Tag Archives: Wine Judging

Judging Bacchus

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.

Judges at Bacchus

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.

Bacchus scorecard

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?

Judging Bacchus at the Casino de Madrid

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.


Judging at the International Wine Challenge

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.

International Wine Challenge

International Wine Challenge

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.

International Wine Challenge

Hard at work judging

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.

Bottles to judge at IWC

Bronze, Silver or Gold – that is the question

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!

Two monkeys and a Wadsack

Two monkeys and a Wadsack

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…