Traveling to Berlin is always like making a journey into European history, and adding the concept of wine thanks to the Berliner Wine Trophy and being a wine judge heightens the experience. The last few times I have been to Berlin, after many years in between, it always makes me think of our high school trip in early 1990 just a few months after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. It really was like feeling the winds of history blowing around you when we toured Berlin with our history teacher in 1990. Today, Berlin has completely changed, of course, though it still has that pull on me and making the historian inside of me come out.
Last week, I had the opportunity to again be a wine judge at the Berliner Wine Trophy that takes place at Hotel am Borsigtum every year in the Tegel area of Berlin. I already was invited and attended the wine competition last year in September. The organization was impeccable considering all the restrictions that had to be followed. We were divided into two to three groups in each room and we each had our own little tasting station divided by plexiglass from the other jury members at the same table. We had to take a 30-minute break every two hours so that they could clean the rooms properly. We were also Covid-tested every day by a local doctor they had coming in every morning. So we felt safe and cared for.
This time, I decided to stay for two slots, which were two of the three tasting periods you could choose between. It turned out to be the right choice to better get into the Berliner Wine Trophy atmosphere and feel a part of the community. To better recount the days at Berliner Wine Trophy during the past week, I have chosen three themes, namely Discovery, Learning, and Community.
The World of a Jury Member at Berliner Wine Trophy
As I generally taste and write mostly about Italian wines, events such as the Berliner Wine Trophy is a fantastic opportunity for me to taste more wines from all over the world. During the first four days, I was in a wine jury group where Oliver T. Altinger was our team leader and with other group members that were mainly German buyers, sommeliers, or otherwise in the wine trade, and Felipe Salinas Bonich from Chile who is doing research in wine at the University of Geisenheim.
We tasted white wines with grapes ranging from Weissburgunder to Verdejo, Riesling, Furmint, Gruner Veltliner, Irsai Olivér (Hungary), Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Moscato Giallo and red wines ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon to Monastrell, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Zweigelt, Feteasca Neagra (Moldova), and Tempranillo. The last flight we had in this group were different kinds of Port wines made with the grapes Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Barocca.
I loved to get to taste these wines and get a better understanding of the grape varieties too. When it comes to grapes such as Irsai Olivér from Hungary and Monastrell (Mourvédre) from Spain I did not have much previous tasting experience of these. The Port wines we had as a grand finale in this jury group were of really good quality. The last few of them got very high scores from all of us.
During the second tasting slot, I was moved to another group where the new team leader was Darrel Joseph who is a well-known wine journalist that writes mainly about wines from Central and Eastern Europe as well as from Russia and Georgia. We were a nice and chatty group with Lisa Vollmeyer from close to Lake Constance, Pawel Gruntowski who is a wine educator from Poland but lives in Berlin, and Robert Hoefer who works for Hoffman Beverages and was a neverending source to the wine and beverage sector in Germany.
Also, in this group, we tasted wines made with many different and interesting grape varities such as Feteasca Alba, Muscat Ottonel, Harslevelu, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Glera, Olasz Riezling, Kekfrankos, Areni Noir, Xinomavro, and many others. It was a journey of wonderful discovery into mainly Eastern European wines.
When I attend wine competitions being a part of a wine jury, I observe how my fellow jury members view wine and listen to their comments trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible. The seven days at Berliner Wine Trophy was a perfect opportunity to learn more about wine. I am thankful to Markus Hungerbuhler who recommended me last year to the organizers of the Berliner Wine Trophy.
In the first jury group, I got a lot of input from my fellow jury members as they were all experienced professionals in the wine sector. Furthermore, it is interesting to see how different professional categories and nationalities view wine. I, myself, having studied the sommelier courses in Italy, am probably colored by the Italian tasting methods and taste in wine. It is, of course, true that we judge wine as objectively as possible but still I think that different backgrounds and views on wine come into play.
In the jury group with Darrel Joseph, we really delved deeply into the different mostly Eastern European grapes. We all contributed with our experience and points of view making the tasting into a dialogue. It turned into a tasting marathon with in-depth analysis where we helped each other understand the different wines. Darrel Joseph joked that it turned out to be more of a ‘masterclass’ than a jury tasting. We might have pushed the time frames a bit going on until late afternoon with our tastings but it was well worth it.
Really, it is not every day that you get to taste a whole flight of Olasz Riezling from Hungary, Feteasca Alba and other white wines from Romania, Kekfrankos from Hungary, Grenache, Malbec, and Blaufränkish from Australia, Xinomavro and other red grapes from Greece, or Areni wines from Armenia. (Read more about Areni in the article A Wine Venture in the Making Between Tuscany and Armenia.)
The concept of community and easygoing networking is key at this type of event to feel a part of the larger whole. Berliner Wine Trophy organizes the event at Hotel am Borsigturm having all of us stay there too which makes it easier to socialize. During the last two wine competition events, the hotel has become even more the core of the event I guess as the pandemic has posed certain limits. This time, during my seven days at Berliner Wine Trophy, all of us mostly hanged out at the hotel due to the more severe restrictions thus creating a nice community. It felt like you always had someone to talk to or turn to when going down to the restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or going for a walk together.
I got to know ‘old’ acquaintances better such as Alicia Eckert of Naturvinos based in Hamburg and Robert Stark from Reiner Wein in Vienna as well as ‘new’ friends such as the vibrant and fun Maria Sobrino from Spain who is an experienced sommelier working in London, Darrel Joseph whom I mentioned above, and Daniele Raspini who turned out to be from Figline Valdarno, and many more.
Concluding Words about Berliner Wine Trophy
I already miss all of my fellow wine tasters and friends and the organizers of the Berliner Wine Trophy and cannot wait to, hopefully, go again next time. Not even the severe security search at the airport, the robust woman feeling me all over twice, and the rigid policeman trying to have me confess who knows what by staring me down can keep me away from going back to Berlin. LOL.
Auf Wiedersehen Berliner Wine Trophy!