Sunday, April 13, 2008


The relief of finally being back on proper wines after my session with the brands is immense. Rather than reach for magnums (magna?) of numerous grands crus, I've eased myself back into the groove gently, with wines in the £10-£15 bracket. Star of these has been the Ch√Ęteau de Fosse Seche Saumur Blanc ‘Arcane’ (~£12.50 Top Selection), a rich but dry Chenin Blanc whose appley yumminess wooed the senses, while its more profound minerally side wowed the intellect. Just a super, super wine.

However, I'm about to inflict further punishment on my palate. I'm writing this on the 18:50 from Leeds to London where tomorrow sees the start of the International Wine Challenge. My first UK wine job was as a spittoon emptier-cum-bottle bagger-cum-cork puller on the Challenge, and I spent a number of years as coordinator of the competition. It's been a roaring success, and as a result - this is Britain after all - has come in for some flak, in particular about the quality of judges. In my time, the disparaging term used was 'Oddbins managers'. Never mind that the typical Oddbins/Majestic manager of that era used to taste far more widely than the old duffers who got their MWs back in the Dark Ages, nor that were are many high-up members of the wine trade who seemed incapable of spotting corked bottles, the mud stuck.

Now, wannabe judges have to show their mettle before becoming full judges, but even here, some bad 'uns still slip through the net. I remember chairing a panel a couple of years ago where we were tasting Barossa Shiraz. It's not my favourite style of wine, but there were several absolutely classic wines and I marked all of them highly. The other two tasters struggled to find a bronze medal between them. What's the problem with them, I asked one. 'I never drink wines like this....'

The latest tightening-up on the judging front is to sign up panel leaders for the whole competition in order to maintain some sort of consistency. So for most of the next fortnight, I'm living out of a suitcase by night and tasting at the Barbican by day. Wish me, my teeth, my liver and my sanity the best of luck...

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