Each year, judges from around the world converge on convention centres, town halls and historic buildings to critique wines of all shapes and sizes. Each judge spends hours deliberating over what’s in front of them to arrive at a score, a score that often determines how that wine will sit in its market place. Whether it will sink or swim.

But what is a wine show? How are they run, what do the results mean and who are the white coat-wearing professionals who hold each wine’s fate in their hands?

So, the basics… What is a wine comp?  Generally, a wine competition is a large tasting where each bottle is tasted ‘blind’ by a team of wine experts. These experts are often from a range of professions within the wine trade… think writers, critics, producers, educators… you get the picture.

‘Blind’ tasting? What does that even mean? A blind tasting simply means the judges don’t know what they are sipping. The varietal and the vintage are often stated, with a few competitions even quoting the price category. The judges NEVER know the brand and are rarely told the country or region of origin. They most certainly don’t see the bottle – all pouring of wine is done behind closed doors.

Who are the judges? Wine experts from around the world including producers, educators, writers, sommeliers, retailers, and beyond. Each judge has a passion for wine, but most of all a clear-cut knowledge of the industry and how wine should be assessed.

How are the wines judged? Most comps have two phases… the ‘medal round’, and the ‘sweepstakes’. During the initial ‘medal round’, judges are split into groups of 3, 4 or 5. Each wine is judged on its merits using the following basic points – colour, clarity, aroma, bouquet, taste, length, and overall quality. To put that in perspective, if there were 10 wines in the bracket they would not simply be ranked 1 to 10, but rather recommended for specific medals. In a particular bracket, there might be 1 Gold, 3 Silver, and 2 Bronze medals, for example, and 4 receiving no award… there are no predetermined numbers or percentages of medals.

But don’t the judges get drunk? Thankfully, no. When judging wines, professionals swallow the samples, they spit them into a container.

So, once all done, what do the results mean? The results reflect the collective opinions of expert judges about a specific group of wines on a particular day. There is no hard and fast guarantee that all wines that enter all competitions are great, but they definitely narrow down the search for the average consumer.

With fewer than 5% of all competition wines receiving a Gold medal, it goes to show that the ones that do are very special and worth their weight in, well, GOLD!