So we are four days into judging the International Wine Challenge. Now, as a panel chair, contracted for all 10 days of judging, I am biased, but I think it’s the best and biggest blind tasting competition in the world.
Of course, not all wines enter. But well in excess of 10 000 do (the figure is around 15 000 I believe, but the actual number is not published, because the organizers don’t want to get into a ‘mine is bigger than yours’ squabble with the main competing event), and if you tasted through the gold medal winners, you’d be pretty impressed.
The strength of this competition is in its rigour, the quality of the judges, and the organization (the amazing IWC team have been in place for five weeks in advance of the tastings setting everything up).
Every wine is tasted at least twice. This week we have been tasting everything, deciding whether or not a wine is worthy of a medal, and therefore entry into round two. Any wine that is cast aside by the panels is then tasted again by the co-chairs, who are able to reinstate wines that they feel have been unfairly passed over. This safety net is vital.
Next week, we will be tasting all the wines that got through and assigning medals, with the option of not awarding medals if we decide the wine isn’t up to scratch. The co-chairs recheck any medal assignments to make sure that judging is consistent.
All wines are given a really good chance to show their potential, and the teams of four or five tasters are all assessed, as are the panel chairs, with a view to promoting those who perform best and getting rid of any tasters or panel chairs who aren’t up to scratch, or who don’t work well in a team.
This feedback means that the quality of judges is high, and we have a nice happy family of tasters, which makes for a rewarding experience for everyone. It’s two weeks of work that I look forward to a great deal each year. This year we have a new venue: The Oval. One of the world’s great cricket grounds, and ideally suited to what we are doing.