When the golden light of the evening sun slants long across a vineyard’s even green rows and dances upon your glass as you sip wine on the terrace, it’s easy to embrace the importance of terroir.
That’s the special character a wine earns from its environmental conditions, particularly soil and climate. From Portugal’s Douro region to California’s Napa Valley, there are many destinations around the world celebrated for their stunning landscapes, temperate climes and delicious wines.
But one country has just triumphed over all the rest in the Decanter World Wine Awards 2023, the world’s biggest and most established wine competition, now in its 20th year.
It was a victory for the New World as 10 Australian wines were named Best in Show, more than any other country. Well known brands Penfolds and Jacob’s Creek were represented, while Western Australia’s Margaret River region had two winning reds and one white. South Australia’s McLaren Vale had two top-class reds.
The traditional wine-making countries of France and Spain had eight Best in Show medals each. The top Champagne was a non-vintage Blanc De Blancs Brut Grand Cru while the top Bordeaux came from Château Fayat and Château De Rochemorin. And if you’re interested in sherry, Harveys 30 Years Amontillado and Lustau’s 30 Years Old Oloroso are the ones to go for.
Italy had seven Best in Shows – all reds from Tuscany and Piedmont – while Portugal (three Best in Shows) – excelled in Port and Madeira.
Argentinian Malbecs and German Rieslings were each awarded two Best in Shows, and there were two Best in Shows each for Greece and South Africa.
An Austrian Muskat, a Chilean red, a Serbian Grašac, an English sparkling wine and Pinot Noirs from Oregon and New Zealand were the rest of the top winners for 2023.
8,250 wines from 57 countries
Some 74,000 bottles of wine – four per entry – were shipped from around 60 countries to London’s historic Royal Docks for this year’s judging. Nearly 240 experts from around the world gathered in April to sample 80 to 90 wines a day, sustaining themselves on oatcakes and water biscuits between tastings.
Sarah-Jane Evans, co-chair of the awards since 2019, tells CNN that the judges are all regional specialists whose palates have been shaped by a range of global cuisines.
When tasting, “what you’re really wanting to do is to tell people, does it smell nice? Is it floral or whatever,” she explains. Leather or tobacco are popular descriptions from Western European tasters. “Then you want to describe in some way or other how it in the mouth” – this could be “particular characteristics of lime and passionfruit,” for example.
The increasing diversity of the judges is a strength of these large-scale awards. “We had our first Master of Wine from South Korea and she’ll talk about black bean sauce as a flavor note, which is not something I’d expect to use. And she has had some success, publishing tasting books with a different vocabulary.”
In terms of emerging wines, she says “a good hunting ground” is “the Balkans. It’s Croatia – Slovenia makes wonderful wines, really really good – Slovakia, all around there.”
The future of wine regions
With countries around the world regularly hitting record temperatures, climate change is already having an effect on established wine regions. With heatwaves in Spain, forest fires in California, “it’s a really, really difficult time,” says Evans. “But on the other hand, there are lots of wineries who are thinking ahead.”
Regions famous for one particular style of wine are now planting different grape varieties. Bordeaux in France, for example, has licensed eight new types of grape.
People might think, “It’s not Cabernet, it’s not Merlot, it’s not the ones we know. But actually, they may be much more suitable to the climate change that’s happening,” says Evans.
In the La Rijoa region in Spain, where the traditional wine-growing areas are spread around the river valley, they’re now “going as far up the mountainside as they possibly can.”
English sparkling wine, still a novelty to most, are flourishing in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey, the southeast counties known as “the Garden of England.”
Whether selecting a wine in the supermarket or planning a vineyard tour vacation, the options around the world are both increasing and evolving. Time to pop a cork and savour your choices.