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Pandemic Wine Judging


For the last few years, The Unión Española de Catadores have organized the Best of Spain Wine Challenge in Dublin. This is an international wine competition held in a city center hotel where several hundred wines bottles would be tasted, assessed, judged, and scored blind by a group of Irish based wine professionals.


The competition was important because it was the only international competition to be held in Ireland. It showcased a range of wines from around Spain to a group of wine professionals. Plus, it allowed Spanish wineries to understand how their wines performed in a blind tasting in the context of their region, country, and competitors.


The organisers also had expansion plans for the competition; to include more wineries and more trade masterclasses. But, perhaps more importantly, they planned to reach out to the Irish wine loving public and create an annual event for fans of Spanish wine in Ireland.


In November 2020, for reasons with which we are all too familiar, the competition could not be held in Dublin, and so the event date, like so many other event dates came and went, and nothing happened.


However, in January 2021, not to be deterred, The Unión Española de Catadores contacted a group of six Irish wine specialists; Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, Journalists and Buyers and asked if they were prepared to go ahead with the judging of the competition from the comfort of their own homes.


Whilst judging a wine competition during a global pandemic may not have been something that any of us had ever considered, we all duly signed up and waited patiently for the thirty something bottles of wine to arrive allowing our judging to commence.


Even though being conducted remotely, the usual International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) rigorous tasting rules for assessment and marking applied as with previous years. The OIV is Europe’s highly regarded intergovernmental organisation which deals with technical and scientific aspects of viticulture and winemaking.


Naturally, I found myself comparing the 2021/20 remote judging conditions to those of the past. In previous years, the judges would have trundled into the city centre to taste the three hundred or so wines that were usually entered into the competition from wineries all over Spain.


We were provided with a space to taste, Riedel glasses, pens, printed out tasting sheets, bottled water and so on. A light soup and sandwich lunch would have been served around eleven in the morning providing the break and the sustenance to continue tasting until between two and three in the afternoon.


In 2021, the wine judging during COVID was somewhat different. Firstly, in my case anyway, there was the fighting for my own corner of the house and the dogs and cats had to be shut out of the room. Clean and appropriate glasses was no issue, nor was wine chilling or following the instructions that arrived with the wines.


I enjoyed the online marking system as opposed to reams of paper sheets, nor was there a need to trundle into town and I could really take my time to assess the wines – or those that turned up anyway. Sadly, we were missing a few of the wines broken or lost or in some cases returned to Spain – such is the pressure on courier services during COVID times.


However, I realised that time spent with my wine trade colleagues, the getting together of a group of people from different sectors of the Irish wine trade, the chance to chat about the wines, the regions, other tastings, vintages or just life in general was the really big missing.


We also missed out on the opportunity to spend valuable time with our Spanish colleagues, who previously travelled to oversee the competition and set up the wines and share their Spanish wine news. Let’s hope we can all reconnect, judging or otherwise soon and not just on Zoom!


And of the lost wines, as I write still missing in action! ……….

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