Teams of inspectors evaluated more than 11,500 Australian wines at blind tastings in financial 2002/2003 to rate them as acceptable to export markets.

No wine of more than 100 litres can be exported without an official permit attesting that it is "sound and merchantable". Operation of Australia's quality screening system is detailed in the newly published report of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation.

Inspectors work in pairs on a roster. One must have a technical background, the other may have experience in sales or marketing.

The surge in exports has meant there are now four such assessments a week: in 2002/2003 this meant tasting a total 11,679 samples. Of these 221 were rejected and, after appeal, 26 rejections were confirmed.

AWBC chief executive Sam Tolley told just-drinks he believed the locally developed and legislatively upheld quality control system was " a core element in our role as custodian of Wine Brand Australia."

While not widely realised and appreciated, it was important to credibility in important market segments, notably the UK and US, Tolley said. "It provides product backbone."

Evaluation goes beyond the formal assessment of submitted wines. Random samples are drawn from consignments before export and assessed against a retention sample.

Sam Tolley said the rigorous screening together with detailed definition of 100 designated wine regions had helped propel Australia to its present status as the fifth largest wine export country, behind France, Italy, Spain and the US. The system, said Tolley, "stops wine going overseas that would otherwise bring us into disrepute."