ABC now CBA as chardy does a twist after a drop

THE talk among the judges of the Cowra Wine Show as they relaxed after tasting the whole day in a clinical atmosphere of white coats, walls and table cloths was of the wine that brings a contemptuous curl to some drinkers' lips.

''I heard someone say 'CBA' - chardonnay is back again,'' said the chairman of the show's judges, Tyrrell's chief winemaker, Andrew Spinaze.

It is a welcome twist on ''ABC,'' or ''anything but chardonnay'' for an industry still suffering from a grape glut that has led to thousands of hectares of vines being pulled out, as well as the ignominy of consumers flocking to New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

The chardonnays submitted to the nation's third-biggest wine show are fresher, lighter and fruitier this year, said Mr Spinaze, who in the past four days has overseen 21 judges rating about 1200 wines.

''In the mid-1990s, people were after an abundant wine with lots of alcohol,'' he said. ''Sauvignon blanc is aromatic and they took a shine to that, as opposed to the fat, over-developed white wines.''

Fellow judge and winemaker P.J. Charteris, from Brokenwood, in the Hunter Valley, said: ''This idea that chardonnay is boring is a fallacy. There is a finer, more elegant style which is doing particularly well, but that is based on people enjoying wines that are in balance. So you don't have anything in it which sticks out.

''Oak is a good example. When I taste chardonnay, I want to taste the chardonnay and I don't want to taste the timber from the forests which are used to make the barrel it comes in,'' he said.

Mr Charteris sees the task of tasting and scoring an average of 150 wines a day as an intellectual exercise in thinking as much as drinking, and therefore does not begrudge having to spit out each mouthful. ''In terms of focusing your palate and your tasting brain, it's great,'' he said.

Shiraz made in a style akin to that of France's Rhone valley may inspire him to make medium-bodied reds of the Hunter with a similar ''elegance and spiciness'', he said.


Bob Griffiths, chairman and chief steward, runs the wine show with military precision because of the disaster that would befall its prestigious reputation if the numbered bottles used in the blind tasting were mixed up.

Judges this year included Australians Tim Knappstein and Liz Jackson and New Zealander Simon Nunns.

Mr Griffiths admires their stamina during nine-hour tastings. Signs are hung about the hall calling for silence so they can concentrate.

''Obviously, the mouth can become tired, so it is an art form,'' he said.

One judge complained of aching teeth made sensitive by acid from wine. Some judges sleep with a mouthguard filled with recalcifying mousse to counteract that, he divulged.

Eighteen trophies were awarded yesterday. The trophy for best dry table-white in the show went to a 2006 semillon from Coolangatta Estate, at Shoalhaven Heads, in NSW. South Australia's Redman Wines won the best dry table-red prize for its 2008 Coonawarra shiraz.

Tonight, members of the paying public will be let loose on the wine in the showground hall with a results book to decide whether they agree with the judges.