Judging @CMB: tips & tricks

Coming to judge the wine competition like the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles is fun for every kind of winelover. There are some things one should know before going for it for the first time. Or you’ll have to learn it the hard way.

1 First wine and first flight: judge carefully

The calibration wines are very good thing of CMB missing at Vinitaly, for example. It let’s your palate get ready for the big tasting and also sets you right among other judges — since most jury members prefer to discuss the calibration wine in more detail and compare scores. Hence, if you gave a calibration wine 75 points while others gave it 87 — a reason to be alert that you might have a problem with sensing the wines further. This might not even be something you can control — due t sickness or personal factors. As a matter of fact it really helps in critical situations, especially if you’re doing CMB judging for the first time.

Of course, people who sent wine samples to CMB don’t expect that their wine gets worse score because it was first in the flight. So be careful with these fist wines and prepare your mind and senses to possible problems of being too generous or too strict.

2 Long flights: judge steadily

Long flights of 10-15 wines can be a problem for a judge especially when they are very similar or far from being good wines. Bad wines wear you out and irritate you fast. Still, it’s your goal not to get overwhelmed by a flight of those — because it’s quite probable that the last wine in this flight will be quite better — and you won’t pay enough attention to notice that.

3 Mind the other judges, but stand your grounds

You don’t have to take others’ opinion into consideration while judging. Still, it’s a good idea to know where you are on the scores. As a newcomer you might not know the usual boundaries of scores and you should know that you score will be eliminated by the system if you judge too strict or too advantageous compared to the others. Still, you will find yourself many times in position when you’re the one who gave a very different score to a wine. No problem here, it’s just you have to be sure that you can objectively support your opinion and that being too strict is not what you do all the time. Points below 75 are very low and should work only for wines with serious flaws, I suppose.

4 Mind the vintage change in the flight

Sometimes you don’t notice the change of the vintage which is stated on your tasting list. Vintage is normally helpful to get ready to a change of wine aromas and taste within the flight and will influence your judging.

5 Guessing the wine origins: good or bad?

Some judges believe that you have to take into consideration the style of winemaking that you think this wine reflects. For me taking into account your educated guesses is not a very good thing, because 1) you always might be wrong 2) you don’t judge wines based on what you think their tipicity to the specific region is. This point is very subjective and unsteady. Regions can produce hundreds of wine styles and it’s not your task to try to guess where the wine comes from. What you think was a Bordeaux blend will come out as a flight of Chinese cab sauvignons and you will not be able to change your score when you discover that after the tasting.

For me the major question for each sample is: does it taste good? Is there a a harmony? Is there a structure, tannin and acidity (for the reds)? I don’t care what region it really is, which country. If the wine tastes good, it gets a good score. Yes, I do take into consideration the style of wine — because pinots are very different from cabernets — but, other than that, I leave the tipicity aside from my judging.

6 Calculation hell: what comes first — overall rating or separate elements points?

An Interesting question by itself. Sometimes you will find that you have a score in your head right after you tasted the wine — and then trying to give the specific marks to match this score. I really don’t see anything wrong about this — the overall impression is not always easy to divide into its parts. Sometimes I find that summing up all the parts will give a high score which I do not feel tight for the sample. This means you will have to amend your score on the sheet — not always a good idea, especially when there a lot of amendments that you make. As my president told me once — it’s better to spend 30 seconds more with a sample than amending the score afterwards — very true.

7 Points calculation trick for a novice

Unlike the last Vinitaly competition where the perfect IPad judging technique was successfully presented in 2014, the Concours is still dealing with paper — with all its disadvantages. And the first one on your list will be scores calculation. It’s not officially required to put the score mark on the OIV evaluation sheets, but unofficially you will be doing this in 100% of times — partly to give the medals and partly to correlate yourself with other judges on your panel (“hey, how much did you give this one? 78? Are you kidding?”).

So this is the easy way to know the score without wasting your precious time summing up all the individual segments like intensity, quality, harmony, etc. First you sum up the “perfect scores’. 100 points is of course is when you checked all the maximum boxes. The middle score with the second row of boxes checked is, thus, 86 points (we assume that you will always score the visual evaluation at maximum — almost a rule for every sample — not to judge the wine by its visual presentation). So what you will be mostly summing and subtracting from 86 points for still wines and 87 points for sparklings. So, for example if the wine is quite good and you gave all the scores in the second row — and for example gave a quality rating in the third row — you now just have to deduct 3 points from 86, resulting in 83 score. The same way of fast calculation applies to all other scorings. Saves much tiempo!

8 “People’s choice” vs taster’s personal opinion

During CMB I saw several times when judges take into consideration some “people like it” factor. I dismiss this practice totally — we are not here to give wines scores based on what we think the “crowds might think” about this wine. This is out job as professionals to judge wines strictly with no attention to their probable success in the supermarkets. “I don’t like it, but people’s gonna like it” makes this judgement not yours and not “people’s” because you cannot talk about “people” of the world — in each country there are its own “people” and their choice and opinion you don’t really know.

9 Drink water, don’t eat too much bread

It’s essential to clear your palate, especially from strong tannic and *bad* wines. The more you drink — the better.

The bread thing is much less useful in my opinion. If you eat bread, don’t forget to clean the mouth with water afterward to remove the crumbs. And yes, bread has taste, so be careful. Personally, I try to avoid eating bread during the tastings at all.

10 Give yourself time to rest

Do not use yourself up. Rest during the breaks. Do some exercises, take some fresh air outside, drink a coffee. During CMB you can even take short breaks during the flight if you’re tired — nobody will normally stop you.

11 Dress yourself : it’ll be freaking cold!

Both reds and whites are normally served at chilly temperatures — which is good for tasting bad bad if you come dressed for the summer. It may be hot outside the venue, but you are going to freeze inside. The last day I was sitting in both a jacket and a light springtime coat. Take some warm clothes with you.

12 Take essential medicine to prevent allergy and flu

CMB is always held in the spring period where everything is starting to blossom. If you have an allergic reaction to this — judging will be a nightmare, and you can trust me on this one. Take precautions several weeks in advance to fight your condition and take essential meds with you to the tasting. Keeping you nose clean is the most important thing to do, because 80% of judgement comes from smelling the aroma and analysing retronasal vibes coming from the wine when you take a sip and spit.

13 Consult you panel president, but also other jury

This is your major source of help and support during CMB. Still, over time you will find that different presidents give different advice, sometimes conflicting each other. You will have to deal with that yourself and use your brain to select the right advice.

14 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.

15 A mobile toothbrush will do you good

Your teeth will suffer at first place. Not only literary — but also visually. Red wine will make ’em, eh, bluish. So — brushing your teeth in the local bathroom is painful but very useful for a good CMB picture!