In June we launched our search for the UK's finest amateur wine taster: The Palate 2012. Loads of you came out to play. We knew you were good, but the quality of your taste buds still astounded us. Over three gruelling rounds of blind tastings held in our shops, we whittled the field down from almost five thousand to just twelve:
Jo Ames - Edinburgh Mark Bland - Oxford Gina Cross - London Anna Deighton - London Fran Evans - London Graeme Gilloch - Manchester Mark Higgins - Aberdeen Vito Hind - London Laura Martz - London Kate McHann - London Robert Tucker - Bristol Alex Webb - Aberdeen
Unfortunately Laura and Robert were unable to attend the final, but we'll make sure that we see them in next year's competition. On Saturday 13 October we invited the remaining ten finalists to London's AWC Wine Academy to face their toughest challenge yet. From stand-up comedians to Oxford Fellows, curious social drinkers to informed enthusiasts, from places as far afield as Aberdeen to London, we couldn't have asked for a more mixed bunch. But what they all had in common was a phenomenal amount of raw talent. We therefore needed to put them to a suitably challenging test. So we enlisted the expertise of the UK wine scene's power couple and regulars on the BBC's Saturday Kitchen: Susie Barrie MW and Peter Richards MW. The dynamic duo took our contestants on a crash course through wine tasting, including aroma tests, flavour experiments and blindfolded tasting. The finalists were then asked to try three wines with cheese and smoked salmon and give a 60-second presentation on which wine they would pair with which food and why. Those with the top four answers were chosen to proceed to the Grand Final, they were Mark Bland, Fran Evans, Graeme Gilloch and Alex Webb.
In the Grand Final the remaining four were given half an hour to taste six wines blind and identify vintages, grape varieties, country of origin, flavours, aromas and recommended retail price. After much difficult deliberation and cogitation in the cellar, Oddbins' Head of Wine Buying Emma Nichols, Susie and Peter unanimously chose the winner to be Sustainability Officer Fran Evans from Crouch End in London. Fran was gobsmacked at the result, she said "I'm struggling to put it into words. It was so exciting. There were a lot of people there who had a lot more knowledge than me, so I'm over the moon to have won. It goes to show that wine tasting is not an elite activity - it's for everybody."
Emma Nichols was full of praise, "Fran was an interesting winner because she wasn't confident to begin with, but grew more assured as she learned more throughout the day. This demonstrates perfectly what The Palate 2012 was trying to achieve: you only need to assess what is in the glass in front of you, nothing else. The answers she gave were so accurate and concise, because she didn't try to bring any periphery knowledge into them. What was particularly impressive was how near the mark she was with the price points - that is very difficult to do."
Peter Richards MW added: "It was clear that there were very different levels of knowledge and that was exactly what we were hoping for. It was important that it wasn't about having an encyclopaedic knowledge, but about raw talent. That's why Fran was such a worthy winner."
As well as being crowned The Palate 2012, Fran Evans bagged herself a luxury holiday for two to Tuscany's Frescobaldi Wine Estate and a magnum of Champagne. But the story didn't end there, Fran was asked to try another six wines blind and answer the question "if you were an Oddbins wine buyer, which of these wines would you stock in the Oddbins shops?" The wine that she chose was Collovray & Terrier's la Closerie des Lys Chardonnay (£8), a grape variety that she had professed to not being an enormous fan of before the competition started. But she fell head over heels for this one and as a result we will be stocking it in all our shops and here on our website as soon as it arrives in November.
Peter Richards offered one last thought "The fact that many consumers feel so intimidated by the wine world is one of the major challenges in the industry today. The Palate 2012 proves that wine can be fun, that you can get stuck in and not worry about not knowing your Cru Classés from your elbow." We whole heartedly agree, everybody has a palate; you only have to ask people how they take their tea, which brand of chocolate they buy or whether they prefer a Jalfrezi or a Korma to prove this. We hope that you will be inspired to put your palate to the test by joining us back here next year for The Palate 2013. Thank you from Oddbins to all of those who took part in The Palate.