Steve Pannell makes his mark on National Wine Show

The National Wine Show’s new chairman of judges, Stephen Pannell, called in his own troops for the 2012 event, judged at EPIC early this month. In town for the trophy presentation dinner on 21 November, Pannell said, “I picked people I like working with”. He selected judges who’d work harmoniously together, keep their egos tucked away and focus their energy on the wine.

He said, “It’s important as a judge to walk away from a show thinking I’d like to buy and drink these wines [the award winners]”. This hadn’t always been his experience.

In the end, he’s happy with this year’s award winners. But he’s far from happy with Australian wine shows, citing the inflexibility of the agricultural societies behind many of them. He singled out the Adelaide wine show and its 2012 results as “a time warp”, saying people shouldn’t be able to enter wines in shows they’re judging.

Pannell believes, “wine shows have lost relevance to consumers”, that shows organisers have to fix the way wines are judged and sponsors like Dan Murphy [sponsor of the National] need to become more involved and promote the winners.

He believes that wines ought to express their origin. Wine shows should therefore start parochially, looking at individual regions first before moving on to broader state and national events.

He’d like to see trophies limited to varietals and for shows to drop awards like best red, best white or best wine of show. It’s an absurd apples-versus-oranges situation, he reckons, lining up, say, trophy winners for riesling, chardonnay, semillon and sauvignon blanc and voting on an overall best white wine. And it’s even more absurd after that tasting the best red and best white to determine the wine of the show.

The bigger issues of how shows are organised, who runs them and how wines find their ways into them remains on Pannell’s radar. But for the 2012 National he focused on judging – selecting the right people and finessing the process.

Pannell says, “Even though we judged only 120 wines a day, some people didn’t break for lunch and we ended up spending a huge amount of time in the wines”.

In most wine shows a panel of three judges and one or two associate judges work independently on a class of wines. They then tally their scores for each wine, call back potential gold medallists for group tasting and discussion. The panel then awards its gold medals for the class, sometimes in collaboration with the chair of judges.

In this situation the judges know the exhibit numbers and therefore who originally backed each wine for gold. From my own experience, judges tend to support the wine they’ve previously backed.

Pannell slowed this process down and removed one important bias. He asked his judging panels to line up fresh, randomised pours of potential silver and gold medallists and look at them with fresh eyes (or noses). As chair he’d also show wines to other panels, allowing the conversation and assessment to linger on.

Pannell also encouraged discussion on style issues. For example, with everything cool climate being cool at present, he “didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater” – meaning traditional warm-climate styles, especially shirazes, deserved rewarding if they scrubbed up (and plenty did).

Another hot topic during the show, he said, was whether “artefact in chardonnay is overwhelming a sense of place?” Roughly translated, that means when do the aroma and flavour of sulphur compounds, resulting from winemaking techniques, become too much. The debate largely replaces earlier ones on the roles of malolactic fermentation and oak in chardonnay flavour.

So, the debate moves on with each new generation of judges. But, says Pannell, “The results won’t ever be perfect”. He believes the award winners at this year’s event should mean something to consumers. And he hopes the awards and debates about style will show the industry “some direction and sensibility about where we go”.

Certainly there’s plenty to excite in this year’s results. The 2012 rieslings, especially those from Clare, offer delicious drinking at reasonable prices and rated very highly in the judges’ view. And high quality cheaper wines of many styles liberally adorn the gold-medal list.

For various reasons only five Canberra producers entered wines in this year’s show. Quantity requirements, even though reduced by show organisers in recent years, restrict the number of entries – especially following the disease-ravaged 2011 and 2012 vintages.

However, all five Canberra wineries won medals. The few shirazes entered fared sensationally well. Eden Road The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz ($22 at cellar door) won the shiraz trophy – a notable achievement in a class of generally more expensive wines. And two 2011 vintage Canberra shirazes won silver – Eden Road and Mount Majura.

Nick O’Leary repeated a stellar performance at the recent Melbourne show. His Bolaro Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – from Wayne and Jennie Fischer’s Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman – and Canberra District Shiraz 2011 both won gold medals, with Bolaro ahead by a nose. O’Leary also won bronze for his 2012 riesling, a gold medallist and trophy winner from the recent NSW Wine Awards.

Ken Helm, too, waved the Canberra riesling flag, with a bronze medal for his Classic Dry Riesling 2011. And Lerida Estate earned a silver for medal for its Josephine Canberra District Pinot Noir 2009.

The full catalogue of results is available at


Eden Road Wines
The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz 2010 – gold medal and the Shiraz Trophy
Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – silver medal
Canberra District Off-dry Riesling 2012 – bronze medal

Nick O’Leary
Canberra District Riesling 2012 – bronze medal
Canberra District Bolaro Shiraz 2011 – gold medal
Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – gold medal

Helm Wines
Canberra District Classic Dry Riesling 2011 – bronze medal

Lerida Estate
Canberra District Josephine Pinot Noir 2009 – silver medal

Mount Majura
Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – silver medal


Many modestly priced wines won gold medals and trophies, often in company with far more expensive products. This list highlights award wines like to cost around $20 or, in some cases considerably less. The list gives the vintage of each award-winning wine. Retailers may carry other vintages, so check labels carefully.

Trophy winners

  • Leasingham Clare Valley Bin 7 Riesling 2012 $16–$18,
    Gold medal and trophy, best dry white, commercial classes.
  • Jim Barry Lodge Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2012 $21­–$24
    Gold medal and three trophies: best riesling, premium classes; best dry white table wine; best table wine of show.
  • Houghton Wisdom Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $22–$25
    Gold medal and trophy, best sauvignon blanc, premium classes.
  • Evans and Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Chardonnay 2010 $17–$20
    Gold medal and The Chardonnay Trophy.
  • Peter Lehmann Hill and Valley Eden Valley Chardonnay 2011 $19–$22
    Gold medal and trophy, best chardonnay, premium classes.
  • The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz 2011 $22
    Gold medal and The Shiraz Trophy.

Gold medal winners

  • Leo Buring Clare Valley Dry Riesling 2012 $15.20–$17
  • Logan Weemala Orange Riesling 2012 $17
  • Jacob’s Creek Reserve Barossa Riesling 2011 $10.40–$16
  • Hardys Oomoo McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011 $10.90–$14
  • Evans and Tate Margaret River Classic Shiraz $9.90–$14
  • Evans and Tate Margaret River Classic Cabernet Merlot $13–$14
  • Evans and Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2009 $16.95–$20
  • Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2010 $16–$20
  • Gramps Barossa Cabernet Merlot 2009 $16.20–$20
  • Wicks Estate Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2010 $16.20–$20
  • Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2012 $14–$17
  • Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2011 $14–$17
  • Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz 2010 $17.85–$20
  • Jacob’s Creek Riesling 2012 $6.95–$10
  • Houghton Classic Red 2011 $8.55–$10

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 28 November 2012 in The Canberra Times