The Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships claims to be the only one of its kind in the world which puts every type of fizz to the test. It’s also the only judging event where all wines entered are tasted blind by the same three judges. Founder Tom Stevenson and co-judges Essi Avellan MW and Dr Tom Jordan. Helping them as order of ceremonies is Champagne expert himself, Simon Stockton. Here’s his ringside account of how the judging takes place…
Simon Stockton gives a sneak preview of what we can expect from the finalists and winners in this year’s Champagne Sparkling Wine World Championships ahead of the official announcement this week.
They may only be in their fifth year but already the CSWWC is, as it claims to be, the key event for Champagne and sparkling wines around the world. The results for this year’s competition are imminent where it will be interesting to see if the standard has been raised again from the previous two years.
2017 was heralded by the judges as “one of our most diverse and exciting years yet for sparkling wine” and saw 127 Gold and 167 Silver medals awarded. Note the competition only deals in Golds and Silvers. If you’re a bronze, you simply must do better.
It also attracted entries from 29 different countries, including wines from the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and Romania, which all won Silver medals. This year’s competition has seen entries from Moldova and India.
So what’s in store for 2018. The Buyer will be publishing the results later in the week, but in the meantime Simon Stockton, the competition’s self-dubbed Competition Steward explains his role and how the judging process takes place.
How has the judging gone for CSWWC 2018?
Compelling, enjoyable and relaxed. The entire CSWWC team – judging, logistics, management – has been working together for a few years now and it really shows. Everybody knows their roles and the competition runs seamlessly from start to finish. We do get some hiccups of course (wines not turning up or being held by Customs), but with so many entries from all over the globe, this is to be expected.
On a personal note, the highlight of this two weeks is sitting in a room with the three judges listening to them discuss each and every wine they taste. Being able to absorb these discussions between Tom, Essi and Tony is like a 10 day sparkling wine masterclass for me – brilliant for my personal development, particularly after three years in the role. Oh, and the farewell dinner when the competition is over. That is a very special (and late!) evening each year.
How do you get all the judges get on? It’s a small panel so does it ever get tense over the spittoons?
At the risk of getting a P45 in the post, here goes…Of course the judges behave themselves, but the fun begins when one of them goes into bat over a wine the others might not rate quite so highly. Essi is blessed to have eye lashes like Bambi and the team joke about how she flutters them to encourage Tom and Tony to see things her way. Tom met fire with fire this year by donning a pair of sunglasses with plastic lashes attached! No doubt he’ll wear these to the gala awards dinner in October. (Anything’s possible – he ate a hat two years ago).
Dr Tony (Jordan) is as dry as a zero dosage Champagne and so very Australian. His scientific bent brings something different to the judging panel and I’ve learnt so much from him over the years. He’ll kill me for saying so, but Tony does not quite transfer this level of scientific acumen to the use of a laptop.
Tell us about your role and involvement with the CSWWC?
I met Tom at the International Sparkling Wine Symposium in 2013 and we’ve been in touch ever since. He asked me to join the team three years ago and I jumped at the chance. I consider both Tom and Essi mentors, as well as colleagues, and look forward to spending time working with them each year.
As Competition Steward, I oversee the judging room and liaise with the logistics team who manage the back room. I answer judges’ questions on wines if they think there is a disparity, I ensure competition rules are being followed, I request new bottles/pours when wines are deemed faulty and input judges’ scores as they’re read out. As the only person in the judging room who know what the wines are, there is some responsibility ensuring the wines being tasted are what they are listed as being and to ensure the flighting of wines is correct, especially on trophy judging day.
Thankfully, our logistics team (Karl and Donald from Sensible Wine Services) are brilliant at what they do, which makes my job easier. The competition takes place in Royal Tunbridge Wells and as a local resident myself, I also take the role of local guide recommending restaurants, vineyards and places of interest. I’m hoping to move into a reserve judging role when one becomes available.
Did you see any noticeable trends or interesting changes around sparkling wine this year?
It’s great to see entries from less established sparkling wine producing countries and we seem to be getting more diversity each year. We’ve tasted entries from Moldova, India, Czech Republic and Romania – the latter of which produced a Gold medal wine. Another trend is the increase in technological closures on wines entered. This year we’ve seen more DIAM Mytik closures than in 2017 and, thankfully, a reduction in clear glass bottles. Producers are embracing technology and protecting their wines more than in past Championships.
Can we expect any surprise winners for 2018?
Yes indeed. Each year throws up some surprise winners and 2018 is no different. We’ll see some of these soon when medals are announced, though the best surprises usually come when the trophies are announced at the awards dinner later in the year.
Can you give us any more clues than that?
My memory isn’t what it once was. Perhaps it was a Methusalem of BabyCham, though I can’t recall for certain….
Why do you believe producers should enter into this niche competition?
Simply to have their wines judged by leading, recognised sparkling wine specialists with the chance of receiving international acclaim for those wines. For many wine trade professionals, sparkling wine is difficult to judge as it is both complex and nuanced. The CSWWC judges bring a wealth of tasting and judging experience along with scientific understanding of why the wines entered exhibit the character they do. All three judges – four including reserve judge Gyorgy Markus – taste every single wine entered, which doesn’t happen in any other wine competition that comes to mind.
- The Best in Class and Trophy awards will be announced at the CSWWC Gala Dinner on October 24. To find out more about the competition go to its website here.