Up to recent times wine shows are fairly standard affairs; lots of anonymous wines are trotted out in groupings called classes, groups of judges (called panels) who judge individually by allocating scores.
And then a collation takes place by an independent person or a nominee to connect the medal with the entrant, withholding that result from the judging team until a later announcement.
The only food the judges encounter is over a cuppa or during lunch. The wine is on show in all its glory, and if it is an over-the-top example that’s fair enough.
Some time ago Warren Mason, owner of the Sydney International Wine Show and Top 100, very much a gastronome himself, re-designed his show into two stages. www.top100wines.com
First was the usual tasting where wines are evaluated in varietal classes, and only the top 15 percent with medals alongside them go to the second stage.
The second is a mandatory food pairing exercise but prior to the tasting all whites and reds are retasted by the chief judge who orders all wine by texture; light body, medium body and full body irrespective of variety.
All the final classes are then served against set food dishes designed by Warren with assistance where the final medals are awarded; usually six-ten wines remain per dish, and the organisation closes off entries at 2000 wines to keep the logistics of serving and judging reasonably contained.
I was quite enthused when the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition announced last year that entries would be judged with food, displaying that dim sum, kung pao chicken and Peking duck would be paired, and braised abalone was added later.
Obviously the organisers were unsure how this judging would work when I made inquiries if wines could be entered into classes where the specific dishes were nominated. Nor were there any outlines how the dishes were to be served against the wines entered. This looks like work in progress.
Last November the 2009 results were announced with sets of medals and trophies. I left it at that. However on March 24 this year out comes a release that a host of wines have received gold, silver and bronze, including a trophy when matched against the four mentioned dishes. www.asiasbestwinesandspirits.com
It appears that the all-Asian judging panels must have nominated specific wines to be re-tested against specific dishes on the way through the judging. That’s not a bad system as it allows what can be a cumbersome process to be very simply achieved while the main tasting competition progresses.
The is the process used in the annual Cairns Wine Show: all classes are judged normally but as there is a trophy for the Best wine to be consumed in the Tropics across all classes, judges make notations of wines to be put on a short list for a later judge-off. In 2009 a rose won the trophy just pipping a sparkling pink rose. www.cairnsshow.com.au
So the Braised Abalone dish, essentially Cantonese cuisine highlighted a trophy to Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Rose NV (AUD 9) as the best match for a mild-flavoured dish; salty, low sugar, low bitterness, low sourness, low spiciness, high umami from the long braising time.
Close with golds came Oregon riesling (light body, high acidity, medium alcohol), New Zealand sauvignon blanc (light body, highest acidity, medium plus alcohol) and New Zealand pinot noir (light body, high acidity, high alcohol).
With the dim sum range of tastes, Cantonese cuisine, the trophy went to a slightly fuller white, Wairau River Pinot Gris 2009 (AUD 23), medium body, high acidity, high alcohol) to essentially match with mild plus dishes; salty, slight sugar, low bitterness, low sourness, low to average umami depending on the ingredients. No other golds were awarded.
With the Kung Pao chicken, Sichuan cuisine, the gold went to a Californian, Martin and Weyrich Moscato Allegro 2007 (USD 7); salty, low sugar, medium bitterness, high sourness, high spiciness (chilli and Sichuan pepper), medium umami. This classical dish demands wine flavours which sate the palate; light body, low acidity, high sugar (100 g/L), low CO2 and low alcohol.
Other golds went to other suitable matches: Eden Valley Shiraz (medium plus body, low acidity, low sugar, medium plus alcohol, moderate tannin), Languedoc Viognier (medium body, low acidity, low sugar, medium plus alcohol, medium tannin) and Mosel riesling spaetlese (light body, high acidity, medium sugar, low alcohol, no tannin).
These are certainly non-challenging wines with a soothing component (sweetness, low alcohol) which does not fight with chilli. Clearly there were wine styles which failed to match fiery dishes.
With Peking duck, northern Chinese cuisine, the trophy wine was Argentinian malbec, Judas 2006 (USD 70), the dish being salty, medium sugar, low bitterness, low sourness, medium spiciness, medium umami.
This match is medium-full body, low acidity, low sugar, medium alcohol, medium-high tannin, meaning that not only simple, soft wines will suit this form of duck. This most widely-publicised form of a match is pinot noir.
Other golds went to another Argentinian malbec, a cool area Orange shiraz viognier and New Zealand sauvignon (the latter probably a better wine as a sauvignon than any reasonable match for duck, and is an inconsequential result.
As a piece of advice, organisers probably now need two chief judges; one highly technically skilled on the wine side, and a chef/sommelier expert with great experience on the food construction, flavour profiling aspect so that the erroneous Peking duck-sauvignon blanc result does not sneak through.