The 15th annual Bacchus International Wine Competition took place this March. A panel of 85 international wine professionals, including specialist journalists, winemakers, Master Sommeliers, and Masters of Wine from 21 countries and six continents, met in Madrid for four days of wine judging.

Hosted in the grand Casino de Madrid, the Bacchus competition followed strict protocol according to guidelines set out by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).

Each wine was assessed by a panel of five judges and a jury president who attributed points for visual, olfactory, and taste qualities. A wine that gains 84–88 points is awarded Silver Bacchus, 88–92 points Gold Bacchus, and 92–100 points is the highest level at Great Gold Bacchus.

While Bacchus is a well-organized competition that carefully follows the OIV regime and ensures fair treatment of all samples entered, opinion is divided as to how successfully the wine can be assessed. As per OIV regulations, all wines are served blind with no indication of variety or origin, just the vintage and sugar level being revealed. This lack of context removes the ability to judge typicity, which many professionals argue is an important element to evaluate. Similarly, withholding the price category aims to level the playing field, but removes the ability to highlight well-made wines that represent good value.

The minimal discourse allowed between the judges in case of a discrepancy is perhaps a missed opportunity to share expertise and better understand the wines. Quite often mental arithmetic (or a calculator on a smart phone) is employed to ensure the points stack up into the right medal categories, without really highlighting the individual intricacies of the wines.

All that said, the wines that get through do so by impressing a table of six wine professionals, and deserve to be recognized with an award. Another very positive feature is the gentle pace to proceedings, which reduces as far as possible the risk of palate fatigue. Judges taste through 30–35 wines in the morning session and have a 30-minute break in the middle. It is a much more civilized way to approach the wines, giving them the attention they deserve, and a positive point of difference to other international competitions that put twice as many wines in each session, forcing judges to race through without pausing long enough to see the wines open in the glass.

The four-day Bacchus judging program was complemented for the first time with evening masterclasses on Spanish regions and wines. Spain's sole Master of Wine, Pedro Ballesteros Torres, led an illuminating tour of Spain's Ruta de la Plata from Seville to Asturias, highlighting little-known regions and varieties along the way. Gonzalez Byass Head Winemaker and Master Blender, Antonio Flores, championed Palo Cortado, explaining the origins of this mysterious Sherry category and showing six examples spanning five decades. Turning east toward the Pyrenees, Head sommelier of Mugaritz, Guillermo Cruz, presented wines from and around the Basque country, as well as discussing the changing role of wine in the restaurant setting.

By the end of the competition, the judges had collectively tasted through 1,751 different wines from 21 countries, awarding 18 Great Gold Bacchus, 179 Gold Bacchus, and 332 Silver Bacchus.

The full results can be found here.