Cata por Parejas:
How does it work
On 1st March, national distributor and fine wine specialist Vila Viniteca held their 13th annual Cata por Parejas. A blind tasting competition in pairs which takes place in Barcelona or Madrid on alternate years, this prestigious tournament now has a grand prize of €30,000 for the winning couple. With such a jackpot up for grabs, places are limited and highly coveted, many pairs spend all year practising and the tension and excitement on the day is palpable, to say the least. I entered for the first time this year with the glorious Glòria Vallès from Wine Style Travel. Did we take it seriously enough? Probably not. Did we win? Hmm… Did we have fun? Yes! If you fancy giving it a go next year (or you’re just curious to read about this madcap event), read on to find more.
1. Get your place
Places are limited to 240 couples and sold out within a record four minutes on the 9th of January this year. Registrations opened at 10am and we were waiting at our laptops (with all our details ready to copy and paste for speed) from 9.58am. Yes, we felt ridiculous, but we got our place! Each pair only needs to register once. You’ll need your full names, DNI or passport numbers, email addresses, addresses and card details. It costs €200 per pair to enter.
2. Practice, practice practice!
As above, many couples spend all year practising blind tasting together or in small groups. There were rumours of one pair who run analytics on all previous years’ wine selections and the Vila Viniteca catalogue to predict what will come up that year (and yes, they did get into the final and have won on a previous occasion, so there’s method to their madness). The majority of wines shown are Spanish and, while it’s not a hard rule, are almost always from the Vila selection. So when it comes to practising, it’s worthwhile choosing wines from them and focusing on key Spanish styles. Be methodical, taste blind when possible and take lots of notes. La Vinya del Senyor is a great spot to try small glasses of lots of their wines.
3. Round 1
The first round involves all 240 pairs, blind tasting the same seven wines simultaneously. They are brought out one-by-one over the course of an hour and a half. You are asked to state:
- Country (1 point)
- Region (1 point)
- Denomination of origin (e.g. DO, DOCa, AOC) (2 points)
- Grape variety/ varieties (3 points)
- Vintage (3 points)
- Producer (3 points)
- Wine name/ Brand (2 points)
Points are allocated as above and you are also asked to write a tasting note, which will only be consulted in the case of choosing between couples with equal points to decide who enters into the final.
You’ve then got around two hours to relax, taste wines from a selection of Vila Viniteca producers and compare notes with other couples. The venue, Casa Llotja de Mar, is stunning, with an open courtyard in the centre where you can sip a glass of something chilled and soak up the atmosphere. During this time, Chinese whispers are rife, as everyone starts to panic hearing that one couple marked the sparkling as South African rather than Champagne or Cava, and therefore that must be what it is. The nail biting begins.
4. Round 2
Finally, the wines from Round 1 are revealed. There is laughter, there are a few hushed curses and ‘I told you we should have put…‘, there is incredulity. The wonderful thing about blind tasting is that it shows you how easy it is to taste wines when you know what they are. When the premium Manzanilla you thought you’d tasted turns out to be a €7 bottle of La Ina Fino (a super wine, nonetheless), all you can really do is laugh at yourself.
The 10 finalist couples are announced and they have a couple of hours’ break before they get started on Round 2. This round has 6 wines, the same questions are asked and then…
5. Win and count your riches
You win, get handed a giant cheque for €30,000 to share and head off to celebrate. If you’re unlucky enough to win second prize, you’ll receive €7000; third will get you €3000. This year’s winners were Lucía Viz, lawyer and Casaca Roja, and Rubén Pol, sommelier at the two Michelin-starred Disfrutar. A huge CONGRATULATIONS to the pair of them. I hope they spend it on lots of good things to drink. Salud!