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IWSC Judging Day - Spain



IWSC, 17 Dunsfold Park, Stovolds Hill, Cranleigh, Surrey, GU6 8TB


I had applied to participate in some of the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) judging days as an Associated Judge and was fortunate enough to be accepted to attend one of the judging days on Spanish wines which are all held at the IWSC tasting facility near Guildford in Surrey.


My day started with me leaving home around 7am to catch the train from Waterloo to Guildford in time to catch the minibus scheduled to leave Guildford station at 9.15am.  Having set myself up for the day with an egg and ham muffin and a nice cuppa at Waterloo station, I am pleased to say that I made it in good time.  However, I seemed to be the only one having a good morning.  One of my fellow judges had train problems that morning, added to which there had been a serious road accident in Guildford, which meant that the minibus had to take the long – albeit rather scenic – route to the IWSC facility.  All of this resulted in a number of us arriving later than planned.  Not a good start!


I was greeted by Chris Simister, the Competition Assistant, who gave me a whistle-stop tour of the premises and explained the proceedings.  At around 10.15am, I was called to Tasting Room 2 to join my judging team for the day.


Head Judge of our group was Peter Nixson, who told us that he had spent 21 years with BA as their wine and beverage manager.  He is now a part-time Italian wine importer with Vinum which currently has a portfolio of around 95% Italian wines.  Peter said that he left BA at the end of 2008, when Chairman, Willie Walsh, was attempting to reduce the number of senior management.  Out of a population of 1400 senior managers, 494 left the company!  Peter’s last day was Christmas Eve 2008 and the last order he remembers signing off was 60,000 bottles of Bollinger for the First Class cabin!


Also on the panel were Michael Harrison, Guy Hodcroft, Heather Dougherty and Julian Jeffs QC.


Michael Harrison: Michael has been in the wine trade for a number of years and was formerly Head Sommelier for the Hotel du Vin chain.  He is now involved with Digby Fine English.


Guy Hodcroft: Guy is the wine buyer for Selfridges & Co and has a particular passion and knowledge for tequila.  (He’s judging one of the tequila days later this year).  Guy has spent much of his life in Spain through education, and is a frequent visitor to Barcelona.


Heather Dougherty: Heather is a wine educator and writer and lives in Surrey.


Julian Jeffs QC: Julian described himself as a “boozy barrister”.  He used to work for Williams & Humbert in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain and he has just published the 6th edition of his book on Sherry.  He retired from the bar at age 60 (which he told us was 24 years ago) and he has been an IWSC Judge since 1969.


Our judging team and I worked our way through a total of 64 samples in all, ranging from the warm-up flights of Beaujolais and Chardonnay, through various Tempranillo, Garnacha, Ribera, Rioja, Cava, Macabeo/Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo Blanco, Macabeo/Malvasia and finally a fortified Tintilla de Rota – VDLT de Cadiz 2012.  (I hadn’t even heard of this grape!)


To be honest, it was a challenge!  It was fine when the wines came out in flights of 5 or 6, but when I was faced with a tray of 19 Tempranillo dominated Rioja DOCa from 2010, that was quite daunting!  Added to that was the speed at which these guys taste and review – it’s incredibly fast!  Peter said, at the end, that I had done well to keep up and I’m pleased to say that my scoring wasn’t hugely out of whack with the majority either!


We had one short break after the reds (when I took a quick bathroom break and was shocked to see my black teeth and gums in the mirror!)  We then continued with the Cavas and the whites.  It was very interesting.


Results – a couple of corked wines, one oxidised, one which just smelt wrong – but which none of us could quite put our finger on – but overall, and rather disappointingly, some distinctly average wines today!


We finished our tasting just after 1.30pm and took some time out to enjoy a lovely buffet lunch prepared for us, accompanied by a nice glass of Gewürztraminer from the Alto Adige region in north-east Italy.


There were 2 judging teams on the day.  Head Judge of the other team was Lindsay (didn’t catch her last name) and on Lindsay’s panel was Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW (who had taught me all about Italy in my Diploma) and Peter (another surname which I didn’t catch).  Peter is Hungarian and lives in East Dulwich with his Dutch partner.  He told me that he is in the process of writing a book on the wines of India; a place he has visited for the last 7 years or so.  The Associate Judge on the other team was a lovely young lady called Andrea who had flown in from the US to join us that day.  She was heading back to the US same day; hopefully she made her flight!


Some interesting comments which I took away with me….


Julian described his expectations of the 2010 Rioja as “still a bit young for the market, so may be lightweight”.


Julian recommended a book: “Stay me with Flagons” written by Maurice Healey.


Michael told us about a “stunning wine” he had enjoyed with his son a few nights ago – a 1942 Bosconia – which he described as “small production, not particularly a great vintage, but the colour was good”.


Finally, Julian pointed out that Lopez de Heredia is the only bodega still making old -style white Riojas.


On the way home, I took the train with Michelle, Lindsay, Guy and Peter which more than passed the time back into London.  I arrived home at 4.30pm having had a thoroughly enjoyable day in the company of some extremely knowledgeable individuals.  I am looking forward to my next visit in June, when I shall attempt to judge grape brandy!


Copyright of - April, 2015

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