How the wine show system works

Wine show judging (Photo: Six Nations Wine Challenge)

The wine show system is still a mystery to a lot of lay wine-lovers. There are dozens of competitions in Australia alone, never mind the rest of the world, and they all generate awards which can appear on bottles, declaring this wine won such-and-such a medal in Class X in this or that show. It’s confusing.

Here are some clues.

  1. All wine shows are judged ‘blind’. That is, no information is provided to judges except vintage and grape variety. This is to minimise bias.
  2. Judging panels comprise three expert people who can come from any walk of life, including but not limited to winemaking, viticulture, the retail and wholesale trades, restaurants and journalism.
  3. Each judge assesses each flight, or class, of wines independent of other judges and in silence. This is to minimise judges influencing each other.
  4. Glassware is standardised, lighting and other conditions are designed to optimise judges’ concentration and freedom from distractions.
  5. Wines are judged “like-with-like” – in classes according to grape variety. They can be either single varietals or blends.
  6. After each class is judged, the judges and associates* sit down together and compare scores and impressions, arriving at a consensus on each wine. Some wines may be re-tasted. If a consensus can’t be found, the chairperson may be called in to advise.
  7. Discussion and re-tasting may result in one or more judges raising or lowering their score to achieve a consensus.
  8. If there is more than one gold-medal wine in a class, a taste-off will determine the ‘top gold’. Such wines qualify to participate in the trophy judging, which is held at the end of the show. All judges are involved in the trophy judging, eg. if there are three panels of three judges working in a show, nine judges plus the chair take part. Voting is by secret ballot.
  9. Large shows have a ‘non-judging’ chair. He or she is not usually part of a panel but oversees the entire event. In some small shows, the chair may participate in a panel as a ‘judging chair’.
  10. Results and the identities of the wines are not known to anyone, including judges, until the presentation of awards, which may be as much as a week after the judging.
  11. Results are available to all on the competition’s website, usually immediately following the presentation ceremony.
  12. Awards promoted on bottle-stickers and elsewhere must include the name and year of the competition, the nature of the award and class in which it was earned.

*associates are trainee judges who are attached to a panel and taste the same wines as that panel’s judges. Their comments are welcomed and their scores recorded but they don’t contribute to the awards.

2 thoughts on “How the wine show system works”

  1. Glen Emil says:

    Steps 6 & 7 seems to be at odds with the original effort, that a ‘chairman’ needs to re-center the group. Origins of Groupthink?
    Still, it’s fascinating.

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      I wouldn’t call it Groupthink in the sense of an irrational desire for harmony or conformity. If one of three judges thinks a wine has a serious flaw, it won’t get far unless the others succeed in convincing that person he/she is mistaken. We all have different palates and different thresholds. When one judge sees greatness in a wine that others didn’t at first see, the discussion may open their eyes to the qualities they missed. However, there is a certain amount of ‘averaging’ that inevitably goes on, which is arguably one of the system’s shortcomings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *