Introduction to Wine Judging

Introduction to Wine Judging

Some people can find the process intimidating though it needn’t be. No one expects to be able to play the piano the first time they sit down at one. Why should someone think they can pick up all the subtle nuances in wine when they first try? This is a life-long pursuit. We all continue to learn and evolve as judges. There is no finish line. When you attend a meeting feel free to comment on the wines, or not, as you see fit. All in good time – do so as you feel comfortable. If you decide to join the guild, your scores will be submitted to our statistician who compiles them for qualification purposes.

When evaluating a wine, we examine the following components:
1. Appearance
2. Nose – aroma and bouquet
3. Balance – acid, sugar, body and tannin
4. Taste
5. Finish – after taste
6. General Quality – your overall impression of the wines quality

The guild uses a 20 point modified University of Davis scoring system.
1. Wines that score 18-20 points (Gold Medal) would be considered excellent. They would have intense, complex aromas and flavors and a long complex lingering aftertaste.
2. Wines that score 16-17.9 points (Silver Medal) would be considered well above average. They would have appealing aromas and flavors and long lingering aftertaste.
3. Wines that score 14-15.9 points (Bronze Medal) would be considered average to above average. They would have pleasant aromas and flavors and a medium to long aftertaste. (Most commercial wines)
4. Wines that score 13-13.9 points would be considered drinkable but nothing special. (Most entry-level commercial wines)
5. Wines that score 12-12.9 points would generally be of the quality where you would only drink one glass to be polite but decline the second glass if it was offered.
6. Wines that score 11-11.9 points are flawed wines. (barely drinkable but with a very noticeable problem)
7. Wines that score lower that 11 are considered Faulty and are undrinkable and should be given a score of 10 points– there is no need to score them any lower.

The following point descriptions are meant to be a guideline. Not all judges would describe them the same way, though the end result (total score) would be very close. A more detailed breakdown of points can be found in the handbook and on the score sheets.

Appearance 1 point
For commercial wines, it is rare (though not completely unheard of) to score less than one point. Modern wine making methods assure that wines are clear and brilliant and that the colour is appropriate. Occasionally homemade wines may have some haze or be cloudy. Usually these wines would be given 0.5 points.

Nose 5 points
The nose encompasses the aroma and bouquet of a wine. Aroma refers to the fresh fruity character (smell) of the wine. Depending on the varietal, look for plum, cherry, apple, peach, apricot, etc.
The bouquet comes from the interventions of the wine maker (use of oak, malolactic fermentation, etc.) and from the magic of aging – look for leather, cedar, tar, soy, etc.
Most wines will likely score somewhere in the 3 – 4 point range. Can’t smell very much? Faint nose? 2 – 3 points. What makes for a higher score? Think of music. One note played on a piano vs. three notes, vs. a ten-note chord. The richer, the more complex the nose, the better the score. It is best if red wines are open for a period of time prior to being judged, as the nose tends to improve with time (20 minutes to 2 hours).

Balance 5 points
Balance includes the components of acid, sugar, body and tannin. They need to work well together. Someone once made the comparison to lemonade – not too tart, not too sweet. You need the right amount of sugar (natural grape sugar) to balance the acid (varies depending on the wine style). Body varies according to wine style. Think of milk – skim (thin body), 2% (medium body) and homogenized (full bodied). With some wines, you expect a thin body (delicate). With others, a full body is appropriate. It takes time to learn what is appropriate for each varietal and style. Tannins are rare with white wines. Tannins are associated with red wines. Not too little, not too much. High tannins (think of strong tea) will decrease over time.

Taste 3 points
Probably best if the flavours follow, or echo, the nose, though it is totally OK for the taste to show different characteristics than the nose. If the flavours are OK, nothing wrong but nothing great (simple) it would score about 1.5. Good flavours – 2 points. Better than good, 2.25.

Finish 3 points
This refers to the after taste (when you have swallowed the wine). The longer the finish, and the more complex it is, the better. Does the wine make you swallow one, two or three times? How long do the flavours linger? Do the flavours intensify? Short finish 1.5, Medium 2 points, and medium long 2.25.

General Quality 3 points
This is the overall quality of the wine. If it is drinkable/generic/OK 1.5 points. Good, 2. Very good 2.5. A very good to a great wine should have harmony from beginning to end. All the elements should work together. Few wines are so well integrated. Most have some positive qualities in the nose or balance or taste. When all these are fully in place – bravo!