5StarWines: My experience as a judge in Italy’s premier wine competition

5StarWines is a competition of Italian wines organized by Veronafiere, the group that oversees Vinitaly – the world’s most important fair for Italian wines.  

In its 6th edition, held in Verona between April 1-3, 2022, over 2,300 wines were submitted from all corners of Italy and internationally. Having the honor to participate as a judge for the first time allowed me to learn about the ins and outs of the competition and taste alongside many experts in Italian wines.

Dinner and tasting at Villa Quaranta

The program for the judges started the day before the event, with a tasting and dinner in Villa Quaranta, a beautiful venue a few kilometers from the city, hosted by the Brda Home of Rebula Consortium.  The evening included the seminar “The different faces of Rebula” – as Ribolla Gialla is known in Slovenia – and had the participation of prominent and up-and-coming producers from the area.

The following day we met at 8.30 am at the offices of Veronafiere and in accordance with COVID protocols, were divided into two groups and led to two separate tasting venues. This year’s panel consisted of nearly 70 international experts, many of them Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers, WSET Diploma holders, Vinitaly International ambassadors, enologists, educators, and journalists.

For the last couple of years, the event has also included “Wine Without Walls”, a separate competition focused entirely on biodynamic and organic wines.

The judges arriving at Vinitaly offices

The Evaluation Process

The logistics of the event are extremely complex, both because of the large number of wines that need to be handled, classified, wrapped, and poured blind to ensure anonymity. In our room, every judge was assigned to one of a dozen teams of four to five members, each team led by a Panel Chair, a senior judge who is in charge of managing the table, tallying the team’s scores, and writing a tasting note for each wine.

Every judge was equipped with his own iPad, where we entered our scores and tasting notes for each wine based on an evaluation of the visual, olfactory, and taste profile of the wines, following a standard grid template.
My table was led by Andrea Lonardi, COO of Angelini Wines & Estate in Valpolicella, and also included Michele Leone, winemaker at Antinori’s Tenuta Bocca di Lupo in Puglia, and Sunny Chopra, Operations Director at Avatar Hospitality in Canada.

Wine Flights in Action. Photo credit: 5Star Wines

The flights are structured by themes (e.g., Prosecco or Tuscan reds) and are designed to allow tasters to keep their palates in form. Mornings were dedicated primarily to tasting sparkling, rosé, and white wines, while the afternoons were focused mostly on red, sweet, and fortified ones.

For each flight (all numbered to avoid getting confused given the large number of them) we were provided with enough basic information on each wine: region, varieties, vintage, etc. to ensure we put each wine in context when evaluating it.

After every flight, the team discussed each wine and shared our individual scores and tasting notes. The panel chair then consolidated our notes, assigned a final score, wrote a short recap of the team’s assessments, and submitted our teams’ results in the system.

For our team, Day 1 started with sparkling wines: A flight of Prosecco DOC, followed by one of Valdobbiadene DOCG, and others consisting of whites from northern and central Italy.  After a short lunch, the afternoon continued with several flights that included a fantastic, peppery, Schioppettino from Friuli Colli Orientali, a quite complex Magliocco from Calabria, and a dense, nutty Vino Santo from Trentino.  All in all, we tasted nearly 180 wines in the course of two days.

Photo Credit: 5StarWines

The Awards

At the end of the first two days, the wines which, on the basis of this preliminary evaluation, achieved scores of 90 points or above, were submitted to a final tasting by the General Chairs (For this year: Carol Maurer MW, Pedro Ballesteros MW, Gabriele Gorelli MW, Daniele Cernilli, Robert Joseph, and Bernard Burtschy), who discussed and deliberated to assign the final scores and select the best wines in each category.

All wines 90+ point wines will be included in the international guide 5StarWines – the Book, which contains all the tasting notes written by the experts. In this 6th Edition, 960 wines were selected for inclusion in the Guide.

Conclusion

At the end of the long two days of tasting, most of us were exhausted both physically and mentally, but on the other hand, extremely satisfied to be part of such an enriching experience. I personally enjoyed tasting and discussing our notes with the colleagues at my table, and especially learning from the experiences and perspectives of the Italian winemakers – all members of Assoenologi, the national association of Italian enologists.

Furthermore, I continue to be amazed at the broad diversity of Italian wines, the large number of unique native grape varieties, and all the different styles the country has to offer, with top quality at every price point.

Thanks again for the invitation 5StarWines – until next time!

Winners – 2023 Edition:

Winery of the Year 2022: Terre Cortesi Moncaro

Best Italian Wine: Cantina della Vernaccia, Vernaccia di Oristano DOC Riserva “Judikes” 2008. 97 Points

Best White Wine: Torre Cortesi Moncaro, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore “Fondiglie” 2021. 95 Points

Best Rose Wine: Azienda Agricola Federici di Giulio Federici, Liguria di Levante IGT Vermentino Rosato “Prima Brezza” 2021. 93 Points

Best Red Wine: Marchesi Cattaneo Adorno Giustiniani, Gabiano DOC Riserva “A Matilde Giustiniani” 2015

Best Semi-Sparkling Wine: Azienda Agricola Pezzuoli Pietrascura “Riservato Agli Amici,” Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOP Frizzante. 93 Points

Best Sparkling Wine: Terre di San Venanzio Fortunato, Valdobbiadene DOCG Superiore di Cartizze Spumante Brut 2020. 96 Points

Best Sweet Wine: Cantina Toblino, Trentino DOC Vino Santo “Puro” 2000. 96 Points

You can also find the full list of winners here: 5StarWines – The Book

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