Reviewed by Jim McMahon

My first visit to the beautiful and tranquil city of Strasbourg was for the Les Grands Concours du Monde 2014. Seventy-five judges from around the continent as well as the United States and as far as Australia gathered to judge white wines only.

The wines, riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, sylvaner and pinot blanc, came from 19 countries around the world. Not having judged at any European wine show apart from London, this was a first for me.

My judging panel was a panel of six with a diverse array of backgrounds — a Swiss lawyer who specialises in international wine law, two wine inspectors one each from Germany and Luxemburg, a French organoleptic expert, a French winemaker and a president (similar to a panel chair) who presided over the results.

Interestingly, the wine show — like all wine shows in Europe or those that are part of the European Union — are conducted according to Organisation of International Viticulture (OIV) rules. The 100-point wine rating is one of these rules and is being rapidly embraced at wine shows here in Australia. Instead of the 20-point judging scale — three for colour, seven for nose and 10 for palate, many Australian shows are switching to this 100-point European method — 25 for colour, 28 for nose, 35 for palate and 12 for overall harmony = 100 points.

The wine show was extremely well organised, with everything done electronically. We, the judges, each had a handheld electronic device with a stylus pen. We tapped in our scores (with a set criteria) for each wine, and this was then sent immediately to the president with the median score being the final mark.

The reason why only white wines were judged at this show was because we were in Alsace, the ancestral home of nearly all the white wine styles listed above. It was an amazing experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After the show, it was out into the vineyards to see first-hand the various villages in the Riquewihr district of Colmar and soak up the atmosphere of this world-renowned wine region. The Alsace region has more than 4500 wineries compared to Australia, which has around 2400.

First stop was the Dietrich Wine Estate established in 1854. We had a thorough tasting of Robert Dietrich’s wines which ranged from grand cru rieslings to Crémant d’ Alsace rose, pinot noir to pinot gris.

From there, we set off to Dopff and went through the complete range of wine styles from Crémant d’ Alsace Cuvee Julien Brut to Alsace Selection de Grains Gewürztraminer and everything in between. From Dopff we headed to Hugel and did the same tasting there. (The latter two wineries have wines that are imported into Australia). All in all, a whirlwind four-day visit but a memorable one. Then it was on to Champagne …

Canberra-based Shaw Estate has recently released its 2013 Riesling, a style for which the region is famed. Bright green straw in colour, it has a vibrant floral nose with citrus and guava flavours coming to the fore. The palate is as fresh as a daisy with cumquat and white pear. The finish is dry, with mouth-watering acidity and purity of fruit at its core. A brilliant wine coming off 100 per cent estate-grown vines (rrp $25).

There’s nothing I like more than a new and alternative white wine style. The vermentino grape variety hails originally from Spain but has found a new home in Sardinia, in the Italian region of Liguria, and another home here in Australia with plantings in 20-plus vineyards around the country.

The Calabria Family 2013 Vermentino displays an attractive aromatic nose with pear and talc-like fragrance on the nose. It is pale straw coloured, with an olive green hue around the rim. The palate is dry and fruit-driven with minty white pear and citrus flavours. The wine has a nice texture and soft acidity on a dry finish. A nice little quaffer for $15 (rrp).

Its stablemate is the Calabria NV Sparkling Prosecco. With prosecco gaining much prominence these days here is a cheeky little wine that will tantalise the tastebuds. Pale white straw with a hint of green on the eye, it has a tingling, never-ending array of bubbles heading to the top of the glass. The nose is perfumed, mirrored by a palate fresh and vibrant with citrus and grape. The finish is slightly off-dry with firm acidity, and with a low alcoholic content of 11 per cent it comes highly recommended as an alternative sparkling (rrp $15).

The Berton Vineyards Reserve Coonawarra 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is a dense inky black with a fading pink hue. The nose is packed with blackberry and a whiff of spice, with little oak evident. The palate is nicely textured, rich and full-bodied with blackcurrants, black pepper and well-handled oak that doesn’t divert from the fruit. The concentration of fruit and minimal oak tannins softens out the wine leading to a long and voluptuous dry, acid finish.

A wine at the paltry price of $17 (rrp) with grapes from the Coonawarra is an absolute bargain. It also has a few wine show medals under its belt which shows consistency in judging and the quality of the wine.

And last is the Berton Vineyards 2013 Metal Range Classic Chardonnay. Are there any of you out there who still drink chardonnay? Well, here you have a chardonnay to get you going again with fruit sourced from the well-favoured Padthaway region of South Australia. Straw in colour with a green hue around the rim of the glass, the nose offers tropical fruits in abundance, and these flavours come flowing down onto the palate. Grapefruit, lime and hints of passionfruit are all there along with a touch of vanilla oak which complements the wine. The stone fruit flavours and crisp acidity on the finish add to the wine’s enjoyment and for $12 (rrp) what more could you ask for? A return to chardonnay drinking perhaps!

Jim McMahon teaches hospitality at Sutherland TAFE.