Showstoppers: Judging the best of the best with the Decanter World Wine Awards Co-Chairs

Being awarded a Best in Show medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards, or ‘the best of the best’ at the world’s largest and most influential wine competition, is no small matter, especially in the competition year of 2021.

For a wine to win this prestigious award it must pass three stages of critical judging by some of the world’s top wine experts - the final stage culminating in a blind tasting by the Co-Chairs to determine the top 50. 

Join DWWA Co-Chairs Sarah Jane Evans MW, Andrew Jefford, Michael Hill Smith MW and Ronan Sayburn MS, as they guide you through eight of their Best in Show wines awarded at the 2021 Decanter World Wine Awards.

More than 18,000 wines from 56 countries were tasted in the competition's biggest ever year for entries with this line-up representing the top 0.28% of wines judged.

After an introduction to DWWA with a behind-the-scenes look at how the rigorous judging process works, the Co-Chairs will guide you through two wines each to discover what it is that makes them the best of the best in the world’s most renowned competition.

This is a first-of-its-kind masterclass which will help you learn what to look for when tasting for top quality, with Decanter World Wine Awards 2021 showstoppers from France, Italy and Spain to Australia, the USA and Argentina.

£75.oo masterclass wine samples (UK only) / £45.00 viewing only (includes access to all event content)

The wines

Château Pierre-Bise, Savennières-Roche aux Moines, Loire, France 2018

Best in Show, 97 points

The word ‘chameleon’ is often found in close proximity to the name ‘Chenin Blanc’ - generally alluding to the fact that this polyvalent grape can perform as brilliantly in austerely dry guise as in extravagantly sweet, and with every flavour hue between, too. Not the least of the fascinations of this Savennieres-Roche Aux Moines, though, is the fact that it manages a chameleon performance in a single glass. It’s both fresh, pretty, honeyed and gently amiable - and yet mysteriously smoky. Once in the mouth, and you’ll find it doughy, almost pastry-rich… yet insistently stony, dark, bitter-edged and almost troubling in its complexities. Pure, commanding and unique, its elevation to Best In Show was never in doubt.

Fermoy Estate, Reserve Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia 2019

Best in Show, 97 points

The role of Margaret River in helping define the expressive possibilities of Australian Chardonnay is a major one, and this profoundly maritime region with its amenable gravel and loam soils continues to make much of the pace in the Southern Hemisphere as a whole. This 2019 Reserve Chardonnay has scents of bergamot and lemon zest underwritten by a faint, subtle coffee cream. It is spotlessly clean, pure and fine-spun on the palate, with ample citrus and samphire freshness and a pungent finish: very much a Chardonnay for fish and seafood. Aesthetically speaking, too, it has much more in common with our other four Best In Show Chardonnay wines than you might imagine from a zone with the same heat summation figures as Napa: this is emphatically cool-climate in style.

Hahn Family Wines, Lucienne Smith Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, California, United States 2018

Best in Show, 97 points

This year’s exceptional Pinot Noir quartet is completed by this striking wine from the Santa Lucia Highlands - a long and scenically beautiful fillet of land lying on the landward side of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range next to the chill waters of Monterey Bay, and alternately fog-chilled and breeze-freshened during summer. The Pinot is dark and sweet-scented, with discreet spice and refined black cherry; there’s a peony allure to give it lift, too. It’s vivid and mouth-filling yet structured, poised and fresh, too: a Pinot that proves that the natural wealth which derives from California’s light and soils can work superbly in delivering Pinot of both nuance and sensual charm.

Catena Zapata, Nicasia Vineyard Malbec, Paraje Altamira, Mendoza, Argentina 2019

Best in Show, 97 points

Few red wines can rival grand Argentinian Malbec for drama and grandeur, and this version from the Altamira zone of La Consulta (in the Uco Valley) stood out even amongst its dramatic, strikingly profiled peers. It is jet black, just shot with purple at the rim. Soaringly expressive Malbec rose and tea leaf lifts from the glass with enviable purity, without a trace of distorting oak. In the mouth, it is deep and long: an arrow of fruit yet elegant, deftly textured with a snow of fine tannins, and devoid of alcoholic heat or intrusive, strenuous acidity. A sumptuous, haute-couture Malbec where the vineyard’s untrammeled fruit and inner radiance has been given voice.

