An article I wrote for Revija Vino in about Slovenia’s Decanter World Wine Award winners in the 2016 competition. The published article is in Slovenian but this is my English text.
A gold medal is a gold medal, right? Sometimes it seems that the world of wine competitions hands out gold medals like sweets, but in the same way that winning at school sports day is a long way from winning at the Olympics, not all gold medals glitter in the same way.
I’ve been a judge and more recently panel chair at Decanter World Wine Awards since the very first event. I also judge or have judged at several other wine competitions around the world, using various scoring standards. The pros and cons of entering wine competitions at all is perhaps the subject for another article, but with Decanter World Wine Awards cementing its place as the world’s leading wine competition, clearly many wine producers feel the cost of entry is worthwhile. This year’s competition saw entry numbers reach around 16,000 and judges included a fifth of the world’s Masters of Wine along with sommeliers, buyers and journalists (all of whom are checked out for their expertise in tasting, or the country they will taste, before being invited to judge).
In the face of this, it was slightly odd to see Slovenia’s number of entries drop to their lowest for many years, with just 67 wines entered. 62 out of the 67 got at least a commendation and a strong showing of 70% picked up medals. There were six golds (and two of these were subsequently upgraded to platinum best in category awards), which was close to a 10% hit rate, compared to the competition’s overall rate of just 3.4% gaining gold and above. It may be that Slovenia’s producers are confident that they can sell their wines without medals, or that Decanter doesn’t mean enough to key customers at home or in export markets, or that the costs of entering and shipping wines is prohibitive to wineries feeling an economic squeeze. Or maybe winning Decanter gold medals is just too hard.
This year Decanter changed its scoring criteria, which should make communicating awards a lot easier for consumers (and producers) to understand. After many years of sticking firmly to its own 20 point scoring system, Decanter has finally bowed to pressure and moved to the more widely recognised 100-point system and will announce scores along with medals. The grade boundaries for medals have also been set quite high compared to other events – a silver is 90 to 94 points, and a gold is 95 and above. A bronze medal still scores a very respectable 86 to 89 points, and a commended wine is 83 to 85 points (and even at this level it has to be a genuinely commendable wine with positive merit, not just technically sound and free from faults). Compare this to OIV rules (used widely by many competitions including Vinistra in Croatia where I am president of the judging) where a gold medal is awarded to any wine scoring 85 or more. Another key difference with Decanter judging is that it is based on consensus between judges rather than averaging marks – so every judge has the chance to argue for a wine where they perceive something special (and we all know how easy it is for subtle wines to be missed in a judging line-up). And any wine that receives a medal score or commendation gets to keep it – unlike in OIV events where there is an arbitrary cut-off so a maximum of 30% of wines can win a medal. Potentially as wine making gets better, this will rule out many really quite good wines.
Full results for Decanter World Wine awards 2016 were published on 6th June but I’d like to highlight some of the overall trends. Sauvignon, Furmint, Chardonnay and even Pinot Grigio showed well in eastern Slovenia, picking up some nice gold and silver scores, with a gold medal also going to a very good value, entry-priced yellow Muscat from Jeruzalem-Ormož too. The purity of flavours and fresh vibrant acidity helped these wines to show well but the best wines also offered depth and complexity too. Entries from Primorska were notably down, but did show some seriously good wines and Rebula came to the fore here both in blends like the beautifully refined Bjana 2010 Brut Zero sparkling wine that picked up a platinum award and in Jakoncic’s Carolina Rebula 2013, which took the platinum award for top still dry wine too. Red entries were even more scarce though a couple of good silvers went to Refosco and bronze to Pinot Noir.
My personal tasting notes on the gold and platinum wines are here:
Vino Gross Colles Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Gold)
A complex nose showing fennel, crushed nettle, vanilla, toasty notes and lemon zest. It has lovely concentration and intensity with vibrant acidity, flinty undertones and a lingering mouth-watering finish.
Jakončič Rebula 2013 (Best Slovenian White Over £15 Platinum)
Serious nose with aromas of barley sugar, orange peel and summer meadows. Nicely handled oak adds a touch of creaminess. It’s weighty but dry to taste with notes of apple, hay and a steely mineral backbone. Long and refined with good ageing potential.
Pullus Chardonnay 2011 (Gold)
Rich and spicy with aromas of orange rosemary, pineapple and grapefruit. Rich, sweet and luscious but with lovely acidity, some botrytis complexity and a long lingering finish.
Jakončič Carolina Bela 2012 (Gold)
Classy nose with generous oak but also complexity. Good intensity on the palate with hints of white peach, almond and apple. Plenty of acidity with nice integration and length. Still a baby with lots of potential to come.
Bjana 2010 Brut zero (Best Slovenian Sparkling over £15 Platinum)
Lovely, inviting vivid golden yellow with fine persistent bubbles. Subtle and refined bouquet, Graceful and classy palate with lemon and biscuit notes, and beautiful length and balance.
Jeruzalem-Ormož Yellow Muscat 2015 (Gold)
Youthful, inviting, delicate lemon blossom nose. Palate shows gentle sweetness with notes of lemon zest and apple blossom. Very pure, pretty and nicely balanced. Not complex but does exactly what it is supposed to and at a very good value price.
Congratulations to all the producers – Slovenia is always a country I look forward to judging.