When wine judge Jim Harré goes to a dinner party and tastes a really good wine, he has to fight the urge to spit it out.
It's a difficult instinct to shake off when you spit out 6000 to 7000 wines a year.
"When I spit wine out, I'm working," Harré said as he took a short break from judging wines at the New World Wine Awards in Wellington.
The chair of judges, Harré spent three days tasting wines, at a rate of 120 wines per day. He'll start with a table of wines and spend about 30 seconds on each, before coming back to spend more time on the ones he liked the best.
"If you go too slow you start to second guess. Too fast, you miss things," he said.
"You're relying on first impressions and then following that up."
As a judge, Harré is careful to make sure he's giving every wine the chance it deserves to impress him.
He avoids strong foods such as garlic, chilli and curries, some of which can "deaden the taste buds". He regularly rinses out his mouth with soda water to refresh his palate while going through a "flight" of wines.
"You actually spit out the best part of a litre and a half of water and saliva," he said.
Wine judges talk about "hitting the wall" on the job, which is when all the wines start to taste the same.
Harré's trick is to identify a wine early on that he particularly likes, and come back to it occasionally to make sure it still tastes just as good. If it were to taste just like all the other wines he's been sipping, he knows it's time for a break.
It's a role that judges take seriously, because, as Harré says, what might simply be a table of 40 wines for them, is something much more for the winemakers.
"It's actually 40 people's hearts and souls and their expression of that year that you're playing with . . . it's really important that you give complete respect to the wine."
The New World Wine Awards aims to pick out the best wines selling for $25 and under, and awards gold medal stickers to those that make the cut.
By the time a wine makes it to gold medal stage, it will have been tasted about 35 times.
This means if someone wanting to try a new wine picks one with the gold medal, they'll know it's been thoroughly tested for quality.
"People don't actually have to worry about the quality of the wine they drink. You've seen the process it goes through, it's incredibly robust," Harré said.
"They're not going to end up with a dud wine."
While it might sound like a dream job - and for Harré, it is - it does have its challenges.
Harré cannot brush his teeth over the days he is judging wines, and has to resort toothpaste on a finger if he wants to freshen up.
"The big disadvantage of wine judging is it's really hard on your teeth."
Judges chew on a special type of gum which hardens their enamel. The acidity of the wine softens the enamel and it can take about eight hours to reharden on its own, during which time they cannot use a toothbrush without causing damage.
But it's worth it for Harré and the 16 other independent judges at the Awards this year.
The line up includes wine experts, winemakers and even wine scientists – all with extensive judging experience in New Zealand and overseas.
This year's panel includes two highly-regarded international wine experts: Ying Hsien Tan, Master of Wine, wine educator and owner of Taberna Wine Academy in Singapore, and Dr Rowald Hepp, winemaker and managing director of Germany's Schloss Vollrads, one of the oldest wine estates in the world.
This year is only the second time in the competition's 16-year history that Pinot Noir entries have surpassed Sauvignon Blanc.
It's also a big year for the Rosé class, with a third more entries than in 2017.
"Rosé growth in the last five years has been huge, it's a bit of a phenomenon that's broken down a few barriers," said Foodstuff's merchandise manager for liquor Morgan McCann.
Rosé sales are up 20 per cent in the last year, the same rate it's been growing for the last several years.
"It's something that's just trending," he said.
It can be matched with different foods, can be made from a number of different grapes, and more popular wine brands are bringing out their own versions of it.
Meanwhile Sauvignon Blanc growth has "flattened", as has Pinot Gris.
"The repertoire of wines that New Zealanders are open to is a bit wider than it was, say, five years ago."
People were travelling more and discovering new tastes as well, he said.
This year's best wines will be announced in a couple of months.
By the numbers
• 1409 wines from 179 wineries are entered in the awards this year
• 67 per cent of the wines entered are from New Zealand winemakers, with 433 of them originating from the Marlborough region
• Of the international wine entries, the majority (326) are from Australia. The balance (135) are wines from France, Spain, Italy, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Portugal and USA
• Rosé had the most significant increase in entries, up 33 per cent to 109.
• Nearly 8000 glasses are used throughout the competition
• Stewards carrying wines to and from the judging room end up walking about 15km each day of the competition
• Each gold medal wine will be tasted about 35 times