We decided to pass, on Enid Blyton’s ‘lashings of ginger beer’, the Famous Five this time reconvening to judge the annual 50 Great Sparkling Wines of the World competition!


At the helm of the 50 Great Cavas Competition, a few months ago, was Anthony Swift, founder of both competitions, who’d asked us if we’d be prepared to make the trek to the mountains above Vilafranca del Penedés, Cataluña, again, for something similar. As one, we accepted with alacrity!


*Alberto, Juan Manual, Jenny, Anthony of course, and myself had gelled so well in July, during the three days we’d spent judging the cavas (results out soon, watch this space, and then search for the medallists!), that we were happy to take on another similarly onerous (not!) task. Whilst there will always be occasional disparities between judges’ scoring, with perhaps one out of the group marking so much higher or lower than the rest, we’d found that, mostly, during the 50 Great Cavas competition we were in accord. Therefore we expected it to be largely the same for the competition whose remit had been so extended.


This competition (as it says on the tin!) was open to all styles of Sparkling Wine – Cava of course (we were, after all, in the centre of Cava Country) but all others too. Champagnes can be entered, Proseccos, Sekts (yes, you have to be careful how you say that last one!) and Sparkling Wines that don’t have a particular handle, but come from countries as diverse and physically far apart as Portugal, Australia, South Africa, Slovenia and New Zealand. In short we were to taste and judge a whole world of fizz!


Well, not quite, actually – no Champagnes were entered!


This can’t have been because of my recent article (though I’m sure the burghers of Champagne are avid Cork Talk readers!) as the competition’s closing date for entries was way before its publication! (Privately, and writing as a features journalist and wine taster, I believe that the lack of entries from Champagne, is because they’re running scared!).


For me, it’s all part of this nebulous notion of ‘prestige’ – ‘We are Champagne, not just Sparkling Wine!’ Well I think it’s a shame, here was an opportunity for them to prove their worth, by competing and knocking all the others for six – or not?! And this, I’m sure will also have been on the minds of those members of the Champagne fraternity who decided not to enter – what if, sacre bleu, we were defeated by an ‘inferior’ sparkling wine!?


No matter – we were there to judge those sparklers that had been entered – so we simply got on with the job!


*We? Anthony Swift (www.winepleasures.com), a Cornish-man, resettled in Cataluña, who loves Great Sparkling Wines and, rather like Robert Parker, has amassed his impressive knowledge of the subject, mostly by simply tasting and asking for information from producers. Lengthy academic study and exams aren’t always necessary – right Mr. Parker?


Also present the night before the event and arriving by car like myself, though from La Rioja, was Jenny Siddall, founder of the very impressive wine tourism company, Taste Rioja (www.tasterioja.com). Jenny is soon, no doubt, to be holder of the Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Diploma, which is just one step away from achieving the much coveted Master of Wine (MW) title!


After breakfast, as with the previous competition, our two remaining judging colleagues arrived – Juan Manuel Gonzalvo and Albert López Gálvez (both of www.uvinum.es). It was clear to me from our early discussions that the former, Juan Manuel, would be our point of reference should we have any questions about Sparkling Wine production during the judging. Juan Manuel’s knowledge of all things Cava is phenomenal – and no wonder, he makes Cava, and is regularly employed as a consultant by various different producers, still wines too!


Albert is Co-founder of Uvinum.com – the outstanding on-line wine merchants, which in 2016 won the International Wine Challenge (IWC) ‘On-Line Retailer of the Year Award’. A finely developed palate and technological expertise are the tools of his trade and I found his comments also invaluable!


Cork Talk readers will know that there are two main methods employed in making sparkling wine – the traditional method, where the second fermentation occurs in the bottle in which the wine will be kept until it is consumed; and the Charmat method, where the second fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks, specially designed to withstand the pressure.


To judge the wines made by one method against the other would not be judging like for like. Therefore our lengthy morning session was spent judging traditional method wines; with the afternoon taken up with Charmat wines.


One of the most difficult tasks of a wine judge is to judge impartially wines that are not particularly to his/her taste. Generally, I prefer sparkling wines made by the traditional method, however, like my fellow judges I had to be objective, and certainly not judge the afternoon’s wines against those of the morning.


The results of this competition are still kept under wraps, with Anthony virtually issuing a ‘D Notice’ and insisting on our signing the Official Secrets Act’. Therefore, please watch this space for further information on the 50 Great Sparkling Wines of the World Competition!


The next Fine Wine & Gourmet Dine Programme, Total FM 91.8 & www.totalfm.es is on Sunday 22nd October. Starts 18:00 hrs – 20:00 hrs! Wine & Food Pairing; Wine Chat; Great Music including requests from around the world!


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