A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 647: Decanter World Wine Awards

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Monday, April 24th: Up at 6:30 am, as I was unfamiliar with the route to ExCel in the Docklands. The journey involved taking the Northern line tube from Kentish Town to Waterloo, changing to the Jubilee line for Canning Town and then transferring to the DLR over-ground to Prince Regent. It takes about an hour.

ExCel is a massive convention centre and it took a little while to find the entrance on the water side (not the Thames at this point but a vast docking area.) The centre occupies a 100-acre site on the northern quay of the Royal Victoria Dock in London Docklands, between Canary Wharf and London City Airport. At the briefing, Decanter’s publisher, Sarah Kemp, informed the judges (there are over 260 of us throughout the five-day judging) that we will collectively sample 17,200 wines from all over the world. I am the Regional Chair of the Canadian panel. My co-judges today are Barb Philip MW and Rees Pender MW from BC and Siniśa Lasan, a wine consultant from Croatia.

a loading dock with hundreds of boxes stacked three high in five rows more than 50 metres long each
Wine entries to the Decanter World Wine Awards

Our morning began with 8 sparkling wines and we awarded one gold medal. Next flight, 11 Pinot from BC and Ontario (one gold) followed by 9 Bordeaux blends from the Okanagan and then, before breaking for lunch, 11 Cabernet Sauvignons from both provinces. After a hearty lunch, including an enormous cheese tray, we returned to our room overlooking the water, to taste 8 Okanagan Chardonnay, 12 Medium-Dry Whites (including two from Nova Scotia), 13 Bordeaux blends and finally 11 Vidal sweet wines, two of which were sparkling. After the tasting we all repaired to the restaurant for a beer, a gin and tonic or a glass of Steven Spurrier’s Bride’s Valley Sparkling Rosé. Then the journey in reverse back to Kentish Town, where I am staying with my old friends, Carole and David Goldberg.

Sommelier with Bride’s Valley pink sparkler

Tuesday, April 25th: Down to ExCel once more. A new judge has joined us – Sandra Knowles, a buyer for The Wine Society here in England. The morning session started with 9 sparkling wines, followed by 9 Riesling (2 golds) and Gewurztraminer. Then 14 Pinot Noir followed by Sirah/Shiraz (a disappointing flight). After lunch 13 Chardonnay, 11 Merlot, 12 BC Bordeaux blends, finishing with 8 icewines, mostly Vidal but including 2 Chardonnay and a Vidal Icewine form Monterégie, Quebec (3 golds here).

Canadian panel: Rees Pender. Sandra Knowles, Barb Philip and me

In the evening I took my hosts to dinner at Delaunay Restaurant in Aldwych. I ordered salmon tartare and a dish I haven’t had since I lived in England – kedgeree. The bottle of Schloss Gobelsberg “Loess” Grüner Veltliner 2015 went beautifully with the lightly curried smoked haddock and rice.

Wednesday, April 26th: The morning started with Medium Dry Riesling from BC and Ontario (2 golds), followed by 9 single-variety wines – including Baco Noir, Gamay, Barbera, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Malbec. Next, 7 Super-Premium Merlot and 13 Okanagan Syrah/Shiraz. After lunch, 9 Ontario Chardonnay, 14 Cabernet Franc, 10 Red Blends and, finally, 11 Riesling Icewines from both Ontario and BC. (Gold here too.) After a glass of rosé sparklng, I made my way over to the judges’ party ay the Bermondsey Yard Café on Bermondsey Street, near the Shard building. Had a couple of glasses of English sparkling wine (Winston Estate) and then wended my way back to Kentish Town.

three bottles of Wiston Estate wines in an ice bucket; the labels are pink, blue, and ivory, respectively

Thursday, April 27: Our final day of judging began with 11 Sauvignon Blanc, 10 Pinot Gris/Grigio. Ending before lunch with 10 red sweet wines (mostly Cabernet Franc Icewines). At one point the room started reverberating with sounds like thunder or a small earthquake. It turned out to be a loud bass used by Tony Robbins giving one of his inspirational seminars and whipping up his followers (disciples?) with loud rock music in another part of the building. Our final obligation was to retaste all the gold medal wines we had awarded to confirm they were worthy of gold and then choose the best wines for the Regional Trophy in each of those categories we had given golds.

Back to Kentish Town. Carole and I went for an Indian meal in the High Street, which I washed down with a Cobra beer (“an Indian beer brand manufactured in the United Kingdom and China,” according to its website). Packed to be ready for my return flight to Toronto tomorrow.

Friday, April 28th: Took the tube all the way to Terminal 2 at Heathrow, bought a doll as a present for my granddaughter and changed my seat. Got an aisle seat at the bulkhead, which means lots of leg room – and mercifully there are two vacant seats between me and a lady on the other aisle. Meal choice: the inevitable pasta or chicken. Wines, both red and white, barely drinkable.


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