Robert Whitley On How Wine Competitions are Judged

Wine columnist critic and competition judge Robert Whitley

Wine critic and competition director Robert Whitley

If you sell wine, you likely know about wine competitions. Did you ever wonder how or why a particular wine was awarded a gold medal? In this episode, Robert Whitley explains everything you ever wanted to know about wine competitions, including how one becomes a wine judge. Robert — who was just made the list of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the Wine Industry — is the executive director of four major wine competitions — Critics Challenge, Winemaker Challenge, Sommelier Challenge, and the San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge. He’s been running competitions for over 20 years, and been a judge himself for close to 30. So if anyone knows the process — and why you should care — it’s Robert. Before we get into the ins and outs of wine competitions, however, the conversation begins with Robert’s career as a sports journalist. Wait, what? That’s right, Robert started out in sports, and covered the New York Knicks for New York Newsday when the Knicks won their first NBA championship in 1970. Robert was only 19 years old and doing interviews with Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, and Dave DeBusschere, among others. You’ll hear the story of how Robert went from reporting the hardwood greats as a beat writer to sniffing the wood barrel aromas in wine as a nationally syndicated wine columnist. From there, Robert goes in-depth in our conversation about wine competitions. Each of his “challenges” has a different set of judges — as you might guess, the Winemaker Challenge is comprised primarily of winemakers, the Critics Challenge is made up of wine critics / journalists, and the Sommelier Challenge panel is exclusively sommeliers. Despite those contrasting groups, the number of medals awarded is fairly consistent across all of the competitions.
  • How and why Robert created his wine competitions
  • The process a bottle goes through in a blind-tasting competition (wines are tasted blind in all of Robert’s competitions)
  • How wines are assessed, judged, and scored
  • What goes into choosing judges for each of his competitions
  • How one can become a judge, and the training needed to do so
  • Which competition pays the highest fees to judges
  • How wine quality has changed over the past 30 years
  • Why a wine can earn no medal in one competition and a gold medal in another
  • The best time to enter a wine into a competition
  • How competitions can help market wine
  • Why his judges taste red wines in the morning and whites in the afternoon
  • Why he doesn’t have all judges taste sparkling wines
  • How he pairs judges with categories of wine
  • Which regions around the world offer the best wine values
  • The best Brunello he ever tasted
  • How judges can taste hundreds of wines in one day
  • Palate calibration, training, and fatigue
  • Robert’s secret for combating palate fatigue
  • The competitions that receive the most Champagne entries
More about Robert Whitley and his competitions can be found through the following links: Competitions Critics Challenge | Winemaker Challenge | Sommelier Challenge | San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge Robert’s wine column at Creators Syndicate Wine Review Online You can follow Robert Whitley on Twitter @wineguru Please be sure to SUBSCRIBE to Wine Biz 360 on your iPhone or Android device. If you have ideas for an upcoming episode or would like to be a guest, please email Joe. Post your comments and questions below.

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