Chardonnay’s long-promised return to favour has become a reality at this year’s New World Wine Awards, with New Zealand winemakers backing their best bottles in record-breaking numbers.

“Chardonnay entries have hit a new high this year with more than 180 wines – mostly from New Zealand, competing for a top spot,” said Chair of Judges Jim Harré. “It is also the first time in the awards’ 17-year history that the Chardonnay class has outpaced other popular varieties, overtaking New Zealand’s white-wine darling Sauvignon Blanc, and equalling Pinot Noir entries, to lead across all the classes.”

Having observed many wine trends in action during his 12 years at the helm of the New World Wine Awards, Harré said this year’s numbers signal a big shift following a particularly successful year for Chardonnay in the 2018 awards.

“Winemakers have been developing modern-style Chardonnay over recent years and we are now seeing the results. These entry numbers are a sign of winemakers’ confidence in the quality of their Chardonnay, and of changing consumer tastes as more people embrace new versions of this old favourite.”

Approximately 90% of the Chardonnay wines and 70% of the total 1415 wines entered in the New World Wine Awards this year are from New Zealand, with the balance from top-producing regions in France, Italy, Spain, Australia and the USA among others. There are 177 wineries represented.

Such is the scale of the event that a panel of 17 expert judges and 7 associate judges will have to sniff, swirl, sip and spit hundreds of wines over three full days of judging at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium starting later this week.

“Each judge will taste and assess around 120 wines each day – knowing only the varietal, vintage and country of origin of each glass. The panel members take this task very seriously as wine experts and winemakers themselves, while a team of stewards manage the complex logistics.”

He said steady growth in entries to the awards, year after year, underscore the industry’s trust in the judging process and the value the awards provide to both the industry and consumers.

“With a focus on connecting consumers with the best quality affordable wines in store, the New World Wine Awards fills an important role. Winemakers can enjoy the prestige of an award judged to international best practice, and consumers can choose a winning bottle with total confidence in how its Gold medal has been awarded.”

This year’s judging panel includes international wine consultant Nick Bulleid MW, who has been instrumental in establishing wine awards guidelines in his home country of Australia , while local judges Simon Fell (Thornbury Wines), James Hillard (Indevin New Zealand), Michael Bann (Rapaura Springs) and Emma Jenkins MW will also join the panel this year.

Returning judges include: James Rowan (West Brook Winery), Jane Cooper (Alexia), Dr Rebecca Deed (wine lecturer and researcher), Sam Kim (Wine Orbit), Simon Nunns (Coopers Creek), Terry Copeland (CEO Federated Farmers), Jen Parr (Valli Wines), Kyle Thompson (Saint Clair), Vanessa Robson (Maude Wines), Wendy Stuckey (Spy Valley) and Nadine Cross (Peregrine Wines). Together the panel brings over 200 years of combined judging experience to the event.

The panel will evaluate each wine on colour, taste and smell, making collective scoring decisions according to the internationally recognised 100-point system to award Gold (95-100 points), Silver (90-94) and Bronze medals (85-89).

“The 100-point scale is used extensively at wine awards around the world as a way to benchmark each entry against what a perfect wine of its type should be like, rather than against other entries,” explains Mr Harré.

To earn Gold, a wine will have been tasted and graded at least 19 times by 11 different judges, and will then be tasted again to be ranked in, or out, of the ‘New World Wine Awards Top 50’. These wines are rewarded with distribution through New World stores nationwide, where they are eagerly anticipated by shoppers each year.

The best of the Top 50 will then be tasted once again by the entire judging panel to determine the Champions of each main varietal and an overall Champion Red and Champion White. This incredibly robust process means a Champion wine is tasted 35 times and all 17 judges have agreed the winner.

The full results will be announced later this year.

Entries to the New World Wine Awards must retail for $25 or less, and there must be at least 4,000 bottles (or 2,000 for emerging varietals) available for sale through New World stores to ensure there is plenty on hand for wine-loving shoppers to enjoy.

  • 1415 wines from 177 wineries will be judged over three days at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.
  • 26 pallets, or two trucks, of wine, glasses and equipment will be shipped in to make it all possible.
  • The stewarding team will place over 5,600 bottles in their correct positions and pour nearly 12,000 glasses of wine. During this time, they will wash each of the 2,800 glasses at least five times!
  • The judge’s sense of smell is vital – so no coffee, perfumes or other strong smells are allowed in the judging room. That also means avoiding meals with strong ingredients like garlic or chilli.
  • Each judge will taste around 120 wines each day, and while they famously spit out the wine, the constant acidity means they use a special toothpaste to protect their tooth enamel.
  • Plain water crackers, still and sparkling water are used to cleanse the palate during judging.