Meet the Judges: Michael Hill Smith MW

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  • Monday 25 February 2013

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Decanter World Wine Awards, we're profiling a number of this year's judges, who are some of the world's most renowned wine experts. Our 'Meet the Judges' interview series offers a rare insight into the world of wine and judging from the key industry experts choosing this year's best wines.

Michael Hill-Smith MW DWWA 2013 Regional Chair

Michael Hill Smith MW works in many areas of the wine trade, including at his own vineyard, Shaw + Smith. Find out about one of our two Regional Chairs for Australia in this interview...

Tell us a little about yourself – where are you based and where do you work?

After passing my MW in 1988, I set up Shaw + Smith in the Adelaide Hills with my winemaking cousin and close friend Martin Shaw. After 23 vintages this still remains my major focus – augmented by wine judging, masterclasses, wine consulting (for clients including Singapore Airlines), and an unseemly amount of travel.

Tell us a bit about your expertise and how you got into wine?

As I was born into a wine family, wine has always been part of my life. Yet it was not until my early twenties that I became aware of the diversity and wonder of wine.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while working in the wine industry?

Always be true to your palate – regardless of the reputation or provenance of a wine. Objectivity is creditability.

Who has been your biggest inspiration during your wine career?

Without question, Len Evans - Decanter Man of the Year 1997. His carrot and stick approach gave me the confidence to move to the UK to study for the MW, and to set up Shaw + Smith on my return.

What are your most memorable wine moments from the last ten years?

It’s hard to isolate any one standout [moment] in a myriad of good bottles, fine food and interesting people. As a mate of mine points out - "Working in wine is work – but not as most people understand the concept".

Which kinds of wines do you think should be given more attention in 2013?

Wines from dynamic and talented people, driven by quality not fashion. In Australia this often equates to small-to-medium sized producers making exciting regional wines with a sense of place.

Which wines are you drinking at home at the moment? Is there a strong wine scene in your city?

Burgundy, both white and red; aged Aussie Riesling; top quality Pinot Noir and the best of Australia's 'new wave' Chardonnays.

And yes, as Adelaide is home to many winemakers so it has a healthy and inquisitive wine scene.

What’s your desert island wine?

1978 DRC (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) La Tache for the evenings and Dom Perignon Rosé on tap during the day.

What single piece of advice do you have for people just starting out in wine?

Drink wine mindfully – think about what you are tasting, and take the time to learn about the wine in your glass.

When judging, what are you looking for in great wine?

Balance, length, intensity, complexity, and a sense of uniqueness.

Finally, what are you looking forward to most about judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards?

Catching up with the old and bold, and the best and brightest. The camaraderie amongst judges is what keeps me coming back.

The Decanter World Wine Awards 2013 is now open for entries. Click here for more information and to enter wines into this year's competition.

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