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Judging in wine competitions

Judging in Wine Competitions is harder than it sounds.  Recently I was invited to be on the panal for the II Concurso Oficial de Vinos PROAVA 2017, which took place over three days in late March, in the wine tasting rooms at the University Polytechnic of Valencia. More than two hundred wines from the region of Valencia were tasted and evaluated by a judging panel of 22 people made up of journalists, wine educators, restauranteurs, sommeliers and representatives from the DO’s of Valencia.  A varied mix of people bringing different levels of experience to the panel.

It was a blind tasting, which means that the judges did not know the name, the producer nor the price of any of the wines.  The wines were judged on their colour, quality and intensity of aromas, quality and intensity of flavours and overall balance.

When I see  scores or medals awarded to wines I check to see if the judging was done blind.  It gives much more credibility to the results.

Each judge was in their own  tasting cubicle with a tiny sink to spit the wines and lights with different levels of intensity to check the colours in the wine. As each wine was served the only information given was its reference number.

The tasting took place in silence and after assessing each wine the score sheet was signed and collected.

The first flight, a term used when grouping wines together,  was made up of young whites.   After a while it becomes quite hard work because most of the wines were fairly similar, apart from this that were obviously made from Moscatel, which, when well made, has a distinctive grape like aroma.  Overall the quality was quite good.

The next flights of wines were the young reds, this was the best part of the tasting. Here is where I have noticed that local winemakers really have improved the quality of their wines.  Many wines had pleasant fruity character and were well balanced.  Blending local grape varieties such as Bobal with Merlot or Tempranillo can work well.

Then came red wines that had been aged in oak for up to six months followed by red wines that had been aged for longer.  During this part of the judging there was more variation of quality and styles.  Some wines were elegant, well balanced with nice fruit and other flavours you find in wines aged for longer periods in oak barrels.

However, there were also many wines that were totally out of balance where the winemaker had not overwhelmed the wine with the oak..  This is notable when a wine tastes of mouldy wood or where the wood dominates the fruit of the wine and only tastes of wood.   Ageing wine is oak barrels is supposed to add complexity and flavour to the wine, there is a skill in doing this well.

Tasting wines and being unaware of what it is or what it costs is something that I encourage wine enthusiasts to do because you learn to find the wine styles that work best for you and also trust your judgement rather than being influenced by a famous name or a high price.  It is always very interesting afterwards when the bottles are revealed and you see what the wines are and the price.

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I am a Northern Irishman based in Valencia. My career in wine began more than three decades ago, in London. I am the founder of TheWinePlace.es, an online store, where wine enthusiasts can enjoy a selection of international wines and Verde Marte, a company dedicated to exporting Spanish wines. Also, Thewineplace.courses, an "approved program provider" of the courses of the prestigious WSET. I share my passion for wines through my media work writing weekly columns for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and 5 Barricas, an online wine magazine.

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