Judging wines: does your dentist need the work?

23:30, Sep 03 2012
Helen Morrison
Fresh palate: Learning to become a senior judge at wine shows takes lots of sensory practice – and getting good at spitting so the alcohol doesn’t impair judgment, says associate judge and Indevin winemaker Helen Morrison.

Wine show judges need mental stamina, good decision-making skills and a really good dentist, says Indevin winemaker Helen Morrison.

Miss Morrison is one of eight associate judges joining the ranks of 12 official judges who will be tasting more than 1100 wines entered into the Spiegelau International Wine Competition in Blenheim from today.

The associate judges will emulate the senior judges and taste and mark the wines, but their scores will not be added to the score.

Rather their scores will be compared with the senior judging scores, to measure their accuracy and consistency.

Miss Morrison, 35, has been making wine for six vintages in Marlborough and started out stewarding - or serving - for wine competitions in 2008 as a gateway to judging.

"It gave me a really good understanding of the backroom work and the massive amount of organisation that goes into a show."


Judging wines gives her the chance to see how wine styles are trending, and the opportunity to learn from some of top wine makers and writers in the trade.

"It's interesting to see the flavours of certain styles changing every couple of years, and although we don't know what winery or country they are from, it's good to keep on top the trends."

Being invited to judge at wine shows depends on the competition, but usually it involves lots of practice and a proven record of accurate and consistent judging, she said.

She stepped up as a senior judge at the 2012 Bragato Wine Awards two weeks ago.

"It was really exciting, you have to back yourself more, like if the other judges didn't see it I had to be able to convince them to agree with me."

Despite the long days and effects of acid on the teeth from tasting more than 100 wines a day, wine shows are a lot of fun and offer the opportunity to travel around the world.

"When you're tasting 120 to 180 wines it can be a pretty long day," she said.

"You have to convince yourself that your palate is still as fresh on the 100th wine as the first wine, and you need to have a really good dentist."

And how does one taste 180 wines a day without feeling light in the head? "I learned early on to get really good at spitting."

The Marlborough Express