Over the past couple of weeks we three monkeys have all spent a bit of time judging for the International Wine Challenge. The IWC is one of the biggest wine competitions around where wines from all over the world get tasted, analysed and assessed by panels of judges who eventually determine which wines get those all-important bronze, silver and gold medals.
Now, you might think judging wine sounds like a rather easy day in the office – and it is certainly enjoyable, but it is also pretty hard work. The first week is all about deciding whether a wine is worthy of a medal, commendation or simply isn’t good enough quality to warrant either. Then the second week the wines that were judged worthy of a medal are re-tasted to decide whether they are gold, silver or bronze.
Each week there are around 20 panels of judges, with each panel comprising 4 or 5 people. Whilst many of the judges are UK-based as you might expect, many of the chair judges also fly in from across the world to join in and add their knowledge to the competition. Over the day each panel will judge anywhere between 60 and 100 wines, which are divided into smaller flights of similar wines. So you might start the day as I did with a flight of Italian sparkling rosés which is then followed by a huge variety of flights such as Portuguese whites, Italian reds, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand Pinot Noir, Muscadet, Languedoc rosé, Aussie Shiraz….and after all that you will generally finish with something sweet or fortified.
Never knowing what your next flight will bring adds a certain roulette-type thrill to the judging but also means you’ve always got to be on top of your game and be equally fair to each wine. Just because you were hoping for a flight of top-notch Burgundy doesn’t mean you can be disappointed to judge the Argentinian Malbecs.
I really enjoy judging competitions like this – not only does it give me the chance to taste a lot of wines from many different regions and countries, it is also a fantastic opportunity to catch up with friends in the industry and meet new people. The wine trade is an incredibly friendly place and one of the real pleasures of judging is meeting like-minded people from elsewhere in the country, or even the other side of the world, learning from each other and sharing knowledge. The gin and tonics after a hard days tasting are also pretty good!
The results from this year’s competition will be announced on 13 May and I for one am looking forward to finding out what some of the wines I tasted were. There’s more than a few I’ve got my eye on to discover what they are and where I can buy them…