in different countries.
Bob Campell MW (New Zealand) –
This is our eleventh annual wine competition. We started in 2003 as the Tri-Nations Wine Challenge then changing to the Five Nations Wine Challenge with the addition of Chile and Argentina and to the Six Nations Wine Challenge this year as we welcomed the United States of America.
The competition celebrates both uniformity, with the common language of wine assessment shared by our six judges, and diversity as we compare and contrast wines from many regions and grape varieties.
There is a strong spirit of camaraderie amongst the judges. We all welcome the chance to meet annually to taste and assess the very best wines from six countries. That bond has been strengthened this year by the arrival of Dan Berger, our US selector and judge, whose experience and keen intellect has made a great contribution to the event. The US has made a strong showing in its first year, winning five out of 17 class trophies, demonstrating considerable strength over a wide range of wine styles.
Congratulations to Australia for earning first place by country and its ninth overall win since the competition began.