Earlier this month the Yorkshire Post’s wine writer Christine Austin invited readers to compete for a place as her apprentice at the prestigious International Wine Challenge. We were delighted when Squidbeak’s wine writer Helen Scott, won the place. Now read on…
OK, so I think I know a bit about wine. In the past, I’ve got to the final of a couple of wine tasting competitions.
I’m also a wine nerd, and read wine columns and websites, including Christine Austin’s weekly page in the Yorkshire Post. Every year Christine, who is a panel chair for the world’s biggest wine competition, the International Wine Challenge, offers the chance to become her apprentice for a day. Could I dare to put my skills to the test in front of the wine professionals?
Reader, I won, and with thumping heart joined Christine to taste – and judge – over 90 wines. No sipping, just smelling and spitting and applying a range of marks to each wine. You then reveal your marks to the panel chair, taking it in turns to go first. Thankfully, Christine is not Sir Alan, taking apart his apprentices. Her skills and knowledge are impressive, and she’s firm. If there’s any doubt about a wine going through to the next stage, it’s tasted again. My marks held up, and I don’t think I was wildly out on any wine, but boy, did it show me how much more there is to learn.
An afternoon alongside Oz Clarke, one of the competition’s co-chairs (senior judges), confirmed this. Tannin in the wrong part of the mouth – a clumsy wine. Bubbles (in a still wine) at the side of the glass shows there’s still some yeast activity, not always a good thing. And so on.
What did we taste? Champagne, made with pinot noir grapes (yes please) and my personal nemesis was probably a flight of South American reds from Brazil and Mexico. Via Ozzie chardonnays, riojas and lesser known Italian whites. But all blind. The wines we put through will all be tasted again in the second round.
The winners, announced next month, will be entitled to have that little medal sticker on the bottle which persuades us to buy them. A lot at stake. And for me, as I now want to see if I can join the judging panels in my own right next year. Just go to pass a few wine exams first.