Wine tasting bunkum?

Following the publication of most of the 2012 wine competitions I took a look at the results for English Wines. Many people had commented to me pointing to discrepancies in results between competitions. Having previously said I’d favour replicated tastings, I started reading around the subject. Here’s a taste of some of the sobering reading.

A recent post in the excellent New Yorker outlines how New Jersey wines compete with top Bordeaux (borrowing from the 1976 Judgement of Paris), but concludes that there’s probably a large slug of randomness in there. There’s more comment on that tasting here, with results on LiquidAssets. Reading more, there’s an article from The Guardian saying there’s no correlation between perceived wine quality and actual price, which is echoed in more formal research here.

Despite the challenges of judging the relative merits of wines, I am reminded that there have been few formal tastings of English Wines v international competition to see how they match up. Time for a more formal, rigorous assessment?

So replicated tastings are the answer, right? Well maybe. As an aside, I happened upon another article in the New Yorked from 2010 about some of the challenges of scientific method, which is long but worth a read.

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Awards for English Wines 2012 – consolidated

Consolidated English Wine results for 2012.

One thing which struck me when studying wine sensory evaluation last year was that to do a tasting properly, surely replicated judgings should be employed. Well, no large competition has yet found itself sufficiently resourced to do this. But, now that many 2012 wine award results are out, we can decide which wines are best, right? Well, no. Awards can be inconsistent between competitions.  Formal studies having been written which conclude that luck plays a large part. However, as a bit of fun I thought I’d try to look through the 2012 results for English Wines and see if any patterns emerge, and also look at just how inconsistent results are. But simply slamming the results together and stuffing them through a stats package is not so simple. Different producers enter different competitions, so the data is very sparse. And how is one to judge, for example, an IWSC ‘silver outstanding’ against a Decanter ‘silver’ or a UKVA ‘gold’? And should all competitions be judged equal, or are some more equal than others? For example, I did not include UKVA trophies in the list, but just categorised them as golds. There’s no right answer here.

Well, I had a stab at coming up with a basic model to include some of the relevant factors, and I’ve written up a full list of all the consolidated results for 2012. It’s important to note that I do not have access to data on those wines which were entered but did not receive any award or commendation: so where there’s blank it probably means the wine was not entered, but it might mean it didn’t cut it.
Most impressive for me on the list are the Camel Valley Rosé sparkling 2010, Furleigh Bacchus Fumé 2010, Furleigh Classic Cuveé 2009 and the Denbies Late Harvest 2011 which all have high medals in multiple competitions. With Furleigh wines also getting top UKVA honours for a further 2 wines, you’ve got to think that Ian Edwards is doing something right!

I’d heard it said that the number of medals given by the UKVA is excessively rising and out of proportion to international competition. The graph below shows the facts. The percentage of wines with gold medals is above the long term average (but so is quality, in my opinion). Perhaps more questionable is the high percentage of silvers for the past few years? There’s no right answer to this, and it’s clear that results from one competition should only be compared with other results from the same competition. UKVA awards through time (% of wines per category):

It’s interesting to see some numbers too, comparing the awards in 2012 to the longer term average (2003-2012 inclusive):

(And yes all the analysis includes Welsh wines too – sorry Jac)

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Pinot noir clonal study in England

I was asked to produce an abridged version of my Plumpton Wine undergraduate project for an issue of a forthcoming industry magazine. For the study I took grapes of various Pinot noir clones from the vineyard, through winemaking and up to wine sensory testing. The project was fun so I thought I’d post the abridged version here. The results are interesting, though hardly definitive – that would take a better resourced and better designed piece of work.

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That UKVA ‘top student’ wine cooler is pretty hefty.

Today I graduated from Plumpton College after 2 years hard work with a foundation degree in Wine Production. It’s been wonderful – I have learned so much and it’s been great fun too. Some of the tuition has been superb, and I’ve covered a huge range of subjects during my time. This ranges from practical work in the vineyard and winery, to lots of work in the lab playing with chemical analysis, to research projects, to lots and lots of bookwork studying grapegrowing and winemaking theory. I’d love to go on to the 3rd year and get the full BSc, but I think it’s time to get on with my life. And the good news is that my hard work and application were recognised by my being awarded as the top student on my course. During the course I achieve a distinction in every module.

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Brew day

James and Luke slaving over a hot mash in James’ brew-pad

Great day at James’ house today (in his garage actually) helping him out with a brew. I recently got interested in brewing after taking a few lectures at Plumpton College. I then managed a trip to Hepworth Brewery in Horsham (great place) and bought myself a book (Dr Fix). However today was my first chance to get my hands dirty. It turns out that brewing is every bit as technical as winemaking. James knows what he’s doing, and in fact is about to upgrade the kit seen here to an integrated steel setup. An excellent and interesting day.

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SEWOTY 2012 – results

Having been asked to be a judge for this year’s South East Wines of the Year awards, I was seated at the “judges table” for this evening’s awards dinner – all rather odd with the judges sitting in a row facing the room – I felt like I was getting married.

The room was surprised to hear that this year there were no gold medals. Not having been involved in the awards before I’m not best placed to say why there were no golds. However, I think it’s fair to say that the wines this year were great, and perhaps part of the reason for the missing gilt is that English Wines are now at the level at which they are no longer judged so much as English Wines, but have transcended into being compared at an international level. I certainly like to think so.

The 7 wines which were awarded silver medals were all served at the dinner, and I think they tasted delicious:

Peter Morgan (left) collects the award for the best wine from Chair of Judges, Andy Howard

  • Plumpton Estate’s Dean Blush Brut (NV)
  • Gusbourne’s Estate’s Blanc de Blancs (2007)
  • Bolney Wine Estate’s Pinot Noir (2011)
  • Biddenden Vineyard’s Gribble Bridge Rosé (2011)
  • Denbies Wine Estate’s Ranmore Hill (2009)
  • Hill Farm Vineyard’s Hill Farm Dry White (2011)
  • Sandhurst Vineyard’s Sandhurst Bacchus (2011)

Bronze medals were given to 29 wines and 17 others were highly commended. There’s a more detailed review on Owen Elias’s blog.

There was great news for Plumpton Estate when Peter Morgan was asked to go forward and collect the trophy for best wine for The Dean Brut Blush. Well done Peter (and those students who helped him out for the wine from the 2009 vintage)!

Gusbourne’s gorgeous Blanc de Blancs 2007 won the cup for second place.

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South of England Show

I attended the South of England Show today. It’s a huge annual agricultural show, and there was heavy involvement from Plumpton College, so I went along to help out.

Firstly, SEAS had very kindly help sponsor the trip I made with others to judge at Effervescents du Monde last year. So today I spent a couple of hours at the show’s “society” tent sharing information about how much I and the others had learned from the trip (and how much fun it was).  My timing was fortunate and coincided with that of the SEAS president and chairman and the show council chairman. It was good to be able to thank them personally.

The rest of my time at the show I spent selling Plumpton wines and courses. Heavy rain cursed the show but rather helped our sales as those stuck in the local food and wine marquee decided the Plumpton wines were rather to their tastes.
The show looks great, but with the rain I had precious little opportunity to look around. The show is on until Saturday. I’ll definitely be going back next year.

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