2014 Decanter World Wine Awards

By / Magazine / September 26th, 2014 / 33

It is somehow fitting that the Decanter World Wine Awards should be held at Tobacco Dock in the East End of London. From the outside, Tobacco Dock looks like a women’s prison. According to its website, the massive building was constructed “in the early 19th century as a secure bonded warehouse for the receipt and storage of tobacco from the New World. Tobacco Dock was designed to offer complete security for precious and highly desirable goods.” Refurbished two years ago as an event venue, the place is ideal for wine tasting, full of natural light from the glass ceilings. And what is more highly desirable than wines of quality!

I’ve been the Regional Chair for Canada at the DWWA for several years now and have seen it outgrow its first home — a photographic studio complex called The Worx in Parsons Green, south west London. The 2014 competition received more than 15,000 entries, making it the largest wine judging in the world. The statistics give you an idea of the logistical nightmare involved in mounting such a competition: 220 judges from 28 countries (including 67 Masters of Wine and 17 Master Sommeliers). 6,000 Riedel glasses a day. 5,200 boxes of wines that have to be moved around; that means 60,000 individual bottles that have to be put in masking plastic bags, stickered with code numbers, arranged into flights and delivered to the panels.

The woman in charge of this enterprise is Sarah Kemp, long time publishing director of Decanter Magazine (billed on its cover as “The world’s best wine magazine”). In 2003, she acceded to Steven Spurrier’s suggestion that the magazine mount a competition to rival the well-established London-based International Wine Challenge. Now that DWWA has surpassed the IWC in numbers there is no love lost between the two organizations.

Steven Spurrier, whom you will recall set the wine world on its ear in 1976 when he organized “The Judgement of Paris” blind tasting, set the competition’s rules and is the chief judge.

Sarah Kemp told me: “Originally, I hated wine competitions. The reason was I thought they came out with very solid international-style wines but not wines of typicity, which is what Decanter is about. I think the success of the competition was to divide it regionally and put people who really knew the regions in charge. They would be the policemen of typicity and they direct their panels. I recognized that people really needed advice and we could never make recommendations in the numbers that we do without the competition.”

And what makes the Decanter World Wine Awards so successful? “We are absolutely rigorous about whom we invite to judge,” says Kemp. “I don’t believe this is a training ground for people. Our duty is to get the very best possible. Why? Because it’s not a bottle of wine we’re judging but a year’s work of somebody, and therefore we have a professional responsibility because we have influence to really select the very best tasters in the world. And when those tasters come, we have to put them in an environment where they have nothing to do but concentrate on the wines.”

My fellow judges on the Canadian panel were Janet Dorozynski from Ottawa,  Barbara Philip MW and Rhys Pender MW from British Columbia. After three days of tasting 245 Canadian wines we awarded 14 Gold medals, 36 Silver, 79 Bronze and 45 Commended (for the total results, see www.decanter.com/dwwa).

When I told my sister-in-law that every April I go to London to judge the Decanter competition, she said: “Is there really that much difference every year in decanter designs?”


Tony Aspler, Order of Canada recipient, has been writing about wine since 1975. He is the author of 18 wine books, including The Wine Atlas of Canada and three wine murder mystery novels. The best concert he ever attended was Rush with the Tragically Hip as the opening band. His favourite comfort food is milk chocolate and his cocktail of choice is a Kir Royale. At home, he drinks wine (lots of wine).

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