Tales From The Tasting Room: Wine Champions' Tastings With A Difference

If you've been a Wine Society member a while you'll know all about our annual Wine Champions offer, the culmination of months of blind tastings by our panel of expert wine buyers, to find the best of our best for current drinking. This year, for obvious reasons, these tastings will need to be organised a little differently to ensure our buyers can taste the wines whilst adhering to social distancing rules. Catherine Housden from our tastings and events team has been helping with the logistics, preparing the room for the first rounds and organising and then pouring the myriad samples of wine. We asked her to give us a sneaky peak behind the scenes to find out how the team are going to conduct the Wine Champs tastings this year.

Tales From The Tasting Room

Going behind the scenes of our annual Wine Champs' blind tastings

The past week has seen the first of our buyer blind tastings for the 2021 Wine Champions offer take place; how strange it is to think that around this time last year was the last time all our buyers were together in the tasting room, sipping their way through hundreds of bottles to find those wines worthy of being crowned Champions for 2020.

The annual Wine Champions offer, due for release in the summer of 2021, has become a Society stalwart and so while the criteria wines are required to meet to become Champions remains unchanged, the blind tastings in practice have had to be adapted. This year sees the tastings take place in the Members' Room in Stevenage – a much bigger space than the new tasting room which opened last year.

This allows each buyer attending to have their own table and, as it's too tricky to taste in a mask, perspex screens assembled to shield between buyer and pourer, another addition this year to minimise handling of the bottles. I, along with my colleague Gil Riggans from the tastings and events team, am one of those pourers. While this is a different way of tasting from anything any of us are used to, it's great to be back in the Members' Room and to be privy to the thoughts of the buying team as they discuss the wines. You do get to learn so much from an exercise like this.

All the wines in the blind tastings have been selected and submitted by each of the buyers to be tasted with their identity concealed; the only additional information they have is a vague stylistic or regional category and price bracket. For the next four weeks, the breadth of the wine world will have been tasted and whittled down to the final winning Wine Champions of 2021 – but you'll have to wait until the summer to find out what they are!

Catherine Housden

Tastings & Events

Catherine Housden

Catherine joined the Tastings team in 2019 after three years in Member Services, and many members will know her in her role as Tastings & Events host. Away from work she is a keen cook and, in a bid to become more eco-savvy, has started learning basic dressmaking. Her top food and wine match? ‘Fino or manzanilla sherry with tapas. All day, every day.’

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