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The WOTW Guide to Playing Wine Options in NZ

© Sue Courtney
29 May 2001
Revised May 2003

Wine Options is a serious event on the New Zealand wine calendar. It is the wine identification guessing game where consumers can pit their palate against the professionals and enjoy a few good wines while doing so. And if the going gets too tough, sit back, have fun and enjoy the wines. My interview with Wine Options creator Kingsley Wood gives the background and history of the competition. This page is a guide to playing the game. It can be as serious or as fun as you want it to be. (Note: for the official rules, go to the First Glass website.

How the game is actually played
How to train
But seriously

How the game is actually played
People form teams of four.

The teams are presented with 8 wines - 4 white and 4 red - one at a time. In the official competition, the wines are poured into jugs 'out the back' ensuring no team has the advantage of guessing a wine by its particular bottle shape or presence or lack of screwcap thread.

Five questions are asked for each wine - one at a time.

Each question has three options- hence the name of the game. The options are identified by the letters A, B and C.

In the official competition, for each question the options A, B and C are displayed onto a giant screen. Of course if you are playing at home you probably won't have a giant screen so listen carefully to the question master. The teams select the option they think is the correct one and write it onto an answer sheet, where they also write the team number, the wine number and question number. The answers sheets are collected by stewards and when all the collected and safely in the hands of the markers, the correct answer is revealed.

Question 1 is an individual question. Only one team member is poured the wine and only that member can smell and taste the wine. He/she can describe the wine to teammates to get assistance in answering. This question is worth 3 points.

Questions 2-5 are answered by consensus of the team. Three of the questions will be worth 4 points while one of the questions - any one - will be worth 5 points.

The Tick of Confidence.
(This new feature was introduced to the game in 2002)
One question on each wine will be the confidence question. If the team is sure of their answer, they can check the 'Tick of Confidence' box. If they are correct, points will be added to their score. It they are wrong, points will be deducted. This will be challenging for the players as well as the people marking the scores.

Bonus Wines.
After wines 1, 3, 5 and 7, a bonus wine is poured for one of the team members, a different team member each time. There is one question asked on this wine, for example "Is this Seresin Riesling, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc or Albert Mann Pinot Gris?" Sounds easy, right. It's 5 points if the team member picks the right option.

Progress Scores.
After each wine, up to wine six, the teams' scores are projected onto the screen. So that the announcement of the winner will be a surprise, the scores are not revealed for wines 7 and 8. This of course helps to build up the tension in the room.

The winning team wins excellent prizes. In the Auckland heat this year the winners will each receive a bottle of Grange. In the past at the National finals, as well as winning the coveted title of Wine Options Champions, there are prizes of bottles of Champagne and vouchers to spend at the sponsor's store. Also in the past, the winning team has received airfares to compete in the Australasian Final when it is held in Australia on alternate years.

How to train for Wine Options.
1. Find 3 other people who enjoying playing drinking games to make up the 4 in your team.

2. Decide on a name. It should be topical, perhaps rude and definitely catchy. Note to some people out there - if you play options regularly it is good to come up with a new name each year.

3. Think of a name that you can dress up to. You won't be the only team that makes a fool of themselves by dressing up and it adds to the fun of the day. You may even win a prize.

4. While it is good to win the wine drinking game, there are prizes for losers as well, so if you want to ensure yourself of a prize you can always endeavour to come last. However some teams need no help.

5. Take dice, or spin the bottle in a circle divided into thirds and labelled A, B and C if you really need help in deciding the answer.

6. Shout to make your point if the other team members disagree. Eventually they will bow to your superior knowledge.

7. Cheer loudly whenever you get a question right.

8. Take another sip of wine whenever you get a question wrong.

9. Smile for the photographer (it might be me).

10. Don't rubbish the quizmaster too much. He has a microphone and will always get the better of you

But seriously -
So you decide you really want to win instead of just having a good day out. Here are some hints for the serious players.

Remember the motto - go for the obvious. At least that is the motto when you are playing in New Zealand and Kingsley Wood is the quizmaster.

What is the obvious?
- if the wine is sauvignon blanc and there is an option of Marlborough - go for it.
- if the wine is Australian and there is an option of South Australia - go for it.
This is also known as playing percentages, ie picking the region that has the most grapes.

The questions are usually structured so five questions can easily be answered. So if the first question asks "Is this wine from New Zealand, Australia or South Africa" then eliminate South Africa straight away as how the heck is he going to get four more questions based on that answer. (Different if you are playing in South Africa, of course). Similarly if the first question has some obscure grape variety - ignore it.

Play the wine in the glass. Don't ever think 'He wouldn't have THAT wine. He just might'. Remember he has been in the industry for 22 years and who knows what he might have ferreted away. It just might be that Champion 1991 Riesling that is in your glass.

Similarly don't even try to guess what wines might be in the competition based on previous years. You can be guaranteed only that there will be 4 red and 4 white.

Your first impression is probably right. Don't talk yourself out of what you really think the wine could be. You'll probably regret it. Remember the first telltale whiff - for me rubber bands denotes a hot climate (prob. Aussie wine), farmyard character denotes Europe, possibly France, fresh and fruity denotes New Zealand and tea tannins denotes Italy.

Learn your vintages. We know there were no stickies from Marlborough in 1994, so it probably has to be Hawkes Bay.

Study the show results lists and the trophy winners.

Know what grapes grow where.

Practice, practice, practice. Practice on good wines that show typicity for their variety. Hungarian Bull's Blood is unlikely to be in the competition.

Examples A couple of questions from the 2000 competition

Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 1999


Option A

Option B

Option C



1 - Is this wine predominantly


Sauvignon Blanc




2 - Does the wine come from






3 - Were the grapes grown in


Hawkes Bay




4 - Is the vintage of the wine

1998 or 1999

!997 or 1996




5 - Is the wine labelled

Cloudy Bay 98

Villa Maria Reserve 99

Wither Hills 98



Maglieri Shiraz 1996


Option A

Option B

Option C



1 - is this wine from


Chile or Argentina




2 - Is its made predominantly from






3 - Is the region






4 - Is the vintage






5 - Is it labelled


Annies Lane

Fox Creek Reserve



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