Behind the scenes at the Decanter World Wine Awards



The wine world has plenty of competitions and dishes out numerous medals – but few make the industry sit up and take notice like the Decanter World Wine Awards. Our buyer Jasper Morris MW gives us his behind-the-scenes insight into the judging for this year’s Burgundy category.

I spent three fulfilling days last week chairing the Burgundy panel at the Decanter World Wine Awards. I haven’t done this for a while and so was interested to see how the event has developed.

The core of the operation remains the same with Sarah Kemp, Steven Spurrier and Christelle Guibert at the helm. The competition has flourished over the 10 years since its inception, and now attracts over 14,000 entries for the various teams to taste. There are serried ranks of MWs but it’s certainly not just a question of rounding up the usual suspects. There’s a healthy leavening of sommeliers from London alongside lean and hungry Scandinavians with superb palates.

One significant change is the move to writing notes on iPads which, allowing for some teething problems, worked superbly well. I particularly enjoyed inputting notes through the iPad, since that is what I do these days when tasting in cellars, and at least I can read what I have written afterwards. (Mind you, Apple’s predictive text can be quite challenging.)

The change of venue to Tobacco Dock was also an unqualified success – or would have been if the tube strike had not put obstacles in our way. Everybody got there in the end, with the river boats being favoured until the early sailings on Wednesday morning got cancelled because of fog. I negotiated the overland from Clapham Junction to Wapping by way of Peckham Rye. “It’s all good” as they say down under.

And so to the tasting. Flights of between six and 12 wines were prepared according to style and appellation, and then subdivided by vintage and price. Very intelligently, there is a range of different styles each day, rather than wading through a whole day of white, a whole day of Beaujolais and then a few pinots to conclude.

The three judges on each panel taste in silence and then compare marks under the guidance of the regional chair. The trick is to arrive at a consensus without either any judge being bullied by the others, or the dumbing down of interesting wines to a middle position. Judges who always change their views and judges who never change their position are equally to be avoided; happily neither came my way over the three days.

What of the wines? You will have to wait until the results come out before I can tell you that XXXXXX [redacted] won a gold medal for a superb XXXXXXX, but I was enthused by the qualities of quite a few wines – especially, this year, among the whites. Chablis provided a particularly strong showing. It’s hard to persuade successful Burgundian domaines to put their wines into competitions during a period when supply has been particularly restricted by short crops, when demand is high, everything is allocated, and in any case the total production is fragmented between many different wines. It is not as if there is the strong brand of a château with 20,000 cases behind it to be promoted.

And so to the final session, awarding regional trophies. All the gold medal winners are placed together by region and divided into categories above and below £15. This time round we don’t know the appellations involved but just have to choose one regional winner out of 10 Burgundian Chardonnays above £15 (for example) while confirming or rejecting the remainder as gold medal winners. The good news is that we found that we had done a good job in awarding the golds, the bad news was that it was remarkably difficult to pull out just one winner. Yet in the end we were unanimous in our choice – I just long to know which wine it is!

For more on the awards, go to Decanter’s website.