Oddbins has crowned Steve Saunders from Bristol the UK’s finest amateur wine taster after 21,000 shoppers entered its blind tasting competition.

Sixteen finalists gathered in London this month and an expert panel featuring Oddbins buyer Ana Sapungiu, Susie Barrie MW, Peter Richards MW and wine writer Sarah Ahmed chose Saunders, a 41-year- old civil servant from Bristol, as winner of The