Meet the Judges: Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Decanter World Wine Awards, we're profiling a number of this year's judges, who are some of the world's most renowned wine experts. Our 'Meet the Judges' interview series offers a rare insight into the world of wine and judging from the key industry experts deciding this year's best wines.

Our first interview is with Decanter’s new Regional Chair for Spain, Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW, who will be heading up the panel alongside existing Regional Chair Sarah Jane Evans MW.

Tell us a little about yourself – where are you based and where do you work?
I’m at present based in Belgium, working at the EU institutions on international relations, environmental and clean energy issues.

Tell us a bit about your expertise and how you got into wine?
I am an Agronomical Engineer and gained a Master Degree in Viticulture and Oenology some 25 years ago. I then studied in Spain, France, Belgium, US, Austria and Germany, completing among other things the WSET Diploma, Weinakademiker and Master of Wine, and keeping a parallel life with my professional dedication to the environment and energy. I have been judging at international competitions for more than 20 years now, but science was my entry point into wine. Only afterwards did I realise the pleasures and challenges of tasting.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while working in the wine industry?
Not just one, but three lessons:

  • The force of passion: the wine industry has plenty of people of incredible intellectual and emotional capacities, who would have been much richer or more famous in any other sector, and decided to throw themselves into the less rewarding wine world because of their passion.
  • The benefits of humbleness: no matter your experience, any time you taste you realise your own insecurity and the imprecision of your senses and your brain. This is a most healthy exercise for your soul.
  • The challenges of thinking about the wine: wine touches the most relevant aspects of policy, environment, law, health, history, biological, physical and chemical sciences, mythology, sociology and sheer pleasure. Trying to understand the world through a glass of wine is a most exciting endeavour.

Who has been your biggest inspiration during your wine career?
So many people… wine is humbleness as I said; the best wine people would not like to see their names mentioned here.

What are your most memorable wine moments from the last ten years?
Many, thankfully! And most of them intimate!

A very recent one: drinking a blend of Viña Real Oro, Rioja, vintages 1948, 1950 and 1952, made by Basilio Izquierdo, CVNE’s former winemaker. It is impossibly delicate, impolitely fresh and deliciously deep.

Which kinds of wines do you think should be given more attention in 2013?

  • Original wines, from varieties like mencía, bobal, rufete, godello or albillo (in Spain)
  • More delicate, less oaky, lower alcohol wines
  • Complex premium rosés
  • New World to-become-classic variety/terroir combinations: Carignan from Curicó, Pinot Noir from Yarra, Riesling from Finger Lakes…

Which wines are you drinking at home at the moment? Is there a strong wine scene in your city?
As someone who’s passionate about wine, I have no loyalty whatsoever to any particular wine or type of wine. I change as much as possible.

Brussels’ wine scene is like Jekyll and Hyde. The good side: few places are as exciting as Belgium for buying wine, from anywhere, of any age, of any type, at any price range. Belgian’s wine market is gorgeously rich and varied, with very good prices. The bad side: restaurant’s mark-up policies are absurd. With very few (but remarkable) exceptions, enjoying good wine at affordable prices in a Belgian restaurant is an oxymoron.

What’s your desert island wine?
I enjoy drinking wine in company. On a desert island I’d prefer water.

What single piece of advice do you have for people just starting out in wine?
Do not think about glory or money; look for your inner satisfaction.

When judging, what are you looking for in great wine?
Intriguing complexity, something that excites my senses, concentrates my mind and remains in my memory in a distinctive way. Most wines fail in one, two or three of those attributes.

Finally, what are you looking forward to most about judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards?
I’m really excited about it! It’s a huge competition, with so many wines and such high standards. And the fellow tasters are impressive!

The Decanter World Wine Awards 2013 is now open for entries. Click here for more information and to enter wines into this year’s competition.

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