First published in Costa News Group – September 2012




Medals that mean something!

Last week’s article dealt with the impartiality (or not?!) of wine magazines, finishing with a similar point regarding the same, with respect to Wine Competitions. PlanteAVino, the excellent and prestigious Spanish Wine Magazine was praised for its uncompromising attitude to honesty and transparency when reviewing sample wines that have been sent by producers. (Still available at click Cork Talk).

This week I’d like to sing the praises of one of the best respected international wine competitions for the same reasons. It’s a competition with which I’m involved and I’ve therefore seen it from within as well as from the wine consumer’s position. You may suspect a little bias, but honestly, I’m telling it like it is!  

Having been elevated to the Judges Panel of the prestigious International Wines and Spirits Competition earlier this year I was naturally delighted to be called upon to judge Spanish and Portuguese wines at the IWSC Headquarters near Guildford in April.

An extremely unprepossessing, long and low pre-fab building at the side of an airfield used by anything from Chinook Helicopters, micro-lites, RAF freight transport aircraft and Lear Jets doesn’t look like the nerve-centre of such a world renowned wine competition. Perhaps the more so when one learns that the often tongue-in-cheek Top Gear TV Programme with Jeremy Clarkson et al uses the airfield for its motor vehicle testing!

And yet once through the portals into the tranquil various lounges, offices and of course, tasting rooms, an ambience of almost academic professionalism envelopes visitor and official alike. I’ve never been to Oxbridge but I imagine the professors’ lounges to have a similar feel to them!

This feeling becomes even more pronounced when my fellow judges arrive – the eminent academics, authors and luminaries of the wine world, including several Masters of Wine and comprised of several different nationalities.

On edge as the new kid on the block, my nerves disappeared when the first raft of  ISO (International Standards Organisation) glasses, filled to a third of their capacity, were brought in and judging started in earnest. Tasting is done in silence and marks out of 100 are awarded by each of the individual judges who have been given no details of the wines that are being tasted.

Thus wines are tasted blind and marked solely on their merits with no preconceived ideas brought into  play. The average is calculated (I breathed a silent sigh of relief when most of my scores equated rather well with the group average!) and it’s only then that any discussion might take place – but still in ignorance of the wine details, which in fact are only learned months later when the results are published!

It’s the only wine competition which includes a chemical analysis of each wine, done by the chemist experts in another building. Plus, of interest to Costa News readers in particular. The competition was the brainchild of my friend, colleague and one time business partner Anton Massel, whose photo hangs in the lounge at HQ!

I have complete faith in the legitimacy of the IWSC’s awards – in the words of Welsh Rugby loving and celebrated Welsh comedian, Max Boyce, ‘I know, I was there!’

Plus I also know from a consumer’s viewpoint! I’ve just returned from a super three week holiday (with some wine work thrown in, claro!), spent mostly in Northern Portugal. Stunning locations in the beautiful lake district of the country surrounded by mountains, contrasting with the no less wonderful Atlantic coast – it’s a lovely country!

And it has a history of wine making that goes back thousands of years – don’t just think Port, though! Yes it’s a glorious drink that we certainly enjoyed whilst there, and still are doing so (including, and here’s a tip, White Port, chilled, or with tonic and ice!). But think also white, rosé and red still wines which have been increasing in popularity and indeed improving in quality over the last twenty years, to the point now where there is a huge choice of flavour and aroma packed wines.

And it’s that choice, if one isn’t familiar with wine names and producers that can be thoroughly bewildering when standing opposite the well stocked shelves of wine merchants and supermarkets – just how do you choose?

Well one answer is to look for the logos of the IWSC! Medal winning wineries are entitled to place a copy of the appropriate medal along with other IWSC promotional material if they wish. Of course many do so – what better accolade than to have won a medal in such a significant competition?

In a large supermarket one such wine stood out a red made with the varieties Touriga Nacional abd Castelao (super indigenous Portuguese varieties), and proudly sporting not only the IWSC Silver Medal but also with the Best in Class Bar. Cabeça de Toro Reserva 2008, DOC Dotejo thoroughly deserves the plaudits and at about 6€ it’s excellent value for money too!

So I recommend that when indecision strikes look out for the IWSC logos – I’m sure you won’t go wrong!

A Sign of Quality Wine ;

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