Familia Torres, Grans Muralles, Conca de Barberà, Spain 2017

Best in Show, 97 points

The third of this year’s trio of great Catalan reds is no less deep in colour than our two Priorat wines, but has a very different aromatic spectrum. You sense that we are no longer in a stony wilderness, but in a landscape where nature is a little more fecund: the warmth of the fruits is softer, without sourness or pronounced sweetness, and there are perfumed Mediterranean scrub herbs in evidence too. This wine, though, is no less intense in the mouth than its two peers; indeed if anything more so still, with huge density and amplitude of fruit, aroma-saturated acidity, plentiful fine tannins and almost vermouth-like levels of suggested herbs and scrub plants. This is a commanding and assured Catalan red with two decades of profitable ageing ahead of it.

Castiglion del Bosco, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy 2016

Best in Show, 97 points

We were lucky enough to have a splendid entry from Brunello di Montalcino this year, as this zone’s other Gold and Platinum medals testify, drawing on both the superb 2015 (Reserva) and 2016 vintages. Much effort went into scrutinising these wines to find a worthy candidate for our Best In Show collection -- and here it is. Translucent black-red in colour, shading to a glowing garnet rim, with refined, artfully composed scents of subdued berry fruits, warm summer forest, dried mushrooms and soft suede. The wine is intense, deep, perfectly pitched in structural terms between lively, well-rounded acidity and brisk, sober tannins: a dignified, grave yet rewarding wine for a fine dinner. It is fully accessible now, yet the quality of its fruit and its balance suggest many years’ ageing potential, too.

Capezzana, Riserva, Carmignano Vin Santo, Tuscany, Italy 2013

Best in Show, 98 points

Trebbiano (or Ugni Blanc) has two iterations which suggest that it is one of the world’s fine-wine varieties, though both involve transformations so dramatic as to merit the term metamorphosis. Cognac is one -- and Vin Santo the other. The glowing amber wine smells of crystallised fruits, sweet tobacco and warm attics in which fruit is stored -- appropriately enough, since that is how the grapes which make this wine are treated prior to fermentation. On the palate, it is voluptuously sweet and multi-dimensioned, the balance coming from its many aromatic allusions (more crystallised fruit and dried flowers, as well as barleysugar, ginger spice and buttered almonds) and from its subtle oxidative complexities rather than from acidity. Its glycerous texture, volume and wealth give it an easy sippability…with or without a cantucci biscuit to dip as you go.

Osborne, Solera AOS Rare, Amontillado, Sherry, Spain NV

Best in Show, 98 points

One glance at this Amontillado, with its deep walnut hue and amber glints, will tell you that this is not just an old wine but an ancient one. So, too, does its powerful engine of aroma, which seems to fill a room within minutes of pouring. Its aromatic allusions recall raisin and hessian, nuts, ham and bacon, dried apricots and peaches, apples and lemons, library dust and antique leather, moist liquorice and camphor…and much else. All you need is time to pick the analogies out. That aromatic intensity is matched on the palate with a wine of deep-diving force and almost textural levels of extract, just saved from austerity by those prodigiously aromatic fruits. A small glass of this distinguished vinous antique will provide hours of happy sipping.


This 60 minute tasting will begin with an introduction to the Decanter World Wine Awards, followed by a tasting of eight Best in Show awarded wines.

This masterclass has been pre-recorded in order to complement your schedule, and is available to watch, or re-watch at any time from 11 December 2021 until 10 January 2022.

Inside the tasting pack

  • 8 x 75ml samples of each wine listed
  • An A3 tasting mat
  • An A5 tasting booklet
  • A Decanter pen

Quality assurance

To ensure that you receive samples in the best condition possible all wines will be tasted by a Decanter wine tasting expert for quality assurance before being re-bottled as samples. Bottling of the samples will take place in an anaerobic tank to eliminate oxygen contamination and sealed with a secure screwcap. Samples will be re-bottled and sent to you ahead of the masterclass.


Due to restrictions on duty and costs along with supply issues, we are not always able to offer samples for purchase to our customers outside of the UK.

Please note that the wine samples for this event are currently only available to UK residents (including Channel Islands, excluding Northern Ireland)


Sarah Jane Evans MW

Sarah Jane Evans MW is an award-winning journalist who began writing about wine (and food, restaurants and chocolate) in the 1980s.

