Between Narince and Nerello Mascalese?

Judging at #MundusVini – and a Georgian wine focus

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

March 4 2018

It was an intense three-day period of tasting at the Mundus Vini wine competition. I discovered new grapes and made new friends, and it was fun to see many old friends and fellow judges in my fourth year at this event. As ever, I found myself in an eclectic international panel of tasters led by Anne Meglioli, who runs a publishing house for oenologically themed books that can be quite technical. Anne has years of experience tasting and assessing wines, and she was also a great president for our group, which included an Armenian, a Norwegian, a Swiss and two French tasters as well as me – a Greek-American.

Tasting at #MundusVini 2018. Our panel, from left to right: Pierre Thomas of Switzerland (Lausanne), Artem Parseghyan of Armenia, Michel Blanc of France (Châteauneuf du Pape), me, Anne Meglioli of France (although she is based in Bologna, Italy) and Tor Frostmo of Norway.

This 22nd edition of the Mundus Vini Grand International Wine Award had been going on already before I arrived, having been expanded to six days of tasting. Due to time constraints, I could take part only from Friday 23 February through to Sunday 25 February.

As you can see in the tables below, more wine than ever was submitted to the wine competition in 2018. Most wines submitted – 1,730 – came from Italy, followed by some 1,370 from Spain, 760 or so from France, and many others.

My first day included tasting several still wines described as “Blanc de Noirs” with up to 45 grams per liter of residual sugar, prompting the questions “Who made these wines and why?”. 😳

While our panel evaluated common styles of wines, from Grenache-dominated Côte du Rhones and Viognier, to Merlot driven Bordeaux and Italian Primitivo, we also had first-ever experiences with dry Narince-based white wine. The grape is grown in Anatolia, Turkey. Another novelty was the somewhat boring experience trying a crossing of Chardonnay and Chasselas dubbed Doral and used to make some whites in Switzerland. I would not write home about the one we tried, but others could be tasty enough. I just have not tried them yet. 

We also tasted a series of Nerello Mascalese wines, which was another first for me.

Apparently a light-bodied red that primarily grows on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, our flight of seven such wines started strong, with a 2016 vintage that exuded red berry fruit aromatics, subtle floral aspects and earthy spice. The global score in our tasting group was “high silver”: somewhere between 87 and 89 out of 100 points. But it went mostly downhill from there, with too many of the rest either being tired and old (especially the oldest wine, a 2014, which came across as DOA, making me wonder if this variety is meant to drink young).

I suppose we just had bad luck.

This competition gathered some 260 tasters from around the world to assess over 6,000 wines from 44 countries in six days. The tasters were divided into groups of five or six, who judged the wines in excellent conditions at the beautiful concert hall the Stadthalle Saalbau in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse.

Tasting dynamics 

Now you might think that cultural tasting differences could lead to groups disagreeing on wines, based on said cultural differences. Based on my experience here, some of that exists. Fellow panelist Michel Blanc – who is president of the Federation of Producers Unions in Châteauneuf du Pape – tended to score some Grenaches and Roussillon-based wines higher than most of us, 😊 but he was not being overly biased. In any case, such biases are minimal, in that panelists have years of experience tasting wines based on objective criteria.

Decisions, decisions

Tasting wines in a formal setting included having proper stemware, tasting sheets with specific criteria (see photo above) and not knowing the producers or even countries of origin, but rather the grape (or grapes) used to make the wine and the vintage. We tasted blind in that sense, so as to not judge labels, although there were clues as to origins.

For example, we were all set for a series of Pinot Gris with residual sugars, and as it turned out, they all came from Alsace. On the other hand, a series of somewhat flat and uninspiring Roussillon based wines were not from Châteauneuf du Pape, for example, but rather from the Languedoc.

I have already written in these pages of the challenges of tasting blind in such a setting.

