The Tasting Panel of Vila Viniteca— is a private and unique initiative in the wine world — formed of 16 professionals of our team, who we trained for two years, in order to become expert wine tasting. In May 2017, we started to train them so as to answer in an objective and faithful way to inquiries and doubts related to the sensorial perception, which are risen around a glass of wine.
Which qualities are required to be part of a Tasting Panel? What does it implies being a Panellist? How the people who will be part of a Panel are selected?
According to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, a panellist is a person who is part of a Panel that means a group of selected people who meet periodically to issue reports on a specific matter. In a more specific way, we mean by panellist a person who meets a set of qualities and abilities, both at sensorial and personality level, that allow him or her to be eligible for a Tasting Panel functioning.
These people use to have a natural high sensorial ability, with a more developed that the majority of the people olfaction taste and touch sense. That mean that they are able to name the flavours of the food or drinks or determinate if they are more or less acid or sweet amongst others. By training, some scarcities can be improved or corrected, but it is necessary to start from a good basis, to reach the verge of an expert wine taster required in our analytic Tasting Panels.
On the other hand, a Panel is formed by a group of people, that´s why is imperative that these people have abilities that allow them to be compromising to reach agreements with the rest of the groups, as well as to be empathic and patient.
We have a descriptive Tasting Panel, so we need that besides of the previously mentioned abilities, the members have a good descriptive ability, it means, to be able to describe with words a sensation, flavour or taste. There is also required ability for the use of the scales and logical thinking.
Currently, the Tasting Panel of Vila Viniteca is formed by 16 people who work for the company and who passed a strict selection process regulated by ISO 8586:2912 normative. The first selection was done in 2017 and a total of 96 people from all the departments participated.
One of the most important parts which ensure the success of Panel is the selection process of the panellists who will be part of it. For this reason, the candidates participated to different tests where there were evaluated their sensorial abilities (taste and smell). In some of them they had to identify at tasting level the elemental tastes (sweet, acid and bitter), distinguishing between different intensities of a same stimulus. There was evaluated their olfactory sensibility identifying the flavours and some of the defects which appear more frequently in wines
Other tests evaluated their descriptive ability, the scale use and how they interacted with the other candidates to reach agreements. Finally, an individual interview with the candidate allowed to know his/her personality motivation and availability.
Fifteen initial candidates from this process whose resulted overpassed 80% of points in all the tests were selected. Later, the members of the Panel have been changed, being compulsory a second phase in which were chosen 4 candidates amongst the 21 people who presented at the tests.
The panellists’ nature who forms the Tasting Panel of Vila Viniteca is quite varied, from salesmen to administrative to viticulturists. It is important to remind new panellists according to the sensorial abilities, as they are innate and they are not mandatorily connected to a previous experience with the evaluated product, the wine.
What does it implies being a panellist?
A panellist carries out an exigent and long exercise on the period which requires to put in practice certain abilities to obtain satisfactory results. These are responsibility, commitment and perseverance.
The panellists have to fulfil an established normative which guarantee the maximum performance of their sensorial potential, as well as the feasibility of the obtained results. 30 minutes before each session it is forbidden that the panellists smoke, drink coffee or other drinks or food which can reduce their sensitivity. It is required to be punctual, due to the fact the sessions are programmed and designed to last two hours and its content can be affected if the timetable is not respected.
The sessions take place steadily during all the year excepting July, August, November and December, time when the panellists can go on holiday.
For the correct function and data treatment the assistance at the sessions is compulsory and for this reason it is obligatory without exceptions. The absence of any of the panellists means a force loss in the results which can be obtained in that session.
¿How is the training routine of a panellist?
A standard session of the Tasting Panel is carried out weekly in sessions of 2 hours, always from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., where it is required to the member a maximum concentration. During the first year, the Panel trained in all the necessary characteristics to be able to obtain the sensorial profile of a wine. We detail this standard day from a panellist’s point of view, as follows:
After his arrival at the installations were the sessions are carried out, equipped according to ISO 8589:2012 normative, the Panel technical uses the first 5 minutes of the session to present its content and objective.
To reach an attention and concentration environment, a piece of classical music is listened during a few minutes, before serving the first sample.
After that, the panellists carry out an individual work with the reference patterns of the taste characteristics and the tactile sensations, to learn to identify how each sensation is perceived on the tongue, palate or the lips and rate its intensity on a lineal scale, previously developed and agreed with all the Panel. In this way they are able or identify and differentiate the different sensations or characteristics and rate its intensity. This process includes a group work where the panellists help each other sharing their personal way of perceiving the characteristic and evaluate it.
The second part of the training is dedicated to the olfactory characteristics. Each panellist tries to identify individually between 10 and 15 glasses which contains one of the more intense flavours with which the Panel wants to train, and after a period of reflexion, they receive the answers. In this way it is wanted to work the olfactory memory on order to learn how to identify the 48 flavours and 8 defects which the Panel evaluates.
Panellists ‘point of view
After all this training period, we wanted to know first-hand how the Panel affected the people who are part of it and with this objective we ask to all the panellists to answer at personal level to three simple questions:
¿What motivates a person to want to be part of a Tasting Panel?
The majority of the panellists agree on that they wanted to be part of the Tasting Panel for a curiosity and ambition at personal level as well as a way of train and specialise in the wines tasting. Many of them speak of personal challenge and personal growth and they express the idea of proud of being part of an innovative project in the area.
What brings them as positive being a panellist?
Being a panellist of the Tasting Panel of Vila Viniteca allowed them to obtain a precise and objective wine tasting methodology, making them capable of splitting each wine characteristic separately. Many of them have expressed that this training make them win security and confidence, being more efficient in their work environment and increasing their professional performance. The majority admits that they value and enjoy more a glass of wine, being more conscious of the product they taste and understanding its complexity and work which lies beyond each bottle of wine.
Do the day-to-day of the panellists change?
As previously mentioned, the day-to-day of the Tasting panel is an exigent task which needs an important inversion of time. For many of them, be part of the Panel has provoked the reorganizing of their weekly tasks. The panellists explain having experimented an awake of their senses that makes that, daily, not only pay attention in front of a glass of wine but also in all the environment. The improvement of their sensorial abilities helped them to be aware of the richness of their environment, appreciating it now in a more intense and precise way. Analysing constantly the smells and flavours of a space or the taste and texture of a nourishment, has become a natural and involuntary exercise for them. Some of the admit that gaining all this knowledge served them as a stimulus and motivation to keep training and achieving new competencies of personal way in the world of the wine.
One of the main challenges to which we deal with starting from the direction, design and execution of the training sessions was the panellists’ lack of motivation after a few very motivating and enthusiastic days. We know the effort which represented for all the group, day by day, session after session, training without any return and without understanding the individual role in the group. We have learned to make them aware of – as possible- and on first instance, the results information and characteristics of the on-going projects. The panellists are the protagonists, without them anything would make sense or give results. Thank you.
This is the last text of the six which we have prepared to explain our Tasting Panel training. In the following publications we will expose the specific projects we carried out and their results.
*During the training and evaluations, any panellist has had any explicit knowledge of the wines, service conditions, vintages, tests, varieties or any other information about the nature of the performed studies.
Currently the Tasting Panel of Vila Viniteca is formed by 6 panellists (in alphabetical order of first surname):
Gabriela di Nardo
Joan Marc Llenas
Director of project