The Judging Process
Introducing the IWSC way of judging with our 7-point checklist of what makes us different:
Dedicated judging premises at IWSC HQ
Custom-built cellar to store submitted wines & spirits
Judging schedule over seven months of the year
Samples served in numbered glasses
At least seven judges per panel
More than 400 judges from over 30 countries
Second round chemical analysis of winners
Winning a coveted IWSC award isn’t easy, but that’s what makes the medal so well respected among trade and consumers alike. Our panels of handpicked industry experts judge entries over seven months of the year to ensure a considered approach to tasting is adhered to for each and every product.
The Competition runs a structured and rigorous two-stage judging process, first using the ‘double blind’ judging method, meaning samples are tasted in pre-poured numbered glasses so that judges never see a bottle. Click here to see the journey of the bottle.
Judges taste no more than 60 samples a day to avoid palate fatigue, and each product is judged by a whole panel in sync, allowing for group discussions.
The second stage of the judging is the detailed chemical and microbiological analysis, which is undertaken by an independent third party to identify "show products" that may not be the true representation of the product that consumers would buy from the shelf. The Competition’s independent Technical & Judging Committee meet once a quarter to ensure the upmost integrity, accuracy and impartiality during the judging process.
How it works
All entrants are sorted by our in-house WSET Diploma qualified tasting managers into flights for tasting. The spirits are tasted by style, region (if applicable), age and ABV, while wines are tasted by variety, type, region, area and vintage.
Samples are presented in flights of numbered glasses to avoid the possibility of judges being influenced by the shape, weight, packaging or crest of a particular bottle. Judges are provided with an IWSC crib sheet and given the basic parameters of the class being assessed. Samples are initially assessed quietly; and without comment, then scores are collected by the panel chair and an open discussion is held. When judges are unable to reach a majority decision, flights will be referred to another panel.
Judging takes place over seven months of the year in the Competition’s dedicated tasting premises. Judges are strictly prohibited from entering the Competition cellar and preparation area before, during or after Competition judging sessions. All results remain confidential until officially released.
Wines and spirits that win the top awards then go forward to a second round of judging to compete for national, regional and international trophies.
The Competition randomly select winners to undergo official technical analysis by Campden BRI. In some instances, the results of this analysis may lead to marks being deducted (affecting the level of an award) or even outright rejection. The aim of the testing is to eliminate products which may be organoleptically attractive now but which may begin to change over time, e.g. oxidization or increased levels of volatile acid.
- Wine analysis
This analysis covers free and total sulphur dioxide, iron, copper, total acidity, volatile acidity (acetic acid), pH, ascorbic acid, sugar, alcohol, sugar free extract and microbiology. In addition, certain wines will be screened by gas chromatography for methanol, sorbitol and other potential contaminants.
- Spirit analysis
This analysis will always include alcohol and sugar content, as well as screening for possible illegal additives by gas chromatography techniques.
Why do we need 4 bottles?
- The first bottle is for the initial round of judging.
- The second bottle is for the chemical analysis.
- The third is for a second round of judging if the product goes forward for a trophy.
- The final bottle is contingency in case a bottle is out of condition or damaged in transit (the IWSC provides entrants a second chance rather than giving the initial product an unfairly judged low score).
Why all the deadlines?
The deadlines are carefully planned each year to reflect differences in the global wine harvests around the world in order to present the newest, freshest products to the judging panels.
For example, the deadline for New Zealand wine entries is as late as possible to ensure we can accept 2016 vintages into the 2016 competition.
As all entries are received into the Competition’s dedicated cellars, the multiple deadlines help with precise cellar management to ensure each bottle received is stored correctly and treated with the care and consideration it deserves. Each product received is unpacked by experienced Competition staff and cellared accordingly to remain in the best condition for judging. The multiple deadlines also allow the judging process to be staggered over a 7 month period ensuring the judges only taste a maximum number of wines and / or spirits per judging session.
Quality of the highest order
Gold 90 – 92.9
Superior example; setting the standard
Silver Outstanding 86 – 89.9
Outstanding example; excellent quality
Silver 80 – 85.9
Fine example; excellent quality
Bronze 75 – 79.9
Good example; well above average
66 – 74.9
Good but not worthy of an award
50 – 65.9
- “As a start-up brand you focus hard on achieving credibility and creating awareness. Winning Gold Outstanding and the Mezcal Trophy provided us with a level of credibility and exposure that we simply could not have achieved on our own. The awards helped secure key listings in Harvery Nichols and Selfridges and certainly played a significant part in opening up dialogue with potential U.S importers and ultimately securing one. I thought hard about which competition to enter and what the return on that investment would be. I can say with absolute confidence that the IWSC was worth every penny.”David ShepherdFounder & Director, Corte Vetusto
- “IWSC is a very important competition to us in terms of showing consumers our quality. It's one of the competitions that we definitely enter on a yearly basis.”Ian ChangMaster Blender, Kavalan Distillery
- “Out of all of the awards, the IWSC is probably the most prestigious and most honest awards. You choose your judges very well and they're very good, honest, decent people. They do it for the love of the industry.”Sukhinder SinghMD, The Whisky Exchange
- “The IWSC is a very prestigious competition. The prestige is a great thing to be able to communicate to our customers who have great respect for it.”David PorterOperations & Buying, Lea & Sandeman
- “The IWSC represents everything, without a doubt. There's no better competition in the world where you can judge yourself not just against your countrymen but against the rest of the world.”Andy AndersonWinemaker, Takapoto Estate
- “Fantastic company and fantastic award . . . In the wine industry, having an award like this is such an accolade.”Claire GriffithsCommercial Director, Vina Cono Sur
- “It's one of the great international awards you can get. It's similar to an Oscar, if you like.”Lenz MoserWinemaker, Yantai Changyu Pioneer Company
- “Because of the number of international judges that are tasting the wines and the number of wines that are being entered, it’s a great privilege for us to receive this award. The history of the competition, the standing that it has amongst the international wine world and certainly amongst one’s peers, to be able to get an award at the IWSC means a lot. There are a lot of competitions around the world – this probably represents the top award you could get as a winemaker.”Gary & Kathy JordanWinemakers, Jordan Wine Estate
- “It’s a great honour to win especially as nowadays people are focusing on the quality not just the numbers, so it does mean a huge amount getting recognition from an institution as well sought after as the IWSC.”Chris BlandyOwner, Blandy's Wines
- “This will be a recognition that will help in building the brand further, and building its prestige around the world.”Victor FuentesDirector General, El Coto de Rioja S.A
- “The IWSC is a well renowned, well looked up to standard and a symbol of premium products so it’s a great achievement to win any award.”Andrea FreeboroughCellar Master, Nederburg Wines