In cases of group conflict, one needs to focus and be ready to defend why one liked a wine or not. Luckily our group proved rather “cohesive” in its judgements, although we sometimes disagreed. I was an outlier, for example, for a Primitivo that we had tried, and which I had found particularly astringent. On another occasion, another taster was an outlier for one of the aforementioned Pinot Gris, which almost everyone graded gold – and he found not even worthy of silver.

Our panel and our president

In such cases where five out of 6 like (or dislike) a wine, the majority carries the day. It gets more complicated when you have, say, two judges grade a wine gold, two silver and two no medal. Typically a bit of discussion ensues to defend one’s position. In general, an average score is made – adding up all the points per individual and dividing by six. And the role of the president is key. Anne proved to be a great president in that she rarely tried to impose her point of (informed) view and tried to take into account everyone’s opinions in cases of disagreement.

In praise of the students

Students went to each table to let the president of each panel first taste the wine, so as to be sure that there were no faults, before the rest of the panel had a go at tasting. And so it went for each wine, and we went through scores of wine each morning. The students were all great. If a wine was faulty, they would bring a second bottle. Maintaining a rhythm that worked for the entire panel was important – and everything went smoothly. Below a video of Christoph Meininger asking for a round of well deserved applause for the students at the final day of the tastings.

We always have a good time after the tastings when each year the event features a special guest region or country. For example last year, we heard about the wines of Spain.

Wines of Georgia 

This year, we enjoyed a tasting of the wines of Georgia, where Vladimer Kublashvili of Winery Khareba  served several Georgian wines of varying styles. His Power Point presentation was clear and concise in explaining the various grapes used, and the “numbers” on the various wines we tasted: from alcohol and acidity levels to information on blending and vineyard and vat room practices.

Rkatsiteli: one of the most famous varieties grown in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia, made in Qvevri (traditional Georgian method). I liked it.

Of course the Rkatsiteli Qvevri 2013 stumped some tasters not accustomed to the style of this unique winemaking method, which Sarah May Grunwald of Taste Georgia explained in a previous article in these pages. The dark amber color comes from a long maceration period yielding dried apple and spicy pear aromas and flavors.

Over dinner after this tasting, we tried a 2014, which seemed rather tired to me. I liked the 2013 – and for just about €8 a bottle, this is a deal. Another wine I liked was the more straightforward dry white Krakhuna 2017 made from the eponymous grape and in the western part of Georgia, in the Imereti region.

Georgian wine tasting followed by fine dinner at the excellent 1720 restaurant in Deidesheim

At 12% alcohol, with 6 grams per liter of acidity and just under 2 grams of residual sugar per liter, this wine came across crispy and dry: it was hardly complex but I could easily imagine enjoying this on a warm summer afternoon, for example, at the beginning of an outdoor barbecue. I had a harder time with the Kindzmarauli 2016, a medium sweet red that is popular in Georgia, according to Archil Dzidziguri, who works for the Georgian consulate in nearby Frankfurt. But I did like the two dry reds that we tried at the tasting: both the Saperavi Premium 2012 and the Khareba “aged” 2012 were quite good. Indeed, the latter earned a 95 point rating from Decanter in a recent issue, although I was not as impressed as that.

After the tasting, participants gathered at the very fine 1720 restaurant in Deidesheim, where more Georgian wines were served, drawing varying reactions. Some enjoyed the Rkatsiteli Qvevri 2014, for example, while others – like myself – found it tired. The Khareba aged wine – this time from a different vintage, was not so great. However, many people at our table, including South African judge Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright and me, really liked the 2013 vintage of the Saperavi Premium, which had earned gold at a previous Mundus Vini judging.

As you can see in the above video, we also learned that saying cheers is so important in Georgia that official toaster are even paid for the job of saying cheers. Over our dinner, the first toast was to peace and the second to family. Truly, wine brings people together to enjoy a product that can give you a pleasant buzz and promote conversation, preferably in a civil fashion. Our Georgian evening dinner proved that point yet again.

More politicians – and some Facebook posters – should drink (more) wine. 😁



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