Discrepancies between wine competitions

IWC vs. Decanter Awards
Champagne Results

This is not a hatchet job on the International Wine Challenge (IWC). Even if I wanted to perform one, as chair of two Decanter World Wine Award (DWWA) panels, any such attempt would inevitably backfire. The truth is, however, that I have fond memories of the old days of IWC, I’m pleased that the IWC is going from strength to strength, and believe the competitive effect these two wine competitions have on each other is extremely healthy.

If I meant this to be a serious, statistical study, I would have included the International Wine & Spirit Competition, and compared all classes of award and failure, but this is not an in-depth analysis. In fact, it started off as nothing more than a personal exercise, but when I discovered that both competitions had awarded a similar number of top medals (22 Golds and 3 Trophies for the IWC, 23 Golds and 3 Trophies for the DWWA), I thought that a comparison table might make interesting wider reading.

How the gongs stacked up

The total number of Champagnes judged was 270 for the IWC and 211 for the DWWA. There were some serious variances, but as the table below illustrates:

      Nine Champagnes the IWC gave gold, the DWWA gave gold


      One DWWA trophy the IWC gave gold, and one IWC trophy the DWWA gave gold


      Six DWWA golds the IWC gave silver, and 2 IWC golds the DWWA gave silver


The results of a further nine Champagne golds could not be directly compared because they were not submitted to one competition or the other (and for one DWWA Champagne, two consecutive samples were corked), making the variances remarkably small. Anyone who has judged at a competition will understand how close a silver and gold medal can be, especially when scores fluctuate between high silver and low gold. The late Jerry Mead used to say that consumers are interested only in gold medals, but in the best organised competitions, silver medals can be very hard to earn.

So why the discrepancies?

Although it is impossible to know for sure without being present at both competitions, it is reasonable to speculate on various reasons why some of the wider differences listed below under “Not So Close” and “Wide Apart” might have legitimately occurred. Nigh-subliminal TCA scalping the fruit in one bottle at one competition but not the other could be a cause, but even if we rule that out (who is going to invent a hand-held TCA detector?), the oxygen ingress of pure, untainted cork still varies by up to 1,200-fold, thus bottle variation, particularly on older vintages, could be the difference between success and failure.

Looking at a specific example, how could the IWC rate Taittinger NV Les Folies de la Marquetterie as merely commended, when the DWWA awarded it a Trophy? If I was at the IWC tasting, I might well have agreed with their judges, and I’ll give you a few reasons why.

Taittinger launched this pure Premier Cru Champagne in 2006 with a 2002-based cuvée, and although competent enough, this new Champagne never grabbed me sufficiently to recommend it. The DWWA Trophy went to the second release, which is based on the extreme 2003 vintage, with 10% reserve wine from 2002. When I first tasted the 2003-based cuvée last year, it was recently disgorged, not balanced and tasted too sweet, but at this year’s DWWA tasting the same wine had extended post-disgorgement ageing, with wonderfully toasty aromas and chocolate-covered tangerine fruit melting onto the palate.

I have tasted with many of the IWC chairs and judges and know it is their sort of Champagne. Had they been at the DWWA tasting, I’m sure they would have given it a very high gold, just as I’m sure that had I been at the IWC tasting, I’m sure that I would have noticed whatever they did and consequently given Les Folies de la Marquetterie nothing higher than a commended. I am sure because it is simply too good a Champagne for there not to have been something radically different about the IWC sample.

The discrepancy of Taittinger NV Les Folies de la Marquetterie is merely an anomaly. The results of both competitions show a remarkable degree of agreement in their gold medal selection, with a relatively small variance. Where the disagreement is not due to a different disgorgement, TCA scalping or oxygen ingress variation, the even smaller variance that remains can itself be put down to different approaches to judging and, sometimes, purely stylistic preference. And that’s not a bad thing.

Comparing the results in depth

QUOTE: A bit of variance is good, but so is agreement. It undermines the argument of Gluck and Isark that competitions are lotteries.” Tim Atkin MW, Co-Chairman, IWC

Champagne DWWA IWC
No Argument
Charles Heidsieck 1989 Brut Millésime Gold Gold
Charles Heidsieck 1985 Charlie Gold Gold
Charles Heidsieck 1981 Charlie Gold Gold
Marks & Spencer 1996 Orpale Grand Cru Gold Gold
Piper-Heidsieck 2000 Brut Millésime Gold Gold
Piper-Heidsieck 1988 Rare Millésime Gold Gold
Piper-Heidsieck 1979 Rare Millésime Gold Gold
Taittinger 2002 Brut Gold Gold
Taittinger 1998 Comtes Blanc de Blancs Brut Gold Gold
Very Close
Waitrose 1996 Vintage Trophy Gold
Piper-Heidsieck 1999 Rare Millésime Gold Trophy
Asda  2000 Extra Special Gold Silver
Jacquart NV Brut de Nominée Gold Silver
Piper-Heidsieck NV Cuvée Réservée Florens Louis Gold Silver
Piper-Heidsieck NV Cuvée Sublime Gold Silver
Veuve Clicquot 2002 Vintage Brut Gold Silver
Taittinger 2002 Comtes Rosé Brut Gold Silver
Mailly 1998 Les Echansons Silver Gold
Sainsbury’s 1997 Taste the Difference Vintage Silver Gold
Not So Close
Charles Heidsieck 1999 Brut Rosé Millésime Trophy Bronze
Taittinger NV Les Folies de la Marquetterie Trophy Commended
Charles Heidsieck 1995 Blanc des Millénaires Gold Bronze
Heidsieck & Co Monopole 2000 Silver Top Gold Bronze
Taittinger NV Prélude Grand Cru Gold Bronze
Veuve Clicquot 2002 Vintage Rich Gold Bronze
Duval-Leroy 2002 Authentis Clos des Bouveries Bronze Gold
Wide Apart
Charles Heidsieck 1993 Blanc des Millénaires No Medal Trophy
Michel Lenique NV Blanc de Blancs Brut Reserve No Medal Gold
Ritz NV Brut No Medal Gold
Deutz 1999 Cuvée William Deutz Rosé Commended Gold
Gobillard & Fils NV Grande Réserve 1er Cru Commended Gold
Impossible to compare
Chapuy 2002 Brut Réserve Grand Cru Gold Not submitted
J Dumangin Fils 2000 Gold Not submitted
Jacquart 2000 Brut Gold Not submitted
Fleury NV Brut Not submitted Gold
Paul Goerg 2000 Brut Not submitted Gold
Philipponnat 2000 Grand Blanc Brut Not submitted Gold
Philipponnat 2000 Réserve Millésimée Brut Not submitted Gold
Henriot NV Blanc Souverain No Show Trophy
Veuve Clicquot 1998 La Grande Dame Samples corked Gold