Judge or die: how to survive the Concours Mondial

This is, of course, a very personal view on the CMB “pro taster” after five years of judging at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. This is still work in progress. Since I am very interested in the wine judging psychology — would be cool to hear your comments on this. Part two in this series — Judging @CMB: tips & tricks  — is also there for you.

Turn off your personal taste

Although the organisers declare their statistics calculation system should protect the results from any serious trouble, the taster should come prepared to judge as objective as possible. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re from Sicily, Mendoza or Mexico. Surely, one cannot turn off his palate and historic attraction to our local styles of wine, but defining a good wine and defining the wine “I like” is quite different. Good wine has objective parameters at high levels — such as acidity, intensity, balance and harmony — no matter which wines you like. It’s completely wrong to “recognise» the wines of your region and score them higher, of course. First, you might be wrong. Second, it’s not fair Third, it’s not why we do this job — and it’s a job to be objective.

Show consistency

Judging several very similar wines in a row sometimes require more brain power than judging completely different wines. In my experience a flight of 15 very similar wines requires much more efforts to judge, than 15 wines that are very different. With the similar wines you’re struggling to distinguish the minor differences, unlike the easier task of discovering the bigger ones. For the purpose of self-control and — I assume — the CMB judges selection, the same wine is tasted twice during each day by each of the judges. Although it’s always very uncomfortable to discover that you gave this control wine very different points — one can’t always avoid this due to the mere physiology of wine tasting and the human factors that influence you during the tasting including such as time of the day, place within the flight, closeness to the coffee-break (before, after, how close) and so on. Even the position of your table among the other many tables matters — as well as the distance to the tasting hall entrance. Disturbance from the fellow CMB judges passing and stopping by could be quite severe.

Forget about the others — for a minute

Whether you’re comfortable on your panel of 5 judges or not — this shouldn’t interfere with your judging. Still this question of staying on your own line is complicated for me and it depends a lot on the each panel president and his / her style of judging. One will almost insist that you share your opinion about the wine you’ve just tasted and give you a hint of whether your marks fall in line with those of the other judges, the other will even tell you not to favour or be too strict to the wines. And it’s always a good idea — as a judge you should know that if you’re the only one on the panel who gives wines low scores your rating will perhaps be eliminated. Which means you’re a useless on this “celebration of life” — a white crow, so to speak.

Learn from the others

It’s always something you can learn during CMB tastings. Although it’s officially not welcomed if the panel members discuss the wines, the fact is that it’s almost unavoidable. Even if we were completely silent during the judging — the body language will tell you a lot about others’ opinion of the wine. That’s especially true, if you’re well connected to the other panel members. And it’s almost 100% true for the panel president that faces you all the time during the competition. You see the impression of each and every wine on their face, depending on the nationality could be from subtle to very obvious. You could even guess a score the panel head gives to a wine! Still, this is crucial for a newcomer to learn the boundaries of scores and the rules of judging the wines. Organises probably assume you know all about that from your first time, but it’s far from being the truth — this is from my own experience during the first time at CMB several years ago.

Judge in every condition

Whether you are suffering from the allergy, influenza or just an ordinary hangover — you go out there every fucking morning and you get yourself to taste another 50 samples. You nose might not work properly — just get on the pills and nasal sprays. Pro taster will rather die than skip the tasting.

Give wine a second chance. Always

It’s the last tasting day, you’re fed up and it’s just 30 min left to end the show. At this very moment your jury bumps into three faulty wines in a row — cork, oxidation, whatever. “Gosh”,- you think, — “not now, please!” The desire to simply dismiss the wine and finish the freaking day hits against a pro-taster’s motivation and the ruddy professionalism. Second (and sometimes third) samples are called for — no way you will put your comfort ahead of your professionalism.

Take the last bus 🙂

It’s always less crowded and more relaxed. Especially if you want to get some rest during a long trip to the dining venue.

Read this second part too!

Judging @CMB: tips & tricks