The 2006 Rollin PV that was listed last year was quite remarkable and all that at a modest price, so kind of understand what you mean.
Yes. ‘Fine Wine Champions’ will be released at the start of October. The initial sales plan was that ‘Wine Champions’ and ‘Fine Wine Champions’ would be released at the same time in one big ‘Wine Champions Offer’. However, this plan was put together pre-covid and things have changed a lot since then as we all know. We haven’t done a physical offer since the start of lockdown and so to have our first member mailout be two of the largest offers of the year dropping through people’s letterboxes at the same time just didn’t seem sensible. Both for members and logistically at TWS. The difficult decision was therefore made to split the two and offer the Fine Wine Champions at a later date. Frustrating for all of us as we were really looking forward to sending out one really strong Wine Champions message but it’s just not been possible. However, it’s a really important offer for us (as explained above) so we’re delighted to be finally releasing the first part of it to the membership now.
The majority of the sweet & Fortified wines will be released later in the year where we feel these styles are in higher demand i.e. around Christmas time. They’re also typically in the higher price bracket and so sit more comfortably with the ‘Fine Wine’ category. The ‘Sweet & Fortified’ tasting is arguably my favourite as the range of styles and consistently high quality always provides a high percentage of Champions. We look forward to releasing these later in the year – there are some absolute crackers!
Yes it has kept beautifully hasn’t it.
I get the impression that internally this tasting is a bit of an Event for all involved. How has lockdown / social distancing / general CV19 restrictions affected the tasting? What did you do differently. Do you think it made any difference, either in results or how it felt?
I got into wine through a University blind tasting club and competition - so I think it is ingrained in me. The MW involved a lot of blind tasting, and I still taste some things blind for making buying decisions, however my favourite blind tasting is with my friends from the old “team” from University over a long lunch…
Hi there. As I was the clear culprit mentioning a specific wine in the video it makes sense for me to answer your question. Following each tasting session, we go through the line-up in tasting order, reveal any outright winners and re-taste any that are on the cusp of being winners. Those remain blind until a second round of voting has taken place, where we each have the option of status quo, raising, or reducing our score for that individual wine. In the video, we were discussing wines later in the line-up and, by my comments, a wine more expensive than the Chardonnay that had already been revealed as a winner. I hope that makes sense!
You may also like to read my response to szaki1974 which covers ‘blind tasting’ Wine Champs in some detail.
Thankfully the tastings take place at the end of February/start of March so we were lucky to finish it all before lockdown began.
This is an interesting question. Blind and non blind tastings each have their advantages.
In non blind tastings one can be accused of bias as one marks the reputation of the producer and not the wine.
I do some blind Burgundy tastings of one single vintage with a group. We know the commune but not the growers. We recognise that some of the best wines, for example in the Volnay section, Lafarge and Marquis D’Angerville, show poorly when young but are superb with age.
I think blind tasting is most valuable when you taste in wines grouped closely by style, origin and price band. Tasting like with like makes the job easier. This is what we do with Wine Champs.
We do have a mechanism in Wine Champs where we can “play a joker”, that is if one person feels a wine is very good, perhaps its an elegant wine tasted after a preceeding fruit bomb, and most have marked it poorly, then we all taste again to see if we have “missed” a wine. In most tastings many of us would admit to have missed the quality of a certain wine so this procedure helps.
But blind tastings have their limitations. I think if you get tired you can succumb to what the French call “la bete du concours”, the beast of the tasting circuit, where the big powerful wines are marked more highly and finesse and elegance is downrated.
I think we cannot negate the points you make. Blind tasting is artificial and it is only one way of selecting wine. But if done carefully, as we do, I think you avoid most of the pitfalls but not all. Blind tasting is just one of a number of ways of judging wine.
In short, I doubt it. The concern would be that people would only be interested in the few wines which have scored 100% of the maximum available points and the rest wouldn’t get the spotlight which they deserve. It’s a fine line in terms of the actual scores for a wine to get either 80% or 90% for example and the aim of the game is to find wines which have a mass-appeal while still recognising the fact that above all else, wine is a subjective thing. We have to allow for the fact that one Buyer may not love the wine but the rest of the team do. If we only selected wines for the offer which received a 100% score, it would be about 3 or 4 wines in total! It’s a very subjective thing but thankfully the scoring system takes that into account. If there are 5 of us tasting, then a wine needs to totally bowl over 3 of us, making us adamant that it is a champion and it also needs a 4th person to think its excellent enough in order to give it a half mark, meaning that there is only room for 1 person to not be overly impressed with a wine and that’s if it is just going to scrape through by the skin of its teeth on a 70% score. Therefore a wine with anything above 70% in a team of 5 of us, will have either got 3 people falling head over heals for it and 2 people thinking it’s excellent but not quite a Champ but rewarding it a half mark, or have 4 of the 5 giving a full mark and one tricky so-and-so sticking to their guns on 0! For what its worth too, each of us give the vast majority of wines from any tasting no points at all – not because they are not good wines but because we can be really tight so-and-sos!