She started drinking Spanish wine – Sherry, to be specific – as a student of classics and social and political sciences at Cambridge University. This started her lifelong love affair with the country’s wines, food and culture, leading to her appointment as a member of the Gran Orden de Caballeros de Vino for services to Spanish wine.

In 2006 she became a Master of Wine, writing her dissertation on Sherry and winning the Robert Mondavi Winery Award.

A past chair of the Institute of Masters of Wine, Evans spends her time contributing to magazines such as Decanter, writing books (including the upcoming Wines of Central and Southern Spain), wine education and judging.

Michael Hill Smith MW

Michael Hill Smith MW, who for the last three editions of the DWWA has joined Sarah Jane Evans MW and Andrew Jefford as a Co-Chair of the competition, was acting as Consultant Co-Chair in 2020 and 2021. Unable to attend the judging itself, his expertise and competition know-how were vital components of the DWWA planning processes.

Michael Hill Smith MW became the first Australian to pass the Master of Wine examination in 1988. He is a wine producer, international wine judge, wine consultant, occasional wine writer and lapsed restaurateur. In 2008, he was awarded an Order of Australia for his contribution to the Australian Wine Industry, and he has featured in Decanter‘s Power List in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

He believes passionately in the future of Australian fine wine, and is part of the international tasting panel responsible for the selection of all wines served on Singapore Airlines. Hill Smith was first a DWWA judge in 2004.

Andrew Jefford

Andrew Jefford has written for Decanter magazine since 1988.  His monthly magazine column is widely followed, and he also writes occasional features and profiles both for the magazine and for

He has won many awards for his work, including eight Louis Roederer Awards and eight Glenfiddich Awards.

He was Regional Chair for Regional France and Languedoc-Rossillon at the inaugural Decanter World Wine Awards in 2004, and has judged in every edition of the competition since, becoming a Co-Chair in 2018.

After a year as a senior research fellow at Adelaide University between 2009 and 2010, Jefford moved with his family to the Languedoc, close to Pic St-Loup. He also acts as academic advisor to The Wine Scholar Guild.

Ronan Sayburn MS

Over his 20 years in the wine business, Ronan Sayburn MS has worked with wine merchant OW Loeb, was sommelier at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Pied à Terre, and was executive head sommelier for the Gordon Ramsay restaurant group for eight years.

First a DWWA judge in 2004, he was also the director of wines and spirits for the Hotel du Vin group as well as head of wines for the prestigious Dorchester Collection UK.

A previous winner of the UK Sommelier of the Year competition, at present he is CEO for the Court of Master Sommeliers European chapter, is head of wine at 67 Pall Mall in London, and runs his own consultancy, RS Wine Academy.

For the 2021 DWWA competition, Ronan was appointed Acting Co-Chair, and will hold a permanent role for DWWA 2022 as the competition's fourth Co-Chair.

Can't get samples, but still want to watch?

For every masterclass we hold we always provide the option to watch along at home, without the need to buy samples.

We don't want you to miss out, and if you buy a 'Watch Only' ticket you'll be able to view this masterclass as well as all the other masterclasses and video content within this Decanter at Home event.

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  • Once payment has been processed and your booking confirmed you will receive an email notification to confirm delivery of your wine samples and tasting pack.
  • Wine samples will be delivered by DPD. You will receive an email to confirm your delivery window at which point you are able to accept this time or change the time if absolutely necessary.
  • Decanter does not take any responsibility for the wine samples once they have been delivered.
  • Wine samples will not be replaced unless they have gone missing in transit.
  • Wine samples are currently only available to residents in England and Wales (overnight delivery), Scotland and the Channel Islands' (two-day delivery). If you reside outside of these locations and purchase wine samples, your order will be cancelled and refunded to the payment card used for the transaction.
  • Strictly over 18s permitted to purchase the wine samples.
  • We have a no cancellation policy on our virtual events, however attendees may nominate an alternative person to attend up to 24 hours prior to the start of the event. This is for viewing access only and no samples will be transferred or sent. The change is at no charge, and all substitutions must be received in writing to
  • This information is correct at time of publication, but the organisers reserve the right to change any part of the event without notice.