On November 28, 2015, a large tasting of imported wines took place in Riga, during which we recognized the gold, silver and bronze winners of the competition “Wine of the Year of Latvia – 2015” (Latvijas gada vīns 2015).

Майкл Шустер на винном фестивале Riga Wine and Champagne

The work on the competition began in September, a team of the most recognized and competent sommeliers of Latvia and the Baltic countries sat down at the table, which in 2015 included Aigars Nords, Irina Semochkina, Valentina Grandane, Eliza Pinta-Kauce, Romans Komars, Kaspars Vezitis , Aigars Lukstins, Arunas Starkus (Lithuania), Gints Sniedze, Kaspars Reytups, Raimonds Tomsons, Janis Gailis and Martins Pilens. The authoritative jury was headed by Michael Schuster from Great Britain – a legendary personality in the world of wine, one of the most sought-after judges of wine and a lecturer with more than 25 years of experience, author of several best-selling wine books and the prestigious magazines The World of Fine Wine and Decanter. We met with him for a couple of minutes on the last day of the wine appraisal in order to at least take a look at the competition through his eyes.

It is already the third day of the competition “Wine of the Year of Latvia – 2015” (Latvijas Gada vīns 2015). What are your impressions?

– I took part in the competition last year, when it was held for the first time, and I think it is a great competition. One of its goals is to help consumers see what is desirable to taste and what is worth the money spent. At its core, the competition serves as a kind of guide for buyers. There are wines for eight euros and there are eighty. Our task, the task of professionals, is to evaluate each wine: knowing the category to which it belongs, to determine whether it is a worthy sample for the corresponding price. For this, the jury will have to taste a huge number of wines. We have to find balance from the point of view of the layman, that is, the consumer, and think like the person who drinks this wine. It’s not easy to say, “We think this is a great wine,” knowing that only a professional with a very specific sense of taste will like it. We must tell the buyer: “You will like this wine”, show that we made the choice for him. The jury members are very good professionals and the competition was organized just fine. I am honored to take part in it.

Are there any changes compared to last year?

– By and large – no. Last year was kind of an experiment to see how it works, and in fact it was a success! And this year everything has been thought out and prepared in more detail. I think the people selling wine here saw that it was worth it and are ready to support the competition. The number of wines evaluated is very close to last year’s, which means that people are willing to declare their wines. They think we are doing a good job.


Слепая Дегустация на винном фестивале Riga Wine and Champagne

Blind tasting at the Riga Wine and Champagne festival

In just three days, you should taste approximately 430 wines. How is this possible ?!

– We are two teams, and each should taste only half of all wines. That is about 70 a day. For a professional, this is a normal amount. Now, if I had to taste 150 wines a day, I don’t think it’s real. And there would be little sense in that.

How do you determine which wine to be awarded “gold”, which “silver” and which “bronze”?

– A professional must know what is good and what is not. And to distinguish between good and valuable, based on the specific type and type of wine. For example, a wine that costs less than 10 euros can also receive a gold or silver medal. And a wine worth, for example, 30 euros, may well be left without a reward at all. Many factors determine the value of a particular wine. We know what wine we taste. This is not a blind tasting, but rather “half blind”. We taste in groups that are selected according to the type and type of wine. We know where it comes from, we know its price and grape variety. The only thing we don’t know is the manufacturer. We cannot be influenced by the manufacturer or brand.

This means that you are tasting wines in groups – for example, sparkling wines, and so on. Or is there a more granular distribution?

– Dry Riesling, Sweet Riesling. Chardonnay from New World, Chardonnay from Burgundy, Spanish sparkling wines, Champagne sparkling wines … We taste in blocks. Usually 6–8 wines, sometimes 10. We know what these wines are, put our notes into the computer and see the result, and then we discuss it. As a result, we, as a single group, say: “We believe that we have misjudged this wine, and we must check it again. This wine deserves a higher rating ”(or, on the contrary:“ We overestimated it ”). At the end of the day, we re-taste all the wines that have received a gold or silver medal, and decide whether a particular wine deserves “silver” or “gold”. And sometimes, in order to finally be convinced of the correctness of the choice, we taste these wines the next day.

Винный фестиваль Riga Wine and Champagne

You are the head of the jury. How do you rate the rest of the team – our sommeliers?

– I think this is a group of very good sommeliers. They are excellent wine professionals, they know their business. And nice people. This is impressive! The wine exhibition that follows the competition, for such a small country like Latvia, without a highly developed wine culture, is simply colossal due to the fact that it attracts people. Visitors are given a unique opportunity to taste a huge number of wines. People who would never buy a bottle of wine for more than 30 euros can taste and compare wines of different price categories. Including the cost of more than 30 euros per bottle.

Айгарс Нордс на винном фестивале Riga Wine and Champagne

I would like to ask about you. You studied in Bordeaux. Comprehended wine tasting. Why did you choose tasting from all possible ways of wine?

– First of all, I am a teacher. This is what I do. Early in my career, I taught music and English in elementary school. I loved it, but I felt like I wanted to get out of class. When I was young, I didn’t really know wine, I was born and raised in Africa – my parents didn’t drink wine. I discovered it for myself on my 25th birthday, when my uncle gave me 25 bottles of wine and said it was my time to learn this. And so it happened. It interested me so much! At 30, I was not married, I had no obligations, and I realized that I wanted to study wine. This was in 1979, when the world of wine was much smaller than it is today, and it seemed a logical step to go to Bordeaux. I spoke French – I studied French at the university, so I decided to go to France. I went there with a company that I taught English. I did this in Bordeaux as well. I taught four days a week. I only had Mondays and Saturdays to graduate. I spent three years there, and when I returned, I became a wine merchant. I sold wine for three years, and then I thought: do I really want to do this? And I realized that I wanted to write and teach. It so happened that it was then that a cellar was vacated in my house, and I created my own wine school in it, where I worked for 20 years. Only 8 years ago I moved to a more spacious place – Bordeaux index (Fine wine merchant) in London and now I give my lectures here.

Why tasting? There is a big difference between drinking and tasting. Drinking wine is like listening to music: you just indulge in pleasure. But this is true in many areas. Whether it’s music, poetry or wine, if you look closely, you will notice something that you have not noticed before. And you can enjoy more. This is basically what I do – I help people see what they should see in a particular wine. As an example, I can cite a visit to an art gallery, where a non-professional in this area stands by the picture and says: “I like it! I don’t know why, but I like it. ” And if there is a professional next to him, he will be able to say that the artist lived then and then, so he used brushes, and this is how he thought about design, this is the historical context. And in five minutes you will realize the essence of this picture and you can explain why it attracted you. This allows you to enjoy the picture even more. This is what I like so much!


Сомелье Noble Wine Ирина Сёмочкина на фестивале Riga Wine and Champagne