With two thirds of the wines tasted at the Decanter World Wine Awards, panellists are by turns pleased with the quality of the offering, and disappointed by wines that still show too much intervention by winemakers.
In a tasting so disparate – around 14,400 wines have been entered for the Decanter World Wine Awards this year, the highest number to date – it is difficult to find a general theme, though some tasters say it is noticeable how elegant and fresh the wines from their respective regions are becoming.
Cristina Alcala, for example, on the Spain panel, said that in Rioja, ‘things have changed in the last five years’.
‘The younger wines – the Crianzas – have improved massively. There’s more freshness, less extraction and less concentration. The modern style is now the benchmark.’
Michael Hill-Smith, regional chair for Australia, found the same tendency towards more elegance and ‘restraint’, especially in the Shiraz from McLaren Vale and Barossa.
‘It’s true they are still traditional styles but we saw more restraint and balance. More producers are no longer going for what we could call the loud style. We’re seeing a change but they are maintaining the regional expression – they are just using less oak.’
Hill-Smith also praised the Cabernet from Margaret River: ‘it is unapologetically medium-bodied with balance and harmony.’
Other panellists were far less complimentary. Michael Schuster, regional chair for Burgundy, was disappointed in the quality of the Chablis flights he has tasted.
‘It’s been depressing so far. We are desperate to be enthusiastic but there is a shortage of good wines.’
Even in a vintage as lauded as the 2010, Chablis entries for the Awards have been lacklustre, with ‘unripe, sour thin and mean fruit,’ Schuster said.
One theory for the poor quality, Schuster said, was that in a vintage as good as 2010 there was no incentive for producers to enter their best wines – which are selling well without any help – into the competition.
Another disappointing region was the Languedoc, critic and journalist Margaret Rand said.
‘There was lots of dross. I was expecting lovely terroir-driven wines but there were too many over-oaked and over-extracted wines. They are trying too hard – they are terrified of putting naked wine in the bottle.’
On a far more positive note, John Hoskins MW was very pleased with what he found on the South Africa panel.
The main revelation, he said, was the lack of the controversial ‘burnt rubber’ characters on the wines.
‘We’ve had less than five per cent of wines with burnt rubber characters – and that’s a big change from five years ago. One flight of Shiraz under £8 was unexciting and very commercial, but clean and ripe and without burnt rubber.’
In other regions, DWWA co-chairmen Steven Spurrier and Gerard Basset MS MW were particularly impressed with the quality of the Chilean Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, both of which showed ‘real complexity’.
‘Chilean Sauvignon from the high terroirs has great complexity,’ Spurrier said. ‘It shows a lot of work has been done on it.’
Written by Adam Lechmere