Rookie tops the field at Sheraton awards

IT’S show time! The first of the locally judged wine shows had its results announced in Hollywood-like style last week.

The Sheraton Perth WA Wine Awards have been around for about 24 years and, in that time, have grown from a back yard event to what is recognised by some as the premier wine show in the State.

Each year the number of wines entered in the show has grown. This year about 400 wines were tasted over two days by two international judges and two associate (apprentice) judges, with independent chairman John Hanley presiding over the sipping, swilling and spitting.

Results for each wine are recorded and awarded points according to the 20-point system.

This year no gold medal was awarded in the pinot noir class or in the ‘other red varieties or blends class’. It seems that we Sandgropers need to get some lessons from guru sparkling winemaker Ed Carr from the BRL Hardy company in how to perfect our techniques in this class, as no silver or gold was awarded.

It does surprise me that no gold medal could be found in the class of ‘other varieties or blends’, given the strengths of the past few vintages across Western Australia. Was it just that some wineries didn’t enter some of their premium wines?

After a few years’ self-imposed exile, Houghton re-entered the Sheraton Awards this year and collected a couple of awards. But there are still a number of wineries that do not show their wines at the Sheraton, which poses the question as to how much importance some wineries place on the Sheraton show.

This year international judge Peter Sichel made a number of points I believe deserve some discussion.

Mr Sichel pointed out that, by the end of the first day of judging, all the judges were not as sharp as he would have liked. He suggested that 400 wines over the period allocated was too many. Given that there were only five people involved in the tasting of the wines, should the judging panel be expanded? Increasing the panel of judges would allow for more time to concentrate on wines in each class. Wines of merit in each class could be identified, allowing an experienced team of judges, led by the chairman, to award the medals and trophies.

A good result is very important to many of the wineries involved in this wine show, as it enables instant marketability for the product in question. Therefore all wines entered deserve to be looked at with as much attention as possible.

Having experts such as Peter Sichel and Heidi Peterson Barrett accept invitations to judge indicates the esteem in which our relatively young industry is held.

John Hanley deserves much praise for his ability year after year to attract judges of this quality. However, should we make better use of the quality of local independent palates?

The likes of Master of Wine Steve Charters, Alan Dinneen and John Jens could head up smaller groups that would include a number of associate judges, learning the skills to be our next generation of super tasters.

This year another small label was launched into the spotlight. Many at the awards had not heard of Cape Grace Wines until it received a gold medal for its 2000 vintage cabernet sauvignon.

Cape Grace Wines also picked up the coveted chairman’s award as the best individual wine of the show. Only 120 cases of this wine are available, exclusively through mail order or cellar door.

Following an extensive search throughout the Margaret River region, owners Robert and Karen Karri-Davies purchased 28 acres in 1996 and planted 15 acres of vines. Mark Messenger, who is the wine maker at Juniper Estate, located not far from the Cape Grace site, made the award-winning wine.

Other awards presented on the night were the Talijancich Radoux scholarship, which was awarded to Mark Aitken, the dux of Curtin Universities wine science and viticulture course.

The Sheraton Perth WA Wine Awards are an important part of the local wine industry calendar. It would be a shame if the status of the awards has diminished in any way, as it can provide the stage for many smaller wineries to show their talent.

Does the event need to be to revamped, however, to regain the mantle as the premium WA wine show?

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