There has been fierce debate across Australia in recent times on the merits of our national wine show circuit, from the current 20-point scoring system to the entry criteria.
Leading producers such as Margaret River's Cullen Wines and Moss Wood, and industry heavyweights Penfolds and Henschke, don’t enter their top wines at all, and that goes for dozens more in Western Australia and across the country.
A recent industry debate in the Hunter Valley argued wine consumers don't comprehend the medals or point scores, or why a truly awful wine sometimes wins multiple trophies, confusing punters who think they've found the bargain of the year.
Industry experts say our wine show structure has failed to educate consumers on the workings of the points system or connect with them in any relevant way, nor had they produced consistent results across various shows in different states, or guided Australian wine styles in a meaningful direction.
Wine shows have, however, become big business for wineries who need strategic avenues to build their brand and portfolio. And there's no shortage of them in Australia, well upwards of 100.
So if you're a wine consumer who in part bases their purchase on how many medals are on the front label, pay attention to what wine show it was won in.
The shows that definitely DO matter here in Australia are the seven capital city ones held each year.
And in the past six years, there has been a consistent winner in all of them, each time: WA cabernet.
Each capital city wine show has a Best Cabernet or Best Red Bordeaux varietals trophy, and WA has dominated this class hands down every year since 2014.
From producing just three per cent of Australia's total cabernet, WA has won 33 of the 41 capital city wine show cabernet trophies since 2014.
In 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018, the west picked up five of the seven trophies in this class; in 2016 WA won seven from seven and, so far in 2019, six from six.
While the industry continues to bang its head at the inconsistencies of wine show judging, it can take heart that, from time to time, due reward is given, as is the case with WA cabernet.
The Wine Show of WA held in Mt Barker earlier this month was the most recent judging of local wines here in the west.
We've chosen eight worthy gold-medal winners from eight of the judging classes that impressed the panel and are worth seeking out now to buy and try.
2017 Xanadu DJL Cabernet Sauvignon : $24, 14.5%
Won multiple trophies including the coveted Best Wine of Show at the WA Wine Show, beating 854 other entries, many much higher in price. But this is no flash-in-the-pan accolade; Xanadu is a winery at the top of its game, with every tier of its range: cheap, dear and everything in between. The DJL blend contains 10% malbec and 4% petit verdot, each contributing to the layered structure and flavours of ripe red and black fruits, chocolate and spice. What a bargain.
2017 Cabernet Sauvignon : Class 27 comments: A wonderful selection of world class wines to judge. Top wines reflected the quality of the vintage; winemaking in sync with the nuance of site.
2017 Hay Shed Hill Pitchfork Shiraz : $17, 14%
An entry-level shiraz that proves there's value even at the lower end of the market in this variety from Margaret River. Good fruit density, elegance and structure, with cherry and plum overtures.
2017 Shiraz : Class 23 comments: A great class to judge with lots of wines showing good fruit weight, balance and drinkability. Golds stood out for detailed winemaking and fruit purity.
2018 Larry Cherubino Laissez Faire IV : $29, 14.5%
This particular blend (grenache, shiraz, counoise, mataro) is a personal favourite of distinguished WA winemaker Cherubino, highlighted by sweet tannins, super ripe but soft fruit, and a focused, pure palate of blue and black fruit flavours. Laissez Faire means 'let it be', reflecting the range's hands-off approach. We suggest you also 'let it breathe' before drinking, to let the flavours open up.
2019/18 Red Blends : Class 30 comments: Quality level extremely high which is reflected in the strike rate; vigorous discussion was had over the top wines as a result of the diversity of styles.
2017 Deep Woods Estate Ebony : $15, 14.5%
The two varieties of cabernet and shiraz were handled separately in the winemaking process and the finished blend represents one of the year's best budget buys. The toasty aroma shows ripe red fruit, the palate effortlessly carries plum and red berry overtones backed by spicy oak. Delicious.
2017 Red Blends : Class 31 comments: Some wines showing advancement, best wines had fruit vibrancy and judiciously used oak.
2018 Houghton Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon : $15, 13.5%
A near-perfect vintage in Margs means lower-end wines from the region are particularly great value, this gold-medal winner from iconic winery Houghton no different. The palate is delicately driven by black fruits, with earthy, coffee undertones adding complexity, soft tannins and a savoury finish.
2018 Cabernet Sauvignon : Class 26 comments: Solid group with only two not medalling. Balanced wines with good intensity and density of fruit, bright and fresh, well made, and enjoyable to judge.
2018 3Drops Riesling : $26, 12%
A wine of great purity and focus, but also fun, with sweet lashings of lime leading the citrus dance on the palate. A consistent flag bearer for Great Southern riesling. Also won gold in Melbourne.
2018 Riesling : Class 06 comments: An outstanding class that required a fair amount of deliberation; most of the wines of world class quality.
2018 Risky Business Malbec : $25, 14.5%
Deep purple is the name of the game here, this emerging Margaret River variety (in its own right) showing dark plum aromas, while the full-bodied palate carries big and juicy lingering flavours of blackberry, black cherry and liquorice. Risky this wine ain't.
2018/2019 Red Single Variety (except Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet) : Class 34 comments: The malbecs were a clear varietal standout, with the Touriga showing some promise for this variety. Merlots lacked plushness overall. Top wines had cruncy fruit and vibrant acidity.
2019 Brash Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc : $23, 13.2%
This particular wine from Brash Vineyards has already racked up numerous gongs, including gold at the prestigious Sydney Wine Show, and is made by legendary WA contract winemaker Bruce Dukes (who also has his own label Domaine Naturaliste). Partial exposure to new French oak and extended time on lees gives the wine serious weight and structure rarely seen in this variety.
2019 Sauvignon Blanc : Class 08 comments: A great class to judge showing a pleasing diversity of style and inherent drinkability across many of the entries. Two golds shine a light on different approaches to the style and variety.