Tom Cannavan's   

Some interesting points raised in response to this essay. A broad selection of these are printed below. Where I had something to add to the debate I have also included my reply.

Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to respond.

   Essay Responses   

Nick Alabaster, Essex, England
Enjoyed you essay. You made no mention of the appalling bottle variation that Robert Joseph ranted on about in a later copy of Wine. Did they discuss it with you at the time of the TAD or challenge? Two examples I remember him mentioning were 8 out or 12 bottles of E&G Turning Leaf '95 Zin which were undrinkable and no 2 bottles of Torres Grand Sangre de Toro '89 were the same ! They resorted to mixing the bottles up just to get some consistency for the TAD!
In fact I'm glad someone of position has spoken out so strongly. Many winemakers deny it (eg "no bottle variation for Penfolds") Clearly it's as frustrating and obvious to 'them' as it is to 'us'.
My response to Nick:
Yes, this was noted and specially mentioned. At the TAD for example, 3 out of 4 bottles of Mumm Cuvee Napa Rose were corked, and several bottles of the Gallo zin were faulty. In the "real" Challenge we were instructed to request a fresh bottle if we had doubts over a particular wine. I would say we had, on average, to request replacement for one in every 15-20 bottles. More often than not it turned out there WAS a flaw, or at least a big variation when we tasted from the second sample.

John Holmes, London, England
I just read your essay on the IWC for 1998. I too took part in the challenge and was also suitably impressed. One thing which I did find a bit disconcerting was the varying styles of the chairpersons with some seeming obsessively keen on getting the right agreement down to the last decimal point whereas the others (and better ones) took consensus views and marked it accordingly.
My response to John:
I totally agree on the inconsistency of the chairpersons and that the "consensus" view is the correct method. The contrast between my 2 chairpersons could not have been greater. Charles Metcalf did make it quite clear in his morning briefings that a consensus mark based on agreement was the idea, not an arithmetical averaging of scores. Nevertheless, my second chairperson couldn't be dissuaded from exact arithmetical averaging of our individual scores - even when one of the judges gave a clearly "rogue" mark that would drag the average in the wrong direction.

Bernard Leak, High Wycombe, England
I think the IWC is the biggest competitive tasting in the world, not just in Europe - though doubtless the Australians are working on it.
The comment that great wine will sing out even at unfortunate stages of its development seems a little awkward. Of course, as you say, it comes down to experience: but even experience can be misdirected when you don't know how old the bottle is. This is my main complaint about competitive blind tasting: being given a vintage date for each wine would be very useful, especially in deciding how (say) a balance of fruit and wood is likely to evolve.
My response to Bernard:
Well made points as usual Bernard. I do think experience helps immensely in recognising the cause of a fruit/wood imbalance: the symptoms of a wine that's out of balance because it's too young are usually quite distinct from those of a wine that's fading. And of course there are other signs, such as colour, to help you establish the likely age, and therefore development potential of the wine. Though I agree that disclosing the age of the wine to the judges seems to have little down-side, I'm not sure this is true for the IWC specifically. The vast majority of IWC wines are not old, but are on current release. In some ways this makes vintage less important to the decision making process: I reckon if any of these wines is obviously fading then that's a serious problem worth marking severely - certainly more severely than in a tasting of, say, 1970's clarets.