You can't make a living as a wine judge but we have a fun life. Show judges are rarely paid but are often provided with airfares and accommodation, as well as an attractive programme of dinners, winery visits and activities. In judging the McLaren Vale Wine Show in South Australia last year, I flew in a Tiger Moth biplane, swam with dolphins, participated in a spitting competition and sailed with a former yachting champion. In exchange, as a judge I promised to faithfully sniff, sip and spit hundreds of entries. There are two main types of wine competitions: producer-oriented or market-oriented. Producer-oriented shows feature wines submitted by wineries from a geographic area. These shows can be regional, such as the McLaren Vale show; state-wide, such as the California State Fair; or national, such as the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. Market-oriented shows feature wines commercially available in a market, such as the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Many shows are a hybrid of the two, with competition entries being solicited from whoever wants to enter. These shows are usually international, such as the International Wine Challenge or the Sydney Top 100. Shows can also be themed, such as the Muscats-du-Monde or California's Zin Challenge. Australian show judging typically features a strict hierarchy, with five-member judging panels being comprised of a leader, two senior judges and two associate judges. Though the two associates submit their scores and proffer an occasional opinion, they are considered apprentices and are not included in the final numerical tally. American shows feature more democratic panels, with one judge acting as table captain to provide leadership, organise score submissions and pronounce a final opinion on the wines. The number of wines judged per day varies but is usually between 150 and 300. In all wine shows, submissions are organised by pre-arranged classes, such as by grape variety, style or price brackets. Though judges usually know which class they are judging, the wines are otherwise judged 'blind'. In many shows - especially in Australia and New Zealand - 100 or so glasses of wine are numerically lined up on a table for tasting all at once. Though this system is staunchly defended by its fans, many professionals complain it favours show-boat wines, leaving more subtle entries in the dust. American competitions tend to present the wine in flights, or rounds, of about 10 to 12 wines each. Seated panels of four or five judges evaluate the wine independently then discuss the results. Proponents of this method argue that judges have fresher palates due to service time between 'flights'. The argument against is that less experienced judges tend to seek a gold-medal winner within each flight instead of adhering to a class standard. Judges have diverse backgrounds and are usually selected based on work history, experience, referrals and certification programmes. Judging wine shows can be a lot of fun, but don't give up the day job.