RE the Jeunes Vignes - Yes it’s a shame that didn’t come through! One thing which is striking and also a very useful exercise is the fact that naturally each Buyer’s palate is tuned in to their own regions the most, so those of us who have worked with the more off the beaten track regions are more in tune to the more unusual styles. Generally, again, the scoring system ensures that this is taken into account and it’s also a good reflection of our Membership in that not everyone is interested by just one or two types of wine. It does make it hard for the more esoteric styles to come through though sometimes, as they, more than anything, often just need a little context. All the more Jeunes Vignes for you and I though I suppose!
Both. The tasting sessions are either grape based (chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc etc), or style based (Rhone Style Reds, Old World Bordeaux Blends, New World Bordeaux Blends, Aromatic Whites, Mediterranean reds, Champagne & Sparkling etc).
If I take ‘Aromatic Whites’ as the example (which is probably the most complicated as you need to factor in sweetness levels in the tasting order…) then I’ll ask buyers to put forward wines that are: Riesling, gewurz, muscat, torrontes, viognier etc. I’ll then split the tasting into these categories, then by sweetness codes and then by price to make some sort of sensible tasting order (although never perfect). So you’ll taste: riesling (sweetness 1-2) £7-£10, Riesling (sweetness 1-2) £10.50 - £14.95, Riesling (sweetness 3-4) £7 - £10 etc etc. How many wines fall into each category is dependant on which wines are put forward but I’ll always do my best to make sure there’s at least two wines in the same ‘category’ to make sure everything is competing against something else. Below is a picture which hopefully makes it a bit clearer… This is an example of the tasting sheet given to all tastings.
This is the most extreme example as there’s so much to factor in in order to taste effectively (same with sweet and fortified). For the New World Bordeaux Blends or the Rhone & Rhone Style Reds tastings, for example, all the tasters are given is a price category. It’s in these tastings that you probably see the most ‘surprises’.
You’re definitely right about that. It’s a really significant part of our year and a lot of work goes in to arranging our diaries around it, so there is naturally a lot of build up to the whole thing!
Similar to Toby, I will often taste blind if I have comparable good wines and want to go for absolute objectivity. Or comparing possible own label blends. Or in a declared year, vintage ports.
I suppose it depends on the wine but in general ‘yes’. There’s no point tasting a wine that we aren’t going to have stock of once the offer comes about. That being said obviously we don’t need as much stock of a niche eastern European red at £30 a bottle than we do The Soccy claret…
Again it’s hard to put a number on how much extra we sell off the back of Champs but it is often significant. In some cases it’ll be an increase on annual sales of that wine by 50%. Others it may be 400%! That’s an incredible boost for big producers let alone the small ones. Forecasting is never a perfect science, but we do our best – this year was all a bit ‘finger in the air’ tbh…
Is it too cheeky to ask which wines these were?
Don’t worry if it is, I understand it might not be fair on the other winners!
Now you’ve all done the competition for at least a few years (and some of you for many, many years!) have any of you found there are some years where you have lots more wines you give a high score to (eg if there’s been a string of amazing vintages so there’s even bigger competition than normal)? Basically, do you have a fairly consistent number of wines you’re scoring highly each year, or does it differ from year to year?
Up to when it arrived at my house, yes. Not much longer after that
Thanks very much. That makes perfect sense.
Can you usually predict which wine will experience the biggest sales increase by being a Wine Champion or are you sometimes surprised. I guess, another way of putting it is how predictable are the Wine Society Members - when presented with a selection of wine is it usually, for example, the NZ SV or the French Burgundy that they will latch onto?
So did the Teroldego just scramble over the finish line last minute, or was it one of the high scorers? Talking about esoteric…
Yes it is often the more ‘obvious’ wines that peak in sales (sauvignons, affordable clarets, society own-labels etc), but also if a wine really stands out and gets a particularly good tasting note wines seem to sell very well. Price is always a factor - members love a bargain - but at the same time members can be completely unpredictable! We take into account as much as we can (list sales, previous offer sales, previous vintage sales etc etc) but can still get it horribly wrong!