The aim, back in 2004, was a simple one. If ambitious: to create the world’s best wine competition. How was Decanter going to do it?
Competition founders Steven Spurrier and Sarah Kemp quickly realised that meeting this challenge depended on two key elements.
First, global talent. Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) had to attract the best wine judges: acute, experienced and wise palates, not just from the UK but from all around the world.
Secondly, the competition protocols had to help and guide those judges towards reaching conclusions, and making medal awards, that the wine world could and would respect.
The protocols, too, needed wisdom.
A little United Nations of wine
How, two decades later, has DWWA done? We can always improve – and that’s what we try to do every year. But in our 20th competition (in 2023), 45% of our judges travelled to the UK from around the world to judge with us, as many have now done for a decade or more.
Among our total judging cohort of 236 judges, we had 53 MWs – and many more leading specialist judges: not just respected journalists and authors, but also those from the buying community and the sommelier community (including 17 Master Sommeliers) whose daily work involves both scrutinizing wines and tracking the evolution of consumer tastes at first hand.
We’re immensely proud of our judging pool: a little United Nations of wine. If DWWA is the largest wine competition in the world (as it has been since at least 2013), those judges are a key reason.
We are also, after 20 years, very proud of our Senior Judges and Regional Chairs and the long-serving expertise and collegiate skills they bring to the competition.
All of our five Co-Chairs were originally Regional Chairs, and in their hands (and palates) rests the all-important, challenging task of ensuring judging consistency between panels, as well as eventually deciding which wines should compose our Best in Show selection and pick of Top Value Golds.
Discover DWWA judging in pictures
Let’s start with first principles.
The main purpose of DWWA is to discover and draw attention to good or great wines of every sort, no matter what their origins, and regardless of producer identities.
It seems simple – yet there’s a potential conflict hidden inside those aims. Of course, DWWA has to be a strictly blind tasting, in order to conceal producer identities: this is sternly policed, and any tampering with bottle bags will lead to a judge’s immediate dismissal.
Yet a ‘totally blind’ tasting in which origins were also concealed or muddled would produce chaotic results. Imagine a Hunter Valley Semillon attempting to look persuasive among Condrieu or Pouilly-Fuissé wines, or a Nebbiolo from the Valtellina trying to fight its corner surrounded by Napa Valley Cabs.
Wines need their cultural context to be intelligible.
One of the key stages as the team prepares DWWA every year, therefore, is ‘flighting’: putting every wine into a regional flight in which its qualities have every chance to shine. This is always done in consultation with the relevant Regional Chair.
Vintage, varietal blends and ageing details also form part of that context, so that information, too, is available to judges, as is residual sugar levels and alcohol levels. Many of our judges are specialists, with palates finely tuned to the categories of wine they are judging.
Quality at every price matters
There are compelling arguments both for and against supplying judges with price information. We know, though, that price matters enormously to wine consumers – so for that reason we group the wines into price bands.
Is a £100+ wine judged in the same way as a wine at below £15? Certainly not: adjusting expectations in order to be fair to each wine in its price bracket is another of the skills we demand of our judges. Sub-£15 wines, for example, can never be complex,…
Source : https://www.decanter.com/decanter-world-wine-awards/how-we-judge-wine-at-decanter-world-wine-awards-521278/