When Mike Bennie joined WAGFG, he brought with him a methodology for wine-judging that aimed to treat each wine on its merits. Fresh from announcing our Top 25 for 2020, he takes us behind the curtain of the judging process.

Reimagining and reassessing the codified, conservative, technocratic nature of wine-show judging is an interesting proposition. More than a decade in the Australian (and international) wine-show system has given me great insight and vocational experience. I’m thankful for the opportunities both given and worked for.

I’ve been privileged to judge in the smallest regional shows, been panel chair at capital city and the National Wine shows, chaired various shows, judged overseas under the OIV system and even managed to establish my own wine (and drinks) competition. It’s been a colourful and educational epoch.

Through the years, I’ve been mentored by a generation of great judges and hopefully passed on experience and insights to a fresh cohort. I’ve seen criteria change, technology shift, scoring systems move. I’ve seen a more concerted effort to be inclusive and support diversity, and I’ve witnessed an array of characters, from strong-arm bullies to those that acquiesce at the slightest conflict. I’ve seen great results, shockers and everything in between.

The mainstay of traditional-wine show judging is technocratic appraisal of wine. Looking for faults is inherent. Judging wine in a bandwidth framed by programs that apply science to wine first, visceral pleasure second, is a norm. Deviancy from dictionary definition “quality and varietal correctness” is often punished, or wines are moved past.

More diverse wines – say, skin-fermented whites, pet-nats or unfiltered whites – tend to not make the show system due to the assumption that wines that appear, taste, feel or look different to those in a fine-wine modality will be misjudged. There’s been movement around this, and some progression in general wine shows in recent years, but not enough to represent the broader landscape of what Australian wine looks like now.

The WA Good Food Guide Wine Of The Year Awards are both potent and essential because they frame a bigger picture. Judging is more intuitive, and rewards wines that are delicious, complex and interesting rather than technically perfect (though some are, of course) and moving past only judging wines that fall into a narrow bandwidth of acceptability and assumed quality.

Our Unique Methodology

Because the WAGFG Wine Of The Year Awards is an independent competition, best practice has been developed to give the best possible time, assessment and approach to each wine.

All the wines are blind-tasted in lots of 10 (or less) in variety and style categories. The judges sit around a table together, taste the 10 (or so) wines and then have time to discuss each wine immediately. Convivial, informative, thorough. There are no scores called and averaged – this process can often lead to some wines being overlooked or finding an average median score that sidelines wines – instead judges look for “best wines” in each bracket.

Best wines are those that excel within a matrix of deliciousness, complexity and interest – they’re seriously great wines for their distinct personality, sense of quality, drinkability and general interest. Judges agree on these through conversation, discussion and re-tasting.

Best wines are those that excel within a matrix of deliciousness, complexity and interest – they’re seriously great wines for their distinct personality, sense of quality, drinkability and general interest. Judges agree on these through conversation, discussion and re-tasting.

From the entire field of wines in 2020, a best 60-or-so wines were quarantined for further tasting. That’s effectively round one.

These wines are then blind-tasted a second time, again with open discussion, before being reduced to around 30 – the “best of the best”. This second round of tasting is considered and measured, with all wines again discussed in full.

Round three of the process sees the group of 30 wines blind-tasted a final time. There’s a lot of elaboration and discussion here and trading of wines back and forth in the line-up. Ultimately, we finalise the definitive rankings from one through to 25 – the best of Western Australian wine.

The Results

A reflection of diversity, the results speak clearly of WA wine regions’ classic wine styles and halo varieties, through to alternative expressions, lesser-known grapes and unconventional winemaking practices. The Top 25 represents a real and significant breadth of high-quality wine from WA in 2020.

The wines that have made the Top 25 come from established, blue-chip wineries, from small producers in Western Australia’s thriving avant garde sect of winemakers and exciting, boutique operators. The collection of winemakers speaks of nous and skill, with several resonating with judges across multiple wines, such is their currency in vineyard sources and modern WA winemaking.

Found among scintillating cabernets, pedigree chardonnay, savoury, silky shiraz and steely-yet-complex riesling are orange wines, pet-nats, oxidative whites and light, fresh reds destined for chilling. The full gamut.

Tasting notes are written for every wine entered into the Awards. With a final tasting note serving as feedback for each wine that every producer has entered in the Awards. These notes can be used as third-party endorsement or constructive criticism. This again is a distinction in terms of methodology and results.

The WA Good Food Guide Wine Of The Year Awards speaks fluently of an improved breed of judging and practice, with results that have enhanced consumer and trade cut-through. It’s an exciting position to proffer in the saturated and traditional landscape of wine-show judging.

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