In all my vinous travels round the world over the past 35 years this is the first time I’ve visited Bordeaux. The Challenge International du Vin in April was the 39th event in the series, run currently by Hervé Romat, President of the show. It was conducted by the two appellations that founded the competition, Bourg and Blaye, and is the largest international wine competition held in France.
As one of 24 international judges out of a total of 736 it was an enlightening experience. My tasting panel consisted of four, including myself, the other judges being French.
There were 14 cubicles, each one with room for 32 judges who rotated and imbibed their way through 4220 wines over two days.
Each wine show does things differently and at this show there was no discussion amongst judges, either during or at the end of the tasting flight: we simply ticked the appropriate boxes and awarded the wine a medal or not which was then fed into the computer and voila!
The top six participating countries besides France were Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungry, Chile and Greece which, combined, made up 13 per cent of the entries while France accounted for 87 per cent. The 4000-plus wines came from 34 countries with 2733 reds, 804 whites, 269 sparkling, 230 rosé and 103 blanc doux (sweet) wines tasted together with 62 liqueurs and 19 cognacs. The Australian contingent consisted of only 40 wines, a 100 per cent increase on 2014.
A very important factor of this show was that all wines that received a bronze, silver or gold medal were automatically analytically tested for provenance through their ISO-9001 standards. This shows you the lengths that some shows will go to protect the integrity, professionalism and rigour of their show system.
Each year the Challenge du Vin welcomes another viticultural country or region and this year homage was paid to the Corbiéres AOC appellation, the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region in southern France.
This region is noted for producing full-bodied red wines and a small amount of whites, with exports accounting for 30 per cent of its market. A private tasting of the region’s red wines was held by Corbiéres AOC President, Xavier de Volontat; it was a very strong class.
It’s a pity that more Aussie winemakers don’t exhibit at these and other mainland European shows. I encourage them to do so. It would certainly add value and prestige to their brands when marketing or exporting overseas.
Visiting Paris later and perusing many of the wine stores in the St Germaine district I hit upon a beautiful restaurant called Semilla (at 69 Rue de Seine) recommended by a local store owner, run by expat Kiwi, Drew Harré. The restaurant was packed to the rafters and the food was excellent; we selected the degustation 65€ dinner menu which consisted of six courses.
Drew also owns Boisson, a fish restaurant opposite, and two others next door to Semilla, one called Cosi Sandwiches (salads and desserts only) and another under construction that will open by the time this article goes to print.
Interesting to note, to the end of April 2015, 3.6 million litres of Australian wine was exported to France with two-thirds red wine and one third white wine. Conversely, we imported 13.7 million litres of French wine to 12 months ended March 2015; more than half of this was sparkling wine (mainly Champagne), 31 per cent red wine and 16 per cent white wine. It’s obvious that Aussies are importing more than we’re exporting to France. Sacre bleu!
Lastly, two wines from New Zealand worth sampling: the 2014 Ra Nui Marlborough Wairau Valley Pinot Gris is an inviting pale yellow on the eye while the nose offers musky lychee, white pear and cinnamon spicy notes and is extremely appealing. Peach, citrus and lychee flavours race across the rich and smooth palate. The finish is dry (rrp $27).
Its stablemate, the 2014 Ra Nui Marlborough Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc, is typically herbaceous in style, dry as a bone with lively crisp acidity with a long-drawn-out fruit-driven finish. This Kiwi savvy is in the upper echelons of class in a glass. Both wines from this winery over-deliver in flavour and intensity (rrp $27).
Jim McMahon teaches hospitality at Sutherland TAFE.