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Podium Worthy Wines

Have you ever wondered how those Gold, Silver and Bronze medals get to adorn the wines you are drinking?

I am just back from Heathrow having done my umpteenth year judging at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in Surrey. This year I hit the Spanish week, and 250 wines later, flopped onto a plane home.

With all the travelling I do, especially at this time of year, I always told myself that one day I would find myself somewhere with no return ticket! Yesterday was that day. Although I booked myself out, but left the return open, I later thought I had booked. I had all the details for the journey home including price, but the very important ticket reference number was missing when I tried to check in on line.

I had visions of multiple € hundreds to get myself home but luckily, the damage was not too bad. Lesson learned!

There are too many wine competitions to list, but I have found over the years that the IWSC is a very serious and well run competition. A list of its Presidents and Patrons alone would guarantee that.

Each panel has a highly qualified ‘Chair’ and up to seven members. The surroundings are conducive to serious deliberations. Bright rooms with plenty of space and all the items and ambience needed for clinical tasting, look out onto Dunsfold Park Aerodrome (the venue for Top Gear). Yesterday there was some activity with a couple of, I’m told, McLarens testing on the track. Other times it has been the Metropolitan Police or the Fire services practising hi-jack drill on a Jumbo parked in the middle of the aerodrome.

But it doesn’t detract from the concentration. From March to June and from August to October, over 100 or sometime 160 wines daily are tasted by wine professionals, Masters of Wine, journalists and gifted lay tasters, many of whom travel from all corners of the world.

Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are awarded where deemed worthy, and those at the upper end of Gold and Silver can receive outstanding designation. These are not easy to win and have had to work super hard to get there.

Faulty wines must be isolated and a second sample tasted to be fair to the producer. The fault must be diagnosed. The Chair has reams of paperwork to fill out including composite tasting notes for Silver outstanding upwards.

At the end of each season (Northern Hemisphere in May, New World in October), the medal winners are re-tasted for Trophies in various categories.

The top prizes are awarded at a mega-banquet at the Guildhall in London in November, following a stunning tasting of the top wines.

The team at IWSC are full-time and are exceptional. It works like clockwork. They pick tasters up from the train, train newbie judges and give us lunch every day. All wines are poured, numbered, and presented anonymously in flights which are determined by the Chair. They are grouped in like region, appellation and style but price is not an issue. The wine is judged for what is in the glass.

In general, Gold or Gold outstanding are exceptionally good, as is Silver outstanding and Silver is always way above average.

Yes, we tend to give quite a lot of Bronze medals but bearing in mind that winemakers try to put their best foot forward for the competition, most wines entered will generally be well made and well above average, but breaking into Silver and above is a truly huge achievement.

It is always worth looking out for these accolades or indeed any of the major competitions such as the Decanter Awards,

The International Wine Challenge, Paris Agricultural Show Palmares, Mundus Vini, The Berliner, Mondial de Bruxelles, Vinitaly, and many, many more.

Hopefully these competitions can lead you to some excellent choices.


By Monica Murphy