Wine shows are curious beasts, quixotic exercises in squeezing the subjective into objective holes.
Ultimately they all have the same aim – to find the best wines – but they don’t always take the same path to get there.
But no wine show before or since has forged a trail quite like Hot 100 Wines.
From its inception a decade ago, the Hot 100 has done things differently. It focused solely on South Australian wines at the outset and from that foundation of geographical rigour it has expanded to become the most open-minded, free thinking and adventurous wine show in the country.
As it developed and evolved with each passing year the parameters of what a wine show could be, both at the tasting bench and after hours, were redefined. It didn’t take long for the rest of the wine world to take notice.
I’ve judged most of the wine shows in this country, as well as the last couple of years at the Hot 100, and this straddling position provides an interesting perspective on how the innovations of the Hot 100 have spread to the wider wine show world.
Let’s call it ‘The Hot 100 Effect’. The most significant manifestation of this centres on the notion of ‘drinkability’ that lies at the heart of the Hot 100 approach. The concept of assessing a wine based on the drinking pleasure it provides might seem kind of obvious to those unaccustomed to the way things had always been done, but the idea was really rather radical at the time.
The Australian Wine Show system was born from the agricultural shows run by the Royal Societies in each state. Just like the cows, the pigs, the wheat and the wool, wine was assessed in order to weed out the faulty and flawed, a vaguely Darwinian pursuit designed to ‘improve the breed.’
The Hot 100 has always looked at judging a little differently, taken a slightly more holistic approach to what constitutes a ‘good’ wine and acknowledged some the wines we most enjoyed drinking were not the styles that did well in other wine shows.
Where the traditional wine shows adhered to the notion that a wine had to be technically correct to be considered good, the Hot 100 allows its judges a more wide-ranging brief. Seek the beautiful, the alluring the enticing and the delicious. It’s a mindset that is now working its way into the more traditional wine shows as well. While technical considerations are still important, there is a greater willingness to accept that most people see a glass of wine as something to be enjoyed rather than forensically dissected.
There is also some consideration of adopting, partly if not entirely, the Hot 100 approach of organising judging classes by style rather than variety. This is one of the Hot 100’s great strengths and asking judges to consider wines in terms of their stylistic ambition – rather than just asking if the wine exhibits the defined characteristics of the grapes listed on the label – helps deliver, in my opinion anyway, more interesting results.
It’s just one of the reasons why the Hot 100 is far and away the most enjoyable wine show to judge. It takes the nourishment of its judges seriously, both gastronomically and intellectually. The tradition of guest chefs coming out to Regency Park to cook lunch for the judges is undoubtedly the show’s greatest perk and puts to shame every other wine show lunch in the country.
It’s probably the single most significant reason I’m so often asked by other wine show judges, “How do I get a flag to the Hot 100?” But it’s not just what’s on the menu that makes lunchtime at the Hot 100 so enjoyable. At other wine shows you grab lunch when you can, each panel having a different window of opportunity during the day to refuel.
But at the Hot 100, a single shared meal means everyone eats together and that’s significant because it plays into another of the show’s great strengths. The diversity of the judging contingent is perhaps the Hot 100’s best contribution to changing the way we think about wine shows.
Like other wine shows, it has its fair share of winemakers, wine writers and sommeliers, but the Hot 100 delves deeper into the ‘fraternity of flavour’ to seek unique perspectives. Chefs, cheese makers, chocolatiers and brewers have all helped add layers of detail and understanding that enrich not just the results but their fellow judges too.
When you bring a group of people together like this, when you give each year’s show a different them upon which you ask them to dwell and when you take pride in showing off the cultural capacities of the city in which they perform their task, something very special happens.
And that’s the real Hot 100 effect.