After two weeks of tasting, Christine Austin is cheered by Yorkshire success stories in the International Wine Challenge

‘We are absolutely delighted to have won Regional Wine Merchant of the Year for The North of England in The International Wine Challenge, said House of Townend’s Managing Director, John Charles Townend. ‘This is the fifth time in seven years that we have won this award and all credit goes to the team here in Melton.’

‘The wine business has become increasingly competitive and so the only way independent merchants such as HoT can compete is to offer quality wines and a fantastic service to our customers. It is the people running our business on a day to day basis who have won us this award.’

House of Townend has expanded dramatically in the last few years, adding a vast retail, tasting and storage facility at their premises on the outskirts of Hull. Their delivery vehicles criss-cross the county and the north, making sure restaurants and private customers are well stocked with wines from around the world. Apart from their regular business, House of Townend is also a partner with The Yorkshire Post in providing wines for The Yorkshire Post Wine Club (


And while House of Townend celebrated their win at the jam-packed International Wine Challenge Awards dinner held in London there was a small celebration for Bon Coeur Fine Wines who were short-listed for this same award. ‘It is the first time we have been recognised for our work, and so, although we didn’t win, it was good to be listed as one of the best wine merchants in the north, said Sam and Jamie Goodhart’, of Bon Coeur. They too have expanded comprehensively with a new warehouse, retail shop, tasting room and kitchen so they can host dinners and wine tastings at their premises in Melsonby (


As well as recognising the best regional merchants the IWC gives accolades such as best supermarket, and best wines and this year our own Yorkshire supermarket Morrisons, lost its crown of IWC Supermarket of the Year to Marks and Spencer. ‘It is a shame but we won Supermarket of the Year twice in a row, which was really quite an achievement,’ said Mark Jarman, Head of Wine Buying Operations. There was some good news for the Morrisons team. They won two Great Value Champion Awards for their delicious Morrisons The Best Palo Cortado (£6 for 37.5cl) and their classic The Best Rioja Reserva Blanco (£13).

Of all the wine competitions The International Wine Challenge is the one contest that has global recognition for its awards. Held in London each year, it attracts around 10,000 wines that are sent from all corners of the winemaking world to be judged ‘blind’ by panels of professionals.

As usual I was part of the judging process at The International Wine Challenge.

I spent two full weeks as a Panel Chair, judging around 100 wines each day, and for one of those days I was joined by my apprentice for 2017, Matthew Sutton. He lives in Skipton and has a keen interest in wine and has travelled to wine regions in Italy and the USA.

The way the Challenge works is very simple and to my mind is the most reliable and rigorous way of judging wines. I judge several wine competitions around the world each year and the Challenge is the one that I regard as the best. Each wine is bagged up so the label and neck label cannot be seen.


In the first week of the Challenge, wines are presented in flights of up to 12 wines, grouped by style. The aim of the tasting is to decide whether any of these are potential medal-winners in which case they are put forward into the following weeks’ tasting, or whether they should be rejected or receive the first level of award, Commended. Although I am a Panel Chair, responsible for the group opinion of the 5 or 6 professional wine judges around the table, consensus is important and no one opinion dominates the proceedings. Even so, all potential rejections and Commended wines are re-tasted by at least one of 5 Chairmen who include 3 Masters of Wine and some of the best palates in the world.

In the second week of the judging process the whole process is repeated, and the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals decided.

Matthew’s role in all this tasting was invaluable, and he kept up with the fairly fast pace of blind tasting. At the end of the day he was still ready for more and went to join Challenge Chairman, TV wine expert Oz Clarke. Oz gave Matthew a one-to-one tasting tutorial and took him through the process of being the ultimate arbiter in the competition.

‘Tasting at the Challenge was a fantastic experience’, said Matthew and it certainly opened my eyes to the world of wine tasting. I think I brought my own bit of Yorkshire charm to the Challenge.’

Yorkshire Post Wine Writer Christine Austin with Matthew Sutton, her apprentice for the day at The International Wine Challenge

The full results of the International Wine Challenge are listed on the website www.internationalwinechallenge. Com. Check them out and try some of the best wines in the world.


Here are my best buys from the medal-winners.


The Exquisite Collection Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016, Aldi £5.99

Winner of the Great Value Award, this comes in the traditional curvy bottle of Provence and that instantly makes you think of long summer days and sunshine. The flavours are good too. Light strawberry fruit with a twist of orange zest.


Pikes Riesling Traditionale 2016, Clare Valley, Australia, Halifax Wine Co., £16.80

With light floral aromas, zesty, lime and grapefruit flavours and a clear minerally crunch, like wet stones on a beach, this is perfect with prawns, grilled sea bass or fish and chips. Delicious now, but will keep 5 years.

Rod McDonald Quarter Acre Syrah 2015, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, Marks and Spencer £16

I highlighted this fabulous, juicy, spice-filled wine in March and now it has won IWC Champion Red Wine. Sadly out of stock at present, but keep on checking the M&S website and make sure you buy some when it returns.

Nine Popes 2014, Barossa, Australia, Martinez Wines £37.99

Winner of the Australian Red Wine Trophy, this is a blockbuster of a wine, full of powerful plum and spice flavours with structure and age ability. A wine for winter.

About The Author

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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