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International Wine Challenge - Part One

by Tom Cannavan, 06/98

In May 1998 I was a judge at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) held in London - the World's largest wine competition. I qualified to be a judge by attending a Training and Assessment Day (TAD) earlier in the year. The TAD is a supervised "dummy-run" of the Challenge itself, which is followed by an assessment of your performance by a panel of judges. The panel assesses how closely your comments and scores match with their own and this decides whether or not you qualify to judge the Challenge proper. At the TAD, some 73 wines were tasted in 10 different categories. The tasting was double-blind - I knew neither the identity of the specific wine in my glass at any time, nor the names of those wines included in the TAD. Each wine has to be awarded a mark out of 20. Included were some wines that had been doctored to exhibit flaws.

Below are my tasting notes from the day, exactly as written. In red text following each, is the identity of the wine plus the score it was given by the assessment panel.

Information on the identities for these wines has been pieced together with some detective work, but still not all details are complete. My thanks to John Holmes for his assistance in this.

Flight One - Sparkling Wines


Notoriously difficult to judge the first round of the day, especially faced with half a dozen sparkling wines at 9.30 a.m.

Wine Number 1
Nice steady stream of small bubbles. Yeasty nose. Soft, persistant mousse, good peachy fruit and fine balancing acidity. Plenty of fruit though dry and elegant. Champagne quality. Score=15
Yellowglen Brut, Australia, 1995. Score=13

Wine Number 2
Very few bubbles, ring of froth on top. Some sweetness on the nose, a little confected. Pleasantly fruity on the palate - no faults, and decent grapefruity acidity in a moderate finish. Score=13
Lindauer Brut NV, New Zealand. Score=14

Wine Number 3
Small bubbles, faded quite fast, decent but little class. Score=12
Tesco Champagne Blanc de Blancs NV. Score=12

Wine Number 4
Slightly unpleasant, musty odour on nose. Rather lifeless palate. A bit of acidic, pear-drop flavour. Score=12
Tesco Vintage Champagne 1990. Score=12

Wine Number 5
Mumm Cuvée Napa Rosé - eliminated from competition by judges - 3 corked bottles

Wine Number 6
Pleasant citrus fruit. Simple. Decent length and roundness. Uninspiring. Score=13
Mumm Casa del Valle Demi Sec NV (Chile). Score=12

Flight Two - Whites


We were given a clue that there were no Chardonnays in this round.

Wine Number 7
Pale straw colour. Very nice nose. Clean, sherbety character. Very flowery and fresh on the palate. Quite simple, but well balanced and a lingering finish. Unoaked. Score=15
Best's Colombard, Australia, 1995. Score=13

Wine Number 8
Very pale colour. Slightly detergenty nose. Thin. Palate confirms this - some weak melon fruit, but not very good. Unoaked. Score=11
Alto Monferrato, Cortese, Italy 1996. Score=13

Wine Number 9
Pale straw colour. Not giving much. Very tired and flat, vestiges of some fruit. Score=11
Monte Grande Soave Cru 1996, Italy. Score=17
One where I really disagreed with the panel - I didn't find the "lovely almonds" they did, and it seemed very dull. I just can't see the bottle I tasted from as a silver medal wine.

Wine Number 10
Deep straw/gold colour. Deep scents too, with heavy oak, a slightly dirty aroma and some fruit. Dry, but some lusciousness and a spicy prickle in the moderate finish. Score=10
Doctored wine: trichloroanisole added. Score=9

Wine Number 11
Pale straw colour. Odd nose - slightly dirty. Rather thin and sharp, lacks fruit, short finish. Past it. Score=8
Doctored wine. Score=7

Wine Number 12
Pale. Very gentle, flowery nose. Good, lively fruit on the palate, some lusciousness though pretty dry, some citrus acidity in a moderate finish. Quite Good. Score=14
Trentino Pinot Grigio, Italy. Score=13

Wine Number 13
Faulty. Didn't attempt to taste due to time pressure. Score=no score
"L" de Ch. Louvière, White Bordeaux. Score=15
Well, blow me down with a feather! Panel said that though it was heavily over-oaked, it was a very good wine underneath. Many of us disagreed. I thought the nose was totally over-blown, wood.

Wine Number 14
Deep colour. Giving little on nose. Some melon and peach fruit on the palate, but very restrained. Score=13
Tesco Hunter Valley Semillon, Australia. Score=15

Wine Number 15
Very fragrant nose - peaches, pears and flowers. Much drier on palate, with a bucketload of citrus acidity. Simple. Score=13.5
Summerhill Chapel Down oaked dry wine, England. Score=15

Flight Three - Whites


We were given a clue that this flight was made up of chardonnay based wines and wines from the Loire, or Loire grape varieties.

