Home News > December 2019 > SWA introduces new state of the art judging system

‘It will lift our tasting process to a whole new level’

Paper and clipboards out, real-time info in as SWA goes digital

Can you teach old dogs new tricks? You bet you can. And the Sommelier Wine Awards is going all-out to prove it.

In 2020 the competition will bring in a new state of the art judging system that will allow its sommelier tasters to judge faster and better – and even put together a virtual cellar of their own favourite wines from the competition.

A selection of SWA’s top judges got to grips with the new system last week and declared it an overwhelming hit, with taster after taster excited by the system’s introduction in the New Year.

Credit for the introduction of the new digital tasting/scoring system goes to SWA’s Competition Director, Micaela Martins Ferreira. Since SWA started in 2007, our tasters have written hundreds of thousands of tasting notes on tens of thousands of sheets of paper, and as the competition nears its 14th birthday, she decided that the time had come to drag it into the 21st century.

‘Writing notes with a paper and pen might be tried and tested, but it’s also really slow, inefficient and wasteful and I just felt there had to be a better way,’ she said. ‘Going from paper to online is a big move, but the time seemed right.’

In 2020, for the first time ever, judges will record their scores, tasting notes and food-match suggestions on iPads, with information instantly available to senior judges.

The system has been specially created for SWA by the Danish firm Noteable, by adapting its existing wine scoring/tasting app, which is already proving popular with professional tasters around the world, as a seamless, instant, systematic way of recording – and sharing – thousands of tasting notes.

‘We want to revolutionise the way people taste, rate and document wines,’ said Noteable’s CEO, Christina Rind Helsbro. ‘SWA is the perfect way of creating tools that are useful for the industry.’

So how will it work?

Tasters at this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards will sign up on the day of judging (fully GDPR compliant). Once they join a tasting team, the allotted flights will automatically appear on their screen.

Once they have selected the flight that their team are judging, they tap on the wine that they are tasting and are led through a systematic process of evaluation to a final conclusion screen where they have to select a wine’s fate: in, out or medal.

Tasters have the option of choosing key tasting terms from a range of general descriptors (for instance, ‘citrus fruit’, ‘tropical fruit’, ‘oak’ and ‘minerality’ for whites) or manually typing out their own tasting note in full. This flexibility was a big hit with Head of Judging Christine Parkinson.

‘The new Noteable system for recording tasting notes at SWA is brilliant!’ she enthused. ‘The really clever thing about it is that it will make life easier both for first time judges and for old hands: sommeliers who are more used to talking about a wine than writing about it will find it quick and easy to get all basic info down without missing anything, and experienced judges will find they have more time to explain what they really think about the wine, instead of spending lots of time on the straightforward stuff.’

Once taste descriptors have been recorded, programme then takes the judge quickly through prompts to assess factors such as sweetness, acidity, tannins, alcohol and body, before they are invited to give an overall qualitative assessment – from outstanding to poor.

This will finally lead the teams on to a series of slider buttons, which judges can move up and down to quickly rate criteria such as finish, balance, complexity and value for money.

Early trials featuring dozens of actual real live SWA judges suggest the system is not just thorough, but also intuitive and remarkably quick. ‘The evidence so far suggests judging won’t take any longer than before – in fact it should be easier for the tasters – and we’ll have much better information,’ said Martins.

One of the big advantages for the Team Leaders – whose job it is to oversee the tasting teams and ensure consensus is reached – is that they have real-time access to every judge’s scores and tasting notes in one place.

‘There will be no more clip-boards or hard to read text, and seeing all my judges’ scores and tasting notes in one place will make assessing the wines much clearer,’ said Team Leader Charlie Young of Vinoteca. ‘And I loved the scoring sliders!’

One further bonus for the judges themselves is that they will be able to ‘like’ wines that they taste instantly. Information about that wine – price, name, importer - will then be stored in their own ‘cellar’ and made available to them as soon as the results are announced.

‘This new system is really going to make life easier, with everyone’s comments and scores visible – and trends will be so much more obvious,’ said Parkinson. ‘I think it will lift our judging process to a new level.’