Current Issue #478

Hot 100 Wines:
Inside the 2019/2020 judging room

Sia Duff

The four days of judging Hot 100 Wines may sound like fun but despite the music and laughter, the serious business of tasting for the best is always the priority.

Almost 10 years ago on a sunny spring afternoon in October I found myself walking down a steep incline through knee high green grass to share wine and rustic food with a bunch of artisan producers in Basket Range. Among the guests were brewers, winemakers, cheese makers, wine merchants, restaurateurs and sommeliers to name a few. I remember spring wild flowers and looking down to the valley below.

As the afternoon passed, wines were shared, new friendships created, and open conversations had as though we were all automatically connected through a love of food and wine. This gathering left me with the warmest sense of community, my first year judging the Adelaide Review Hot 100 SA Wines.

From that spring day, the show has always been a highlight of the wine show calendar. Over the years I’ve judged with and under the guidance of so many talented and passionate people. Through a mixture of winemakers, artisans and curators I have experienced how the Hot 100 creates a platform not only to mentor wine judges but also to engage so many to delve deeper into wine.

The show has the ability to push you further at just the right time. In my earlier years I recall one panel chair’s quiet word to me. “Your descriptors are good, but what’s happening after? What about tannin, explore the wine’s texture, how does the wine make you feel?” Why not question these aspects of a wine? The most attuned judges will bring their whole self to a wine assessment. A palate is not only made up of taste buds but also a connection to the mind and heart, which is fuelled by experiences from the past and hopes for the future.

We begin each show with a simple goal, to find and celebrate the most drinkable wines in South Australia. One of the key differences between Hot 100 Wines and more conventional shows is that we assess samples by wine style, not grape varietal as it is perceived by the winemaker who enters their wine. It’s so very refreshing to dance along blindly down a tasting flight not assessing if a wine tastes strongly enough of varietal character, but simply does it fit the brief in terms of the class? As a taster your senses are heightened as young, fresh chardonnays are placed blindly next to rieslings or even a fiano, providing an absolute wonderland of descriptors.

Sia Duff
Head judge Vanessa Altmann

As wine assessors we seek, above all things, drinkability. We are looking for balance, for wines that are outstanding examples of each class. We taste through each flight of wines in small groups, each of which is led by a panel chair who has the responsibility of keeping track, submitting scores and, of equal importance, creating the tasting notes. The show acknowledges that whether we’re drinking wine socially or formally assessing it, this consumption doesn’t occur in a vacant space but it is actually bursting with outside influences. Therefore, the Hot 100 tasting room is less formal than in many shows. Discussions between wine assessors often occur, there is music, laughter and excitement when you find a rockstar of a wine.

Drawing from a mixture of people with varied sensory experiences brings creative flare and energy to the tasting room. The language of wine is amazingly diverse and we relate to wine through our past experiences, what we’ve smelled, eaten, drunk and remembered. With wine assessors from such diverse backgrounds the descriptors are always varied and unique. They are all valid when it comes to giving a clear picture of what’s in the glass. Over four judging days we asses wine in classes which are relevant and encompass not only variety but also winemaking style. The show speaks strongly of the narrative between winemakers and wine drinkers and reflects this ever-changing movement in South Australia. For example, assessing wine in classes such as light aromatic whites gives judges the scope to find refreshing and bright wines perfect for summer drinking. Or structural and savoury reds allows judges to seek medium-weight wines with attributes such as herbs, darker fruits and spice that counter with moderately built tannins.

After four days of red-stained teeth we have found the most delicious 100 wines from more than 1200 that were presented to us. It was an electric week of tasting and I’m excited about the snapshot of flavour and diversity from South Australian wineries revealed in this year’s Hot 100 Wines.

The Hot 100 Wines 2019/20 will be revealed at our awards night and magazine launch at Queen’s Theatre on Thursday 5 December

Vanessa Altmann

Vanessa Altmann

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Vanessa Altmann is a South Australian winemaker and head judge of Hot 100 Wines 2019/2020

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