Ned's Article: The Judgment of Seoul 2011
May 12th, 2011
On May 4, together with the affable Steven Spurrier, I presented a select swag of premium Australian wines to a gathering of sommeliers and journalists at the Academie de Vin in Seoul. The wines were pitted in a "blind" tasting against top French wines made from the same varieties and the tasting was dubbed "The Judgement of Seoul," following the format of the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976.
The wines, in sequential order, were Curly Flat Pinot Noir 2006 and Domaine de la Tour Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2006; Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier 2005 and Guigal Chateau d’Ampuis Cote Rotie; Cos d’Estournel 2002 (admittedly a poor vintage but all that we could find in the Korean market) and Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2004. The Australians represented cooler expressions than the norm, both metaphorically and climatically, challenging perceptions.
All wines were judged out of 20. Neither myself nor Mr. Spurrier lodged our scores. After the "blind" tasting, the wines were then tasted "open" with a select group of journalists later in the day. I suspected that the visual evidence of screw caps and the heritage evoked by the French labels would serve to sway the tasters’ scores in favor of the French wines.
Remarkably however the Australian wines were the preferred wine during the "blind" segment in every category and the preferred wine, or equally preferred wine, at the "open" tasting. It is important to note that the event was conducted with an audience of wine professionals, all self-professed Francophiles and eager to tear down the fortress of fruit, heft and sheen seen as typically Australian.
Yet the Australian wines chosen were detailed, fresh and highly drinkable. Indeed, during the discussion of the wines after the tasting segments, I focused on the importance of balance and such "drinkability." "Do you want to drink a second or third glass?" I asked. This challenged those gathered to focus on the importance of freshness and the balance between a wine’s fruit and structural components: phenolics and acidity.
None of the wines were over-extracted nor excessively oaky. Accusations, therefore, of New World "fruit-forwardness" and sheer power winning out over the moreish restraint of the Old World fall flat. All wines were from cold (Macedon), to cool (Canberra), to maritime temperate climates (Margaret River).
In my view, all of these Australian wines represent a new zeitgeist etched with regionality and transcend the simplicity of fruit and muscle alone. Notably, none of the wines were from South Australia’s Barossa or Mc. Larenvale regions that have previously commandeered external views of Australian wine.
While these tastings prove little concrete, they do serve to buck stereotypes. Moreover they strongly suggest that artisan Australian wines from cooler regions -- vibrant, complex and highly drinkable -- are deserved of greater attention.
Ned Goodwin MW is a Master of Wine, sommelier and wine buyer who lives in Tokyo. He is bilingual in Japanese and English. Follow Ned on Twitter at @rednedwine.Comments