A report from Rob Geddes MW

I had the chance over the past weekend to judge the Concours in Beijing. With 300 judges it was unlike any wine judging event I have ever attended. As you would expect the level of organisation was indeed amazing. Faultless except for some IT issues which were no problem for the organisers as we reverted to paper for our scores. Their proprietary system was easy to use and fast either on paper or iPad.

Judge V Jury

Their system requires each wine to be tasted on its own, with no discussion between judges. The chairman collects the scores and the average of the 5 scores gives the wine its score. The organisers have an algorithm that they may  use on occasions (wines with a ten point spread) to remedy extreme scores. If a wine is corked, and on average 4% were by my calculation, another bottle is requested.

 If this happened in Australia the wine would’ve been scored on what was in the glass, in the belief that the poor consumer would not get the opportunity get a second bottle of wine. Thus the wine would be scored for what it was in the glass with no second bottle.

 The judging system using five judges but no jury discussion was the part I found most interesting. I am leaving the level of experience out of the equation here, as all the judges were very experienced. Psychologists and Physiologists have proven that people (due to their DNA) have different sensitivities and different taste thresholds. This means no one person can fully perceive a wine. Based on this concept it requires a group of judges with discussion to fully perceive a wine but only after it is discussed. No discussion and no meeting of the judges minds before the score was created was the part that I found most interesting as this had effects on the group’s approach to wines.

 The discussion of our scores took place after we had judged each wine and was interesting. Over a day no judge wants to be ‘wrong’, ie. meaning having a score radically different from the group. By immediately naming our scores there were two effects. Calibration and conforming was quick. Everyone moved closer in their scores.

 In this way judges start to conform to the “group think” and the scores become uniform.

Chinese judges freely use a range of 65 to 90 points but here I found scores clustered around the 80 to 89 points.

The organisers did a magnificent job, all the wines were air freighted to Beijing. Served by sommeliers the whites and sparkling were all chilled and the reds cool on the tongue. The wines were grouped by origin (meaning region), not necessarily variety which made excellent sense and gave a really good overview each regions offering.

 My panel tasted wines from Sicily, Valpolicella, Chardonnay from Chile, Sauvignon Blanc from Moldova, Vintage Champagne (back to 2002 – yum!), Oaked Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja 2014, Spanish aromatic whites, Californian Cabernet and Merlot, Chilean red blends and Veneto reds. As well we judged Jumilla and Murcia Monastrell and Chinese Cabernet blends. This sounds like a lot, however we judged only 50 wines per day meaning we had time to fully consider these wines.

Australians Jeni Port, Dave Brooks, David Mavor and Andrew Graham all attended.