Behind the scenes: who are the typical judges of 5StarWines

Behind the scenes: who are the typical judges of 5StarWines

April 3rd, 2019: it’s a warm spring morning at the Veronafiere. At Vinitaly International, 5StarWines is ready to kick off: the selection of Italian and foreign wines, made by highly qualified international experts will be held here for the next three days. The main protagonists will be the bottles themselves, or at least an abstract image, imagined by the judges as they savor the contents on their palate. In charge of identifying the grape varieties, origins and quality of hundreds of the wines are the judges who blind-taste and scrutinize each sip during the ongoing process.

This time round, we would like to take a look behind the scenes of 5StarWines and shift our attention to the human factor of the event: who are the typical judges of 5StarWines? Which criteria are used to select them? How do they prepare for a demanding tasting that involves the sampling of hundreds of different wines? On our blog we have attempted to answer these questions: starting from the analysis of the people selected, we will try to understand the different qualifications required of these professional tasters.

Judges and the Scientific Committee

First of all, let’s define the whole jury structure, that is, the professionals that gather every year in Verona to evaluate the bottles that are eventually published in 5StarWines – the Book.

At the top, there is the Scientific Committee consisting of five General Chairmen, presided over by the Senior General Chairman. The main tasks required of the Scientific Committee include the selection of the jury, as well as the final judgement of the wines evaluated, having been submitted to them by the various tasting panels; this is done by awarding each bottle with a score equal to, or greater than, 85 points. In the 2019 edition, the title of Senior General Chairman was entrusted to Lynn Sheriff MW, a renowned South African wine expert and educator.

The jury is divided into Panels composed of five judges and, coordinated in turn, by a Panel Chairman or President of the jury. The panel consists of a diverse group of individuals that come from all over the world, with different backgrounds and that work in various fields within the wine industry: each group tastes a fixed number of bottles per session. A specific panel is entrusted with the evaluation of organic, biodynamic and low sulfite wines that make up the special section called Wine Without Walls. In addition to the qualified professionals, the jury also includes Associate judges, as well as wine producers who are members of Assoenologi.

At the end of the three days’ tasting, only labels with a score of 90 points or more will be published in the guide. Last April’s event saw the participation of 100 judges and the promotion of 676 wines.

A world of wine experts

Besides the aforementioned wine producers, there are journalists, columnists, authors, buyers, importers, oenologists, consultants and influencers that also attend 5Star wines. Their presence provides a key link to the final consumer: their ability to taste and evaluate wine is based on their experience as connoisseurs of trends, customer behaviors and international markets.

Then there are of course the professional tasters. Those members of the jury that deal with every aspect of the wine can be further subdivided according to their title (often expressed through an acronym) and the level of certification achieved. Let’s talk about these qualifications in detail.

Who are the typical judges?

Master of Wine (MW): The Institute of Masters of Wine was founded in 1955 and is based in London. The world over, there are only 390 individuals that hold this title. The low number is demonstrative of the extremely thorough training and breadth of knowledge required to become an MW. The courses are held on three continents (Europe, Australasia and America) and require at least three years to complete. The exam, which can be undergone five times within six years, includes three blind-tasting sessions of 12 wines each; five theoretical topics to be developed on various matters such as production, wine business and trending topics; and a research paper of 10,000 words.

Master Sommelier (MS): This certification focuses on the role of the sommelier in hospitality and catering. There are four mandatory levels one must pass to become an MS: Introductory, Certified, Advanced and MS Diploma. There are approximately 240 MS in the world, they hold the highest degree of skill in recognizing wine and its qualities as well as how they interact with food.

Italian Wine Ambassador (IWA) and Italian Wine Expert (IWE): IWA and IWE qualifications are issued by Vinitaly International Academy (VIA), an institution that deals with the education, biodiversity and authenticity of Italian wine. The requirements to access the course are a proficiency in English, and ideally, previous certification through the WSET diploma or its equivalent. The IWA’s and IWE’s take an exam after five days of intensive training; the course is aimed at cultivating effective wine communicators specialized in Italian native grape varieties. At the end of the course, the level of certification depends on the score achieved (between 65 to 90 points to achieve IWA certification, +90 points for IWE). Since 2014, VIA has certified 202 IWA and 14 IWE.

Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET): WSET was founded in 1969 and has more than one million graduates around the world. It is universally acknowledged as the most comprehensive training course in wine and spirits. It consists of four levels in order of increasing difficulty: each of them aims at creating a codified language and a systematic method to define wine and its components, along with a strongly business-oriented approach. The WSET diploma is equal to a professional qualification and is recognized at an international level.

