A day in a life of a Top 100 Judge by Natalie Earl 

I’m not a breakfast person. I prefer to savour a long black coffee and let my tummy rumble away until lunch. But when a day of tasting 70 wines stretches out ahead of you, breakfast is a must.

On 30 April,   sufficiently fuelled wine experts from the UK wine trade – a star-studded mix of top wine buyers and journalists – gathered for the Top100 judging day. Guided and supported by the new co-chairs of the competition Susie Barrie MW and Peter Richards MW, we were organised into 6 panels of three judges.

The competition’s judging cohort is formed of the most astute palates in the business – the Mi6 of wine, these are highly trained operatives – but it’s still important to start the day with calibration. This involves tasting the first few wines together, seeing where our scores lie, and using this as a benchmark to equilibrate our scoring throughout the day.

The room then fills with swirling, slurping and tapping as descriptors and superlatives fly from frantic fingers and are recorded in the slick new online judging system. But we don’t spend the day in silence. Discussion is important in wine judging. Establishing our expectations for each particular category, region and style before we start tasting each flight is key to digging out the best-performing wines. Finding the balance between eloquently arguing the case for the wines that excite and enamour us, and accepting when our enthusiasm can’t quite be matched by our fellow judges, is both invigorating and humbling as a taster, and is the whole point in judging as a panel. As co-chairs Richards and Barrie reminded us in their morning pep talk, each wine must be given an equal chance to shine.

We scrutinised each wine as an individual, but because wines are flighted by appellation, style or grape variety we also judge a wine within its context, assessing how it fares among its peers. Although we tasted ‘blind’, the online judging system provided us with just enough information about each wine to find those which excelled, be that through exceptional displays of varietal typicity, through drinkability, approachability and value, or through sheer character and pleasure.