GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: Medal winners will be worth the wait

PUBLISHED: 13:12 21 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:12 07 September 2010

Patience, please – it will be a while before you can find the medal- winners from this year s International Wine Challenge on the shelves of your favourite wine shop. But it should, I believe, be worth the wait. Over the two weeks immediately after Easter

Patience, please - it will be a while before you can find the medal- winners from this year's International Wine Challenge on the shelves of your favourite wine shop. But it should, I believe, be worth the wait.

Over the two weeks immediately after Easter, the great, the good, the acceptable and the poor were determined from close to 10,000 bottles from all over the wine world, spread out in carefully ordered rows in one of the Barbican exhibition halls.

Recognition of the very, very best wines - those deserving trophies in what is the biggest blind wine-tasting competition in the world - could be happening as you read this, for today is final judging day.

So I can't yet recommend individual wines, but if, later in the year, you buy a particularly delectable northern Italian white or a stunning Rhone syrah, both proudly displaying gold medal stickers, the chances are I might have helped give them that accolade.

Explaining the judging process (there are some 370 knowledgeable people involved, from wine-makers to wine writers, supermarket buyers to independent wine shop managers, wine educators to wine importers) would need much more space than is available here. But believe me that it is very fair, with no wine rejected out of hand and those making the medals category passing the lips of a number of different judges before a coveted gold award.

I've been a judge for well over a decade, and I've seen the challenge become better and better organised. The wines seem to have got better, too, though that may be a matter of chance - judges don't have any say over which bottles are put before them.

Over the two days I spent at the Barbican this year, an astonishing variety of grapes and styles appeared on the table I shared with three other judges. Day one brought some real oddities: Czech and Austrian pinks, sweet rieslings from South Africa, and German reds made from freueburgunder, a grape even our Master of Wine chairman hadn't previously encountered - she Googled, to discover it was an early-ripening mutant of pinot noir.

Some were good, but better were six dark and perfumed montepulcianos from Abruzzo, three southern French red blends and a couple of heftier Argentine examples, a Barossa semillon and a verdeca from the toe of Italy's boot.

My second day saw the changeover point from the all-in round one (Spanish tempranillos good, South African sauvignons mostly forgettable) to the medal-worthy wines of round two. There will certainly be pleasures ahead for buyers of three wines we agreed were gold quality: a noisola and a passerina (two more rare grapes, white this time) from northern Italy and that Rhone red, a Crozes Hermitage which gloriously combined syrah's violet perfume and savoury intensity.

There were other delights too, from Germany, California and Australia.

And we were only one judging group among the 20 at work, on one of the five days of round two...

Liz Sagues

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