Wine Number 16
Pale straw colour tinged green. Subtle, boiled sweet nose. fairly dry with apricot fruit and a little spicy note. A fresh, unoaked chardonnay. Score=13
Beauregarde Chablis 1er Cru, 1995. Score=14
There was a show of hands on this and well over half the tasters didn't recognise it as a chardonnay - shows how used we are becoming to the flavour of oak, not grapes!

Wine Number 17
Pale. Some unctuous guava/lychee fruit, but reticent. Medium body and pretty dry, but hints of tropical fruit and quite an expansive acidity in the decent finish. Chardonnay. Score=14
Romanian Chardonnay 1996. Score=13

Wine Number 18
Darker, golden yellow colour. Big wine on the nose. Oaked New World chardonnay. Bags of ripe, tropical fruit - pineapple. Fruit doesn't quite follow through on the palate which is dominated by crisp acidity in the finish. Give it a year or 2. Score=16
Moculta Barossa Chardonnay, Australia 1995. Score=16

Wine Number 19
Pale colour. Slightly musky, high nose. Palate shows fresh, sherbety fruit, crisp apple acidty and decent length. Odd note developing in glass. Slightly unbalanced? Score=13
Clos de Cray, Montlouis Chenin Blanc 1995. Score=17
Yes, I think I was wrong to mark this down. Until I thought I spotted the unbalanced note it was heading for a 15/16.

Wine Number 20
Very pale colour. Restrained boiled sweet nose. Very pure, light and refreshing on the palate. Appealing apéritif wine. Touraine sauvignon blanc or similar? Score=14
Hardy's Sauvignon Blanc "La Baume" Vin de Pays '96. Score=14

Wine Number 21
Medium straw yellow. Very deep scents, quite full on the palate, straightforward, with peachy fruit but plenty of balancing grapefruit acidity. New Zealand sauvignon? Score=14
Montana Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 1996, NZ. Score=15

Flight Four - Whites


We were informed that this flight featured German and aromatic white wines.

Wine Number 23
Very pale, almost clear. Very subtle, pear-drop, confectionery nose. Quite dry, with light-medium body and plenty of citrus acidity. Clean and pleasantly balanced finish. Score=14
Chapel Hill Irsai Olivér (Hungary) NV. Score=14

Wine Number 24
Very pale straw colour. Giving very little on the nose. Slightly sulphurous? Rather non-descript. Not enough fruit or crispness. Score=10
Viognier, Argentina. Score=13

Wine Number 25
Slightly more colour and a candied, slightly tropical nose, though restrained. Quite oily on the palate (Alsace?) with pleasant peachy fruit and a hint of sweetness. Broad acidity in the finish but lacks oomph. Score=14
Waitrose Alsace Gewurztraminer 1996. Score=15

Wine Number 26
Little sign of fruit on the nose. Some dull, hay-like aromas. Sweetish on palate, with a rather high, volatile character. Rather syrupy. Score=11
Dr "L" Riesling QBA, Dr Loosen 1996. Score=12

Wine Number 27
Pale/medium gold. Quite a high, petrolly nose. Riesling. Viscous on palate with more kerosene character and pungent lime fruit coming through in the decent finish. Very good. Score=17
Mountadam Riesling, Adam Wynn, Australia 1995. Score=17

Wine Number 28
Pale gold. Faulty. Out of balance and volatile. Some fruit on the palate, but unbalanced. Past it. Score=8
Sankt Johannes Abtey. Score=8

Wine Number 29
Palish colour. Not a lot from the nose. Lacking fruit. A little bit of sherbet character. Rather acidic and thin with some fruit but not enough depth or interest. Dull. Score=11
Grans-Fassian Riesling Trocken 1996. Score=12

Wine Number 30
Pungent scents of hay and grassiness. A bit sour on the palate though. Unattractive syrupy sweetness with little finesse. Score=12
Serriger Würzberg Riesling Spatlese1990. Score=15

Wine Number 31
Very deep, golden colour. High, petrolly, aromatic nose. Some honeyed sweetness. A little bit herbal, but a lot of interest. Oily and unctuous and decent acidity holds up the finish. Score=16
Hattenheimer Pfaffenberger Rheingau 1989. Score=16

Go to Part Two.