On 2 July 2023, a jury of over 20 experts met at the Gastronomisches Bildungszentrum in Koblenz to taste and evaluate almost 500 Austrian wines for the "Austrian Wine Awards". The quality level was remarkably high.
Sunday morning, nine o'clock. Koblenz city centre is still pretty much deserted, but the Gastronomisches Bildungszentrum (GBZ) of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce is already bustling with activity. This is where the German Wine and Sommelier School (DWS) - a competence centre of the GBZ - is located and where the tasting for the "Austrian Wine Awards" takes place.
Tables are set up in two large, bright rooms, each seating two people, with plenty of space between them. Wine refrigerators are lined up along the walls of the rooms, filled from top to bottom with bottles. All the bottles are in corrugated cardboard sleeves that hide their labels and necks: the identity of the wines must remain secret; only the red-white-red of the Austrian national flag can be seen on the lids of the screw caps.
Experienced DWS graduates sit at the tables in pairs, twelve in each room: the expert jury. In the past hour, they were once again familiarised with the wine country Austria, its geographical structure, its grape varieties and its quality system in a short presentation. Now helpers from the DWS begin to place the bottles from the refrigerators onto the tables one by one...
The "Austrian Wine Awards" project was organised by the agency ÖWM Solutions on behalf of Österreich Wein Marketing (Wein-Plus) and in cooperation with DWS. The ÖWM invited Austrian winegrowers to submit up to three wines for the campaign. The registrations ran digitally via the portal of ÖWM, which also took over the collection of the wines.
More than 170 wineries from Austria sent in almost 460 wines. The sample and counter bottles were sent from the collection point at the Austria Wine Institute (ÖWI) in Korneuburg to Wein-Plus Solutions in Erlangen at the beginning of June, where they were recorded and photographed. At the same time, the agency received the relevant information about all the wines submitted - in compliance with data protection, of course.
Wein-Plus Solutions compiled the wines into twelve tasting flights with 38 or 39 samples each, whereby each flight included white and red wines as well as - depending on their availability - rosé, orange, sparkling and sweet wines. The wines were prepared for blind tasting by the expert jury, sorted by flights and tasting order and sent to Koblenz.
There, the atmosphere in the DWS rooms is now concentrated: The jury members sit in front of five wine glasses each, a spittoon, the tasting list and the WSET® evaluation sheets. The abbreviation stands for Wine & Spirit Education Trust - for over 50 years the most renowned international educational institution in the international wine industry, based in London. Its highest level of wine education is the WSET® Level 4 Diploma in Wines (DipWSET), which is also offered by DWS in Germany.
In the tasting list and on the bottle, the wines are marked with a letter and number code. The list determines the order of tasting and only reveals the type of wine, the vintage, the grape variety(ies), the designation of origin and the alcohol content. The jury members do not know what exactly goes into the glass. They rate the wines according to the WSET® system, whereby the quality rating can range from "poor" to "acceptable", "good", "very good" to "outstanding".
Each pair of jurors must come to a clear conclusion in the wine assessment. That is why there is not only sniffing and tasting, but also quiet discussion. There is enough time for each wine, because the samples are tasted in two rounds throughout the day: In the morning and afternoon, a maximum of 20 samples are put into the glass. All members of the jury have many years of experience in professional wine tasting and evaluation - after all, most of them work in the specialised trade or in gastronomy. The tasting is supervised by four supervisors who are lecturers in the WSET® Diploma course of the DWS.
After about eight hours it is done: all wines have been expertly tasted and evaluated. Johannes Steinmetz (DipWSET), head of the DWS, is satisfied: "For our graduates, this special tasting was an excellent training which gave them even more knowledge and experience as far as Austrian wines are concerned. They have lived up to their responsibility for the conscientious evaluation of the wines with full awareness."
Supervisor Christian Weisenstein (DipWSET) is also positive: "The large number of wines submitted meant a high logistical and organisational effort, which the team in Koblenz managed to master professionally. The flights were perfectly coordinated. All wines were assessed professionally, highly concentrated and precisely by a highly motivated, conscientious jury of experts. The quality level of the wines to be judged was high and the wine selection showed an exciting, representative cross-section of Austria as a wine country."
Indeed, the high quality level is remarkable: 81 percent of all wines submitted received the rating "good" or "very good", over nine percent even the highest rating "outstanding". The proportion of wines rated as unsatisfactory was well below one percent. "It is remarkable what Austria's winegrowers produce here in terms of really good quality across all wine categories. There is a lot of fun in the glass," summarises supervisor Ulrike Ferres (DipWSET).
"A lot of praise goes to the organisers of the event - it all went very smoothly, both in terms of time and tasting," Ferres continues. "For the jury members, the event was certainly a special experience. Everyone was committed and focused on their work. It was unbelievable what positive energy was released!" This impression is confirmed by juror and supervisor Betty Heitkämper (DipWSET) and adds: "The exchange during the breaks with the very competent colleagues was fun. We all got excited about the good quality of the Austrian wines."
In total, 244 wines will be awarded in at least one of 54 categories at the "Austrian Wine Awards". The categories include wine colours and grape varieties including Piwi varieties, Cuvées and Gemischtem Satz, appellations of origin (wine-growing regions, generic and specific wine-growing regions, single vineyard wines) as well as other categories such as sparkling and semi-sparkling wines, Prädikat wines or alternative wines.