Bacchus is Spain’s most important wine competition and this year Lenka and I were invited to be part of their judging team. More than 50 judges gathered at the grand Casino de Madrid in March for the competition – a mix of Spanish winemakers and sommeliers as well as a large number of international judges, including 18 MWs. And over the 4 days of the competition we sipped, spat and scored over 1700 wines between us from 21 different countries.
The Bacchus judges. How many MWs can you spot?!
I have judged at a number of different wine competitions now (see my previous post on judging at the IWC) and have to admit that the OIV system used at Bacchus is not exactly my favourite. Unlike other competitions where wines will be presented in flights by region and variety, with OIV the only information you are given on each wine is the vintage and residual sugar. Wines are also presented individually rather than in a flight– so you don’t have the opportunity to benchmark against other wines.
The OIV scoring sheet at Bacchus
Theoretically this is supposed to mean that each wine is judged solely on its quality which is certainly an admirable thing to aim for, but the reality is that wine is a product of its place and variety and it can’t be separated from them. It is how we all buy wine, and what gives us an idea of what to expect when we open a bottle. You’d be pretty surprised to open a bottle of, say, Pinot Noir and find it tasted more like a Shiraz. And so when judging wine, knowing the origin and variety gives you vital clues as to what you would expect – for how can you judge typicity (which is one of the factors in the OIV system) when you don’t know what it is meant to be?
The grandest of judging locations
Gripes about the judging system aside, it was a real pleasure to judge Bacchus. Unsurprisingly the vast majority of wines were Spanish, but looking at my crib sheets I was surprised to discover we also tasted wines from as far as Mexico and Peru, as well as France, Portugal, Italy and Slovenia amongst others. By the end of the competition we awarded 529 wines with a medal – 332 Silver, 179 Gold and a mere 18 received the top gong of Great Gold Bacchus. You can see the full results here.
Whilst judging can be a lot of fun, it is also hard work so all of the judges really appreciated the extra activities and dinners that were organised around the judging. These not only gave us the chance to taste more wines in a relaxed environment, they also allowed us to get to know our fellow judges – and explore the beautiful city of Madrid. The three masterclasses that were organised were particularly interesting – with the Palo Cortado masterclass by Gonzalez Byass’ master blender Antonio Flores being a real highlight. Watch out for Lenka’s blogpost reporting on that soon.
It would be fair to say that I slightly fell into the wine industry. After studying genetics at university and realising that I didn’t want to work in a lab for the rest of my life I had to decide what to do next. A temp job doing data entry approving credit cards for people already in debt (not my finest hour) and then another as a receptionist paid the bills for a while until the call to the big smoke came. It seemed like a lot of my friends were moving to London and so I thought it was about time I got a permanent job somewhere and joined them. I had always enjoyed wine and so decided to have a go at working in the industry by applying for a place on Oddbin’s Trainee Manager programme. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Looking back now I’m not sure I ever thought about wine becoming a career – at the start it was just a fun job in a great city. But with the benefit of hindsight it was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only did I meet my husband through the trade, not to mention numerous friends, I have come to appreciate what a fantastic industry this is to work in. OK, I might be a little bit biased but it seems to me that the people who make up this industry are an incredibly kind, generous and friendly bunch. It’s safe to say that the wine industry is not one to make your fortune in – but this means that everyone in it is a part of it for the simple reason that they are passionate about wine. This is the same for your local wine store staff as the top names in the industry. The love of wine is a true democratiser and is the thing that binds us all together in the trade.
The prompt for writing this came as a result of being sent a bottle of wine out of the blue recently. Tuffon Hall vineyard in Essex wrote to congratulate me on the imminent arrival of my baby girl Sophia – sending me a bottle of their Bacchus which they had named after their daughter, Amelie. It was such a lovely thing for them to do and is just one example of the generosity and thoughtfulness of people in this industry. It meant even more to me though as, unbeknownst to them, Sophia had to be in the special care unit for two weeks after her birth as she had some breathing difficulties. So to receive that bottle with the lovely note when I came home from hospital without her really meant a lot.
Tuffon Hall Bacchus Amelie 2014
Sophia is now home and doing well and I finally opened the Bacchus last weekend when my fellow monkeys came around to visit her. Of course, being sent a bottle of wine like that immediately makes you want to like it – and so I was pleased that Alex and Lenka both enjoyed it too. It seems to me that although sparkling wine is undoubtedly England’s calling card, Bacchus really deserves to be better known and celebrated too. Although it is a German crossing named after the Roman god of wine, Bacchus seems to have found its spiritual home here in the UK – producing wines redolent of an English hedgerow in summer with low alcohol and a refreshing style. In this case, the Tuffon Hall Amelie Bacchus is a mere 10.5% and would be the perfect accompaniment to a summer lunchtime picnic. Elderflower-scented with hints of tropical guava; crisp and refreshing – and above all easy drinking. Give me a glass of that rather than a brash Sauvignon Blanc any day.