Knights of the Tastevin: The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (the Brotherhood of Knights of Tastevin) is a prestigious folkloristic association of Burgundy, whose main purpose is the promotion of local food and wine. The Brotherhood was founded in 1934 in Nuits-Saint-Georges. Twice a year it organizes exclusive tasting sessions in the picturesque setting of the Château du Clos de Vougeout, where they award the seal of Tastevin to the best bottles of Burgundy. In addition to this, an assembly is called once a month to appoint new members (about 12,000 in the world): the title of Knight of Tastevin is assigned to personalities in the world of wine who have proven themselves as being deeply knowledgeable within the field of French wine.

This is, in summary, the overview of the experts who make up the jury of 5StarWines. In the next article, we will find out how the Scientific Committee selects the jury. Stay tuned!


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Italian Wine Import into South Africa: a brief discussion

Italian Wine Import into South Africa: a brief discussion

Importing Italian wine into South Africa (SA) might seem daunting since it is a prolific wine-producing nation in its own right. Breaking ground in this market takes effort, creativity and smart planning. To understand which wines would do well, and which are the demographics to target, one should first analyze the domestic market.

Domestic wine market situation in South Africa

SA’s domestic wine market situation is quite dynamic in general. SA grows a vast amount of grapes and makes interesting wines; moreover, it has a robust export industry. According to Forbes, the local wine grape acreage of approximately 235,000 acres (95,000 hectares) is more or less equivalent to 40% of the wine grape coverage in California.

SA’s vineyard is generally based on international trends and export demands. Statistics show how white grape varieties constitute 55.2% of the total acreage, with the popular Chenin Blanc representing the 18.6%. Red-wine varieties account for 44.8% of the national vineyard: Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red grape, making up 11.0% of the total. Shiraz comes in second with 10.3%, while Merlot accounts for 5.8%. Finally, the indigenous South African grape Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault) represents the 7.4%.

In terms of global wine production, SA ranks as 10th in overall volume production, accounting for 3.4% of the world’s wine (2018).

But what about Italian producers who are thinking about importing their wines into SA? How do international wines fare within the South African market?

Main issues for Italian wine import in South Africa

SA imports quite a bit of wine from Italy, according to a 2017 WESGRO report. France is the top import market, followed by Italy and Portugal. SA and Europe also enjoy a free trade agreement concerning organic products: since the organic wine industry is currently thriving in Italy, this is a category that producers can take advantage of.

The major issues concerning domestic wine production in SA are those derived from economic growth and spending. Consumers’ behavior concerns those who might be interested in importing wines into the country as well, since there has been a slight slowing-down of economic growth, with consumers spending less on wines over the past few years.

Another issue that might affect Italian importers would be the ever-increasing regulations on branding, as well as those on marketing restrictions on alcoholic products. SA’s legislation is currently quite strict on this matter, giving producers a hard time in distributing their name and limiting the ways they might go about selling their wines.

The advantages Italian wine importers might consider

The question that Italian importers would certainly ask is: how much demand is there for Italian wine in the SA market? The answer can be gleaned by looking at alcohol consumption statistics. Domestically, South Africans drink more beer and wine than the other alcoholic beverages (WHO), with beer (56%) representing the most popular choice (wine accounts “only” for 18%).

In terms of demographics, it seems that males consume more beer than females (34%, four times more than their conunterpart), and this percentage has remained quite consistent over the past 12 years. The prevalence of spirits being consumed amongst males is about twice that of females.

As for wine, the prevalence of consumption amongst males is only marginally higher than the one amongst females. This is the only sub-category where female prevalence is higher than males, and in this category females overtake males, specifically in the sparkling wine/champagne (8% vs. 7%) section. This tells us that there is a market for Italian sparkling wines such as Prosecco and Northern Italy Metodo Classico (Franciacorta, Trentodoc).

Italian wine grapes in South Africa

When it comes to Italian-style wines in SA, it seems that Italian grapes are quite popular. Even though Italian varieties make up a very small segment (under 1%) of South African vineyard, they are always in demand, since about 30 Cape cellars have at least one Italian variety in their portfolio. These data should be taken as a positive sign for Italian importers who want to appeal to the South African market: it seems that they would find a wide fan-base for this genre.


Taking these data into account, it would seem that there is a market for Italian wines in SA, and that some types such as Prosecco might be easier to sell to consumers. Perhaps it might take a little more effort in terms of marketing, but there is room to grow!


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