Last Friday saw the end of ”Tranche 2” of the 2016 International Wine Challenge (IWC). The IWC is a London-based wine competition open to producers from around the world. Wines are assessed blind by groups of tasters and receive awards according to merit.
The competition takes place at the Oval cricket ground over a two-week period. If you are imagining the sounds of a wooden bat against a ball and champagne corks popping, no such luck. The beautifully green clipped pitch stretched out empty but for flocks of birds. During the first week the wines are streamed into three categories: medal contenders, commended wines and those that have had their chips. During the second week the medal-worthy wines are retasted to determine whether they deserve a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Trophy Medal. Wines that were judged no-goers and commended get tasted again by IWC chairmen to make sure that no wine has been unfairly judged and that a potential medal-winning wine has not slipped through the net. Well, anything less would just not be cricket…
The judging process unfolds in a large open space occupied by long tables clad in white tablecloths. On these tables the wines are laid out in flights according to provenance and style. All the bottles are wrapped in white plastic clothing and coded. A group of roughly five judges stand around each table and go through the wines one after the other, jotting down impressions and marks. Once all the wines in a flight have been assessed, the panel chairman in the group will take his fellow tasters’ marks and give each wine a final score. In instances where opinions are different, a wine will be retasted and evaluated afresh. Whilst a flight is being judged, stewards are preparing the next group of wines to be tasted at an adjoining table. The tempo is kept fluid (naturally) all through the day with a scheduled break for refuelling, i.e. a welcome hot lunch. One hundred or so wines are tasted during the day.
The judges at the IWC come from very different backgrounds. Many have travelled from outside the UK and some come from as far as Japan, the United States and Israel. Their professions are varied: world-class winebloggers, journalists, wine writers, educators, winemakers, wine sleuths, wine merchants, heads of sales, export managers… Their palate is second to none, their experience is vast and their enthusiasm certainly not watered down by the years. The competition also allows those with less experience to work their way up the ranks, by starting as an associate judge and making their way up to panel chairman. The atmosphere at the IWC is dynamic, vibrant and fun. Having different teams of judges working together in an open space is key to the friendly and focused mood of the competition. There are no chairs around the tables: judging is carried out standing. Being able to move about whilst tasting, though possibly tiring at the end of the day, is actually a great help for concentration and staying alert.
Look out for results on the IWC’s website (www.internationalwinechallenge.com). Medals and Trophies will be revealed on the 11th and 16th of May 2016 respectively.