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Judges treated to live music at wine competition

Live music was played during an Australian wine competition recently in an effort to get judges 'to think, feel and taste in a South Australian mindset'.

‘Renowned’: Gabriella Smart

James Erskine, who runs the judging for the Adelaide Review Hot 100 Wines Show, commissioned an original composition from the percussionist and composer Eugene Ughetti of the Melbourne music enterprise Speak Percussion.

The piece, entitled ‘Terroir’, was performed by one of South Australia’s most renowned pianists, Gabriella Smart, while the judges tasted wines entered in the category entitled, ‘Wines produced without the addition of commercial yeasts or acids’.

Erskine makes natural wines in South Australia under the label Jauma, and is also one of the collaborators on Natural Selection Theory, an ‘experiment in natural winemaking’ in which wine is aged underground in the Hunter Valley in 900ml ceramic eggs.

He believes he has devised a way to ‘challenge the idea of tasting wines at wine shows in an inert environment’.

‘We taste wines not knowing their variety or brand. We have no emotional connection to what we taste, so we as judges are confronted with only the wine,’ says Erskine.

‘I want to provide an environment which forces the judges, wherever they are from, to think, feel and taste in a South Australian mindset to better understand the emotional, or non-geophysical, terroir of South Australia that influences the wine styles we are tasting.’

Whether listening to music while judging is a help or a hindrance is a matter of debate.

One international judge, Joe Wadsack, listens to his own music on headphones – ‘I found it was the only way, when you’re confronted with a row of say, 200 commercial Chardonnays, to stay upbeat and focused. It’s like being an athlete: you have to find your own pace’ – but baulked at the idea of having music imposed without any choice.

Guy Woodward, editor of Decanter magazine, said he thought the idea ‘ridiculous’.

‘Music quite clearly affects people’s mood – there are enough studies to show that. So it follows that how an individual reacts to a certain type of music will put them in a certain frame of mind when judging the wines, and could quite easily impact their judgment.

‘If certain tasters feel they can concentrate better with music in the background, fine. But to impose it on all tasters is ridiculous. I would hate it – and the fact that in this case it’s going to be performed live is just a further distraction. I certainly wouldn’t want my wine tasted against such a backdrop.’

Written by Christina Pickard

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