Some Amusing Wine Judging Tales!



Good Heavens – how nice to be appreciated! Since Part One of ‘On Being a Wine Judge’ I’ve received a good number of comments from friends, clients and readers who’ve wished me well, and this despite my assuring all that I wasn’t, honestly, playing the sympathy card! Thank you all!

Yes, my days as a Wine Judge are now behind me, because of some health issues, problems which, given the current pandemic, pale into insignificance. So, I’m being very positive, with various projects on the go or simply paused until we can get through this thing. I’ve moved on.

However, as I said in Part One, being a Wine Judge was such a blast and there are a number of stories I can tell about my experiences, as well as explaining a little about how it all happens. Hence, Part Two.

The previous article finished with me mentioning the minibus ride home from the International Wine & Spirits Competition judging HQ at the Dunsfold aerodrome where we chatted about the morning’s events and wines, of course. We also chatted about our friends and fellow judges – their comments, favourite wines etc, all very positive and supportive, as well as being funny and entertaining too.

On one occasion I mentioned that one of the most esteemed amongst had been my table partner that day. It was quite an honour to be in the same room as this chap, let alone be able to sit next to him, a world acknowledged expert and author of several books about his specialist wine subject as well as being a famed barrister, a QC no less!

Our friend, I should point out, also has what must be called a rather ‘far back’ accent – speaking exemplary Queen’s English in what, not only a dumb Northerner like me would call, a very posh accent indeed! And it was this accent that added to the weight of his comments about wine, and the humour he so often employed.

When asked by the Chair to comment about a particular wine, he had us all entertained for a few minutes telling us, and remember this was in his ‘frightfully far back’ accent, that ‘ the wine had reminded him rather of a Mills and Boon novel, where the main protagonist, a dreadful cad, had left the library in a terrible, blazing anger, having doled out a verbal battering to the beautiful, delicate heroine, leaving the reader with a appallingly bad taste in the mouth’ – or words to that effect! We couldn’t carry on for a few minutes as we were laughing so much! Brilliant!

However, another judge in the minibus had a tale to top that, about the same revered gentleman. Her experience was that once she’d been on the panel with our friend and, bearing in mind his accent and his QC status, when again asked to describe a wine and why he’d given it such a low score he’d said that it rather unfortunately had reminded him of the time he’d last sent a man to the gallows! Strewth – I told you being a wine judge was entertaining!

So, how did the judging actually take place?

Having arrived promptly for a 10:00 AM start were sent to one of the three IWSC’s three tasting rooms. There would be perhaps 6 to 9 of us, one of whom had been elected Chair. One who would have the ectra responsibility of working the computer to enter and compute the scores (never ever me, incidentally and thankfully!) and one who would be the phone link with the service rooms where the wines were kept in perfect conditions before being very professionally served to us panellists.

We would have pens, notepaper, instructions, a list of the wines which would give only details such as ‘Rioja, Tempranillo based, years 2015 – 2017’ for example, and the rules. To the side of each table there would be a spittoon for each judge – believe me no matter how great the wines, judging 60 – 80 of them meant you had to spit!

To start, we would be served two glasses of completely unrelated wines – so if judging on the Spanish Panel, as I almost exclusively did, we might be served a Muller Thurgau from Germany and a Californian Shiraz. We’d be asked to taste and score each, give the scores in and then discuss any disparities. The idea being to see if we were all ‘on the same page’ so to speak. The Chair had the final say and we were left to adjust our scoring with this in mind.

Wines would be served in ‘flights’ of perhaps four, even up to 20, all similar in style. Again, I can tell you, judging 20 Crianza Ribera del Duero all from the same year, for example, all displaying, at fist at least, very similar taste and aroma characteristics is not at all easy! There would be bread and water to freshen the palate and at the halftime break there would be sliced cucumber to freshen up even more.

Also, interestingly considering the generally accepted order in which wines should be tasted, we did it the ‘wrong way round’. We tasted reds first, then rosés, sparklers and whites, finally with red dessert wines coming before white ones. The reason – well, if tasting lots of white wines first the acidity can damage the palate a little, spoiling ability to judge further. Makes sense – and bear in mind the IWSC is one of the World’s three leading international wine competitions!

Please listen to tomorrow, Sat 4th April at 12:00 hrs – it’s my wine programme! I’m talking about demystifying some ‘wine talk’, I’ll be tasting a fortified wine as well as tasting and giving details of the fantastic Valley FM Wine of the Week, made by a local producer. Plus, as always, some really great music, including a local artist as well! Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness

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