Mon 08 Jun 2015

Wine Champions 2015: In At The Deep End


When I arrived at The Wine Society in March 2014 ‘Champs’ had just finished and was whispered of in hushed tones with knowing looks – I knew then that this was going to be quite some offer…

In October we were e-mailed the timetable for the 2015 campaign – 21 tastings over 16 days, over 3 months covering some 693 wines. These sorts of e-mails are why I lie to my dentist!

All wines were to be tasted blind in sensible broad categories.

I have to admit at this point being pretty pleased at the prospect.

An infographic showing some of the numbers behind the 2015 Wine Champions offer. Click to view in full size.

An infographic showing some of the numbers behind the 2015 Wine Champions offer.
Click to view in full size.

I only ended up buying wine for a living because of a chance blind tasting at university that had me hooked from the first gewürztraminer. Since then I have always held blind tasting on a pedestal – I keep a great group of friends from university to continue this hobby over long lunches on weekends. I jumped into the MW studies mainly to gain the opportunities to taste blind many times a week with like-minded students, and I can still often be found bagging wines up when tasting for an offer to ensure objectivity.

The blind tastings themselves, given the number of wines were something of a marathon, but incredibly interesting. The full Buying Team is involved – we all taste round the wines individually and then score out loud.

Sarah KnowlesThis is where we either found ourselves, in total agreement about great wines, or having to justify our outlying high and low marks, retasting as we go. Debates ensue, still all blind, and Champs are selected.

Then the ‘eureka’ moment – the unveiling. What were you fighting for? What didn’t you like? And, most importantly, what are you going to buy for your own enjoyment on the opening day of the offer?

As a judge for various national wine awards, I found the comparatively savage ‘cut rate’ for this offer at the pointy end – of the 693 wines tasted, we ‘champed’ just 80 and then cut this in a final blind taste off to the 43 wines in this year’s main offer. (A selection of Fine Wine Champions will also follow in August.)

No compromises are made – wines low in stock or esoteric in style were successful regardless of the logistical issues their selection can create. I believe in the past this has also lead to offers without a single sauvignon blanc, or offers like this where three of the whites are vinho verde.

This is, to put it simply, the point.

I hope you enjoy the spoils of the 2015 offer.

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer


  1. John Pike says:

    Dear Sarah,

    I have a question as to the actual procedure of the tasting.
    Are the bottles opened and allowed to breath before tasting? if so for how long?

    Secondly with so many bottles to taste would some bottles have been opened for much longer than others while they are waiting to be tasted?

    • Sarah Knowles says:

      Thanks for your comment and apologies for the slight delay in replying. The bottles are opened just before the start of each flight/session. Some bottles therefore will have been open for longer, but not for much longer, and as such we do not believe there is a particularly big difference between the first and last wines tasted.

  2. Iain Harkess says:

    Dear Sarah,
    I’ really looking forward to the list when published but I’m already surprised at the info from the graphic. Where is the Sauvignon Blanc? – you mean it didn’t do as well Chardonnay?
    Where is New Zealand? you mean it didn’t even get into the top grapes awards?
    I’m really looking forward to the explanation and intrigued!

    • Sarah Knowles says:

      Thanks for your comment, and sorry for the slight delay in replying to it. The winners have now been unveiled, so you can take a look at all the wines that won here:
      Chardonnay did indeed do better than sauvignon blanc in this year’s tastings, but every year is different, such is the nature of how the wines are selected. As mentioned, there has been an instance in the past where we have not featured a single sauvignon blanc; this year Cheverny, Domaine du Salvard 2014, which is predominantly sauvignon blanc, did win. As for New Zealand, Wither Hills Pinot Noir and Te Mata Syrah were both winners this year.

  3. Charles Littlewood says:

    Always enjoy the Wine Champions. Out of interest, whilst the tastings are blind, are the wines grouped together in price categories?

    There always seems a good range of prices in the eventual Champions list and is this because the tasters know that the range they are tasting are perhaps £6-£10 whereas on another day they know the range is priced between £15-£20 and their expectations are adjusted accordingly?

    • Sarah Knowles says:

      Thanks for your comment. You’re absolutely right: depending on the session and the amount of wines being tasted, we do have some broad price categories on our tasting sheets in order to give some measure of guidance. We do endeavour to select a range of prices for Champs, but if the lower-priced wines do not gain the prerequisite votes to be crowned a Champion, then they do not make it, as is the case with all of the wines.

  4. Brian Wilkie says:

    Pardon my ignorance, but I was astounded to see a grape called Loureiro listed on that infograph. I thought I knew a lot about wines, aided by Jancis Robinson’s mighty tome on grape varieties, but this one has escaped my notice.
    Can you elucidate please, and indicate the main region where it is grown?

    • Martin Brown says:

      Thanks for your comment, Brian. Sarah is in New Zealand on a buying trip at present so I hope you don’t mind me replying to give you a swifter answer.
      As Sarah mentions, three of the whites that made the cut this year were vinhos verde. Loureiro is the most fragrant of the grapes used to make white wines in this region, and accounted for a very impressive hat-trick! Hope this is useful.
      Martin Brown
      The Wine Society

  5. Mike Hutchinson says:

    Given that members might like to stage their own blind tastings, has the Society considered marketing sets of branded drawstring blind-tasting bags, of muslin or some other suitably opaque material, perhaps with numbered tags? I’m sure they would be popular. Plastic bags and luggage tags don’t really cut the mustard.

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