STEVEN SPURRIER, chairman of the DWWA, says the third year saw the Awards come of age

Third time lucky,’ one might say, but luck had nothing to do with the success of the 2006 DWWA, which was due to dedicated planning, fantastic teamwork, increasing support from suppliers at home and abroad, and the best judging panels anyone could put together.  But there was an extra “buzz” this year – thanks in part to the brilliant coffee from Starbucks, which had been a resigning issue with Michael Hill-Smith in year one – the feeling that it had all come together, that everyone involved was aware they were now part of the world’s best wine competition.

As Chairman, my job back in 2003 was to set the rules, fine-tuned since, of small panels to facilitate discussion, small flights to help concentration, tasting like with like in price brackets, and, even more importantly, choosing the core team of judges.  Since 2004, we have had one loss and three additions, and every one of our regional judges has confirmed their presence for 2007.   That our international team is unrivalled was remarked on my Jancis Robinson in the FT:  ‘[Sarah] Kemp has successfully created a salon in her usefully light photographic studio. I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with so many luminaries from all over the wine world gathered in one place.’

The regional chairmen, all of whom are writing in this edition, have the absolute respect of their panels for their unrivalled knowledge of their particular region.  Some may tend to indulgence, rewarding quality, while others may be critically strict, putting the bar a little higher, but as a team the panels are remarkable for their consistency.  Here are the figures: 

n 2004 – 4,500 entries. 64% Awards: 2.5% Gold; 12% Silver; 25.5% Bronze; 24% Commended.

n 2005 – 5,200 entries. 61% Awards: 3% Gold; 11.5% Silver; 25% Bronze/21% Commended.

n 2006 – 6,300 entries. 61% Awards: 3% Gold; 13% Silver; 25% Bronze; 20% Commended.

The quality of the judging encourages quality wines to be entered.  Some competitions receive a raft of entries on the scatter-gun approach that the more that go in, the more likely the awards are to come out.  The Decanter system of tasting regionally/sub-regionally/varietally and comparing these similar wines in specific price brackets leads inevitably to the better wines being rewarded, the lesser ones not.  Open discussion between panels of three or four judges virtually eliminates the likelihood of a good wine losing out and increases the possibility of it getting the medal that it deserves. 

Going for Gold is sometimes immediate and unanimous, sometimes the result of lengthy re-tasting, but only rarely this year was I called in to adjudicate. My advice to the judges to pose the question ‘what more does this wine have to do in this category to get a Gold medal?’ concentrates the panels’ minds on the intrinsic quality of the wine in question, at the expense of their own personal preferences. From the Golds come the Trophies, and looking at  the list of  the 2006 Trophy Winners, 95 in all, makes me want to go out and buy every single bottle.

And what about the disappointments?  Germany had a low entry of 128 wines, but garnered 74% awards, while Spain’s high entry of 528 only managed 43%;  Chile, with 58% awards from 383 wines did proportionally less well than Argentina’s 75% awards from 170; Australia with 55% awards from 783 entries suffered a similar fate compared to New Zealand’s 79% from 271 and South Africa’s 74% from 356. The Rhône is creeping up the score chart, with only 26% awards in 2004 (based mostly on the very poor 2002 vintage),  40% in 2005 and 44% this year, among which were two Golds, both winning Trophies. 

Yet these are not disasters, and with little Slovenia moving up from 7 entries/4 awards in 2004, 35 entries/19 awards in 2005 to 53 entries/35 awards (including a Gold and a Trophy) in 2006, there was really not much to be disappointed about.

For 2007, the dates are set, the judges are signed up, and, by the time you read this, we’ll be looking forward to the DWWA party at the Natural History Museum. Kemp not only creates a good salon, she throws a great party.

Written by STEVEN SPURRIER