The People’s Choice Wine Awards

I had a very pleasant diversion this weekend, braving the rain and travelling to Manchester for the People’s Choice Wine Awards. A wide range of people met in the function room of Yang Sing, in China Town, for an afternoon of focused wine judging.

It’s a very different affair to most wine awards. This one is consumer driven – both in the judging and in the categories up for grabs. Accordingly, the judging chamber contained a fascinating mix of people. Some of my absolute favourites from Wine Twitter, industry representatives, and plenty of enthusiastic wine drinkers without qualification or trade connections. And beautifully, everyone was one a completely equal standing when it came to the judging.

Getting Stuck In

Apart from writing the odd tasting note for wine labelling purposes, it was the first time since I completed my WSET Level 3 that I was asked to quantify the quality of wines. And having a new set of criteria to judge against was extremely refreshing. The wine snob factor was well and truly kicked to the kerb by criteria like ‘how likely am I to buy this?’ It reminds me very much of what I tell people at my wine tastings – often the best tasting note is simply a thumbs up, or a thumbs down. It doesn’t matter about producer, grape, price point or anything else when it comes down to it – just that you enjoy drinking it.

We were divided into tables and each tackled a few categories. It was an absolute joy to be seated next to @AngieYWine of Twitter fame who I have never had the pleasure of meeting in person before. There was also a great mix of WSET staff, the lovely Jeff from Newcastle Eats, a farmer and vine grower and more. A lot of the PCWA categories are concerned with wines that are food friendly – helping the consumer to make an informed choice at the supermarket or wine merchant. Of course the entrants are self selecting the categories they submit their wines too, so it was great to have how well the wine matched the category as a criteria, as some of the wines were lovely, but didn’t really fit so comfortably under the definition.

Food Friendly Wines

One of our categories was food friendly wines for aromatic and Asian food. Happily Yang Sing provided us with a spring roll and piece of prawn toast each to help us along (in case we’d forgotten what they taste like I suppose). I don’t know how representative those flavours necessarily are of this sweepingly large category, but it put me in mind of bold, complex and often spicy flavours, so I was looking for wines with a good balance of acidity, relatively low alcohol that wouldn’t fight the spice and enough flavour to balance with the power of these cuisines.

A very interesting category was Boxing Clever, which came with accompanying surveys before and after the tasting. This is part of a piece of research into bag in box wines and I’ll be honest, our whole table was skeptical about these wines, regardless of experience and training. The tasting did very little to change our minds, although the clear consensus arose that the whites were all essentially undrinkable, but the reds were surprisingly palatable. Not good, but drinkable. If you’re in a tight spot. I’m sure there must be much better examples of bag in box wines out there than the ones we tried, but this blind tasting has done nothing to encourage me to experiment.

We were also lucky to be allocated the ‘treat yourself’ red category, the more expensive still wines at £10 and above. I’ll be honest, most of them did not score much higher than the aromatic white category on my sheet, but there were 2 or 3 really interesting and very good quality samples in there that I really enjoyed.

Consumer Driven

It was brilliant to be a part of this happy bunch of wine lovers. I loved having the chance to try so many potentially new wines, although we have to hope that they publish the full list of entrants so we can take a guess at which ones in particular we liked individually. The dedication to parity through blind tasting was admirable. I wonder if I would be tempted to take things one step further, and not disclose the categories in all cases. The temptation must always be to score ‘treat yourself’ wines higher than ‘boxing clever’ samples. Although in the case of the food pairing there was no indication of price point so this was less open to psychological warfare.

And now we wait for the final results to be calculated. I can’t wait to hear the recommendations of the group and really hope that the public will look up these awards to help inform their purchasing decisions in the coming months. I will definitely be taking note of the winners! Thanks to the PCWA for selecting me as one of the judges!

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