A few weeks ago I attended the NSW Wines competition organised by the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce at the Doltone House in Pyrmont, and had the opportunity to talk to Master Sommelier Franck Moreau from the Merivale Group, and Florent Bouvier from the Travers Wines. I wrote a little article for the Sydney edition of “Le Petit Journal“, an online publication in French for expats all over the world.
I’m going to try to adapt it to the blog, in English, in the version below 🙂
The first edition of the NSW Wine Competition took place on the 13th June at Doltone House and more than 550 people attended. The this event, organised by the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce in order to promote NSW wines, had so far only been held in Victoria, for more than 20 years.
Merivale Group Master Sommelier Franck Moreau led a jury composed of seasoned wine professionals, all of a French background, including the famous wine reporter Antoine Gerbelle, who writes for La Revue du Vin de France, who came from France especially for the occasion. Also part of this jury were Rockpool Bar & Grill sommelier Michael Engelmann, Langton Senior Broker Pierre Durand, Travers Wines Brand Ambassador Florent Bouvier, French Flair Food & Wine importer Christope Rebut, Merivale Assistant Sommelier Paul Huet and winemakers Céline Rousseau (Charlkers Crossing) and Gilles Lapalus (Sutton Grange Winery).
The tasting by the jury took place on June 4th on 287 wines from 57 NSW wineries. The ceremony on the following week at Doltone House was a success, with about 550 guests attending the event, divided in two sessions: the award ceremony, which saw the attribution of 63 medals and 10 trophies, and the tasting, where members of the public could come and sample all the competing wines.
After highlighting the cultural importance of wine, both in France and in Australia, the French General Consul in Sydney Eric Berti, declared the ceremony open. He was followed by Master Sommelier Franck Moreau, who explained to the audience the tasting criteria observed by his jury to mark the wines: “Balance, structure, tannins, acidity and finish.”
Later in the evening, I asked Franck Moreau if he thought the Australian winemakers might have been worried by an All-French jury, and he said: “I think a little bit, as the French palate is a bit different.” He said there were two aspects of it: “On one side, they might have thought ‘I don’t know if they’re going to like our wines’ and on the other: ‘If they’re French they must know their thing’. It’s also nice to be judged by people who don’t only do judging, and that was the idea behind it, to have people from the industry, but all with different vocations.”
I also asked him about what image Australian wines had in France, THE wine country by excellence. He said that despite Australia’s good image, French people don’t really know Australian wines, one reason being that they are not widely distributed in Europe and the other being that “French people do have great wines in France and they can be quite chauvinistic.” However he thinks that mentalities are evolving with the new generations.
I also got to rack Florent Bouvier‘s brains (Brand Ambassador of Travers Wines), who told me that when he worked in Europe and the United States, he had quite a “cliché” view of Australian wines: “They were generally cheap, very fruit-driven, very simple… Drinkable, but very commercial, very warm. He changed his mind since he settled in Australia a few years ago: “I am often amazed by some Australian wines. It’s a great wine country, not only in terms of quantity, but also in quality.”
I also asked him what he thought was the main difference between French and Australian wines: “The sun! I’d say that many Australian wines have this sunny aspect, a rather fruit-driven aspect, which we won’t find as much in France, or maybe in the South of France. We’ll have this fruity aspect, which is unfortunately not balanced by the natural acidity that occurs in France, quite simply because it’s warmer and sunnier here. But we can’t generalise, there are great wines,” he says. “Some cool-climate regions make more European-style wines and in some regions said ‘warm’, we find people who also make great wines and manage to find a balance.”
Other than the climate aspect, Florent says that the approach to the global winemaking concept is also different: “In France, we really have a “terroir” approach, and there is almost a fatalism from the winemakers in the face of nature.” And while he admits that terroir plays a great role in the resulting wine, he says the human influence can really make a difference: “In Australia, we’ll really put forward the winemaker and his talent: if the winemaker is good, he should be able to make good wine, even in a not really good quality terroir. [..] Some winemakers are famous in Australia, while in France we tend to remember the name of the domain, not necessarily who’s behind it, and that’s quite a fundamental difference.”
The Shiraz Open Class winner, Mudgee winery Logan Wines, was delighted by the recognition brought by this trophy. Duncan Lloyd said: “It’s very exciting to be recognized for the wines that you produce and importantly for us, for a wine that has a bit of age, the Shiraz. It’s important for us to make wines with structure and life, and that are about longevity and not just easy-drinking wines. [..] I think in France they have an amazing history and tradition of wine, which Australia will never compete with, because you can’t, but I think people will start to realise we also have our own history in Australia and we can produce exceptional wines also.”
And then it was finally time to nibble on all the magnificent cheeses and charcuteries on offer all around the room, and I managed to get a sip of the winning 2007 Logan Shiraz before it was all gulped away.
Here’s a snapshot of all the beautiful cheeses and cured meats we were treated to:
It was a beautiful evening, and from what I heard from the organisers, and the feedback from the winemakers and members of the public, it looks like this NSW Concours des Vins might well be on its way to follow the path its Victorian counterpart and become a regular event for years to come.
Here is the list of the trophy-winning NSW wines:
– Best Sparkling Wine: NV Centennial Vineyards Brut Rosé.
– Best Chardonnay: 2012 Margan White Label Chardonnay
– Best Shiraz: 2009 Moppity Reserve Shiraz
– Best Open Class Shiraz: 2007 Logan Shiraz
– Best Cabernet: 2010 Barwang Cabernet Sauvignon
– Best Semillon: 2011 Audrey Wilkinson Semillon
– Best Open Class Semillon: 2004 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon
– Best Red Wine: 2007 Logan Shiraz
– Best White Wine: 2004 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon
– Chairman & FACCI’s ‘Coup de Coeur’ Trophy: 2012 Printhie MCC Mt Canobolas Collection Riesling