The Palate 2012

(by peter & susie)

We had a great day out recently mentoring and judging at The Palate 2012 – a competition with more than a nod to the likes of the X-Factor/The Voice/Masterchef/Great British Bake off.

Run by wine retailer Oddbins, the aim was to find the best amateur wine tasters in the UK and from them select one overall winner, who would be crowned ‘the palate’. (This probably needs to be intoned by a gravel-voiced narrator for proper dramatic effect, but you get the idea…)

You can watch a snapshot of the day on the video below (reproduced here by kind courtesy of Oddbins, and made by the very fine people at Stepping Stone Media):

Around 5,000 punters had tried their luck in the initial stages of the competition, which involved filling in questionnaires at various branches of Oddbins round the country. A rigorous non-wine-trade policy was enforced to ensure that only amateur tasters were eligible.

From this cast of thousands, an elite group of ten were selected for the finals day, which took place on October 13th in the impressively located (and equipped) AWC Wine Academy just off Oxford Street.

The contestants came from a variety of locations (Aberdeen, Oxford and Crouch End all figured) and indeed walks of life – from copy-writers to university lecturers and actors.

We split the group into half and led tutorial sessions featuring our usual brand of upbeat education and entertainment, using jelly beans, aroma bottles, blindfolds…and a crash course in blind wine tasting.

One of the primary aims was to give the contestants a fantastic day out, as well as something educational to take away. But of course there was another prize up for grabs – the winner was to receive an exclusive holiday for two in Tuscany courtesy of wine producer Frescobaldi, plus a magnum of Champagne and the chance to select a new wine for the Oddbins range.

Needless to say, motivation wasn’t in short supply. The contest was hard fought, and there was some great talent on display during the various challenges on the day.

What got us most excited was the way that, while some of the contestants seemed to have relatively little book knowledge of wine to start with, they picked up a huge amount from the day and applied it in the various tests we set them. The best ones also showed an impressive passion and enthusiasm for wine, which in our book is just as important as knowing the facts.

In the end, there was only going to be one winner – and that turned out to be Fran Evans, a sustainability officer at Camden Council. ‘I never win anything, I can’t believe it!’ was Fran’s emotional reaction.

Despite voicing some anti-Chardonnay feelings earlier in the day, Fran then later chose (from a blind selection – proving how valuable these exercises are) the Collovray & Terrier’s la Closerie des Lys Chardonnay (£8), which will go on sale in Oddbins from November.

In our view, any kind of competition or initiative like this is fantastic. It takes a popular format and model, and helps make wine both fun and engaging. This is exactly what comes across in the video – and was also very much the experience on the day, when everyone had a great time in a fun but competitive and educational atmosphere.

Congratulations to everyone who took part in The Palate – also to all ten brilliant finalists, and most especially to Fran Evans.

Most importantly – here’s to making wine fun.

(You can also find news pieces on The Palate 2012 on both Decanter and Harpers as well as Oddbins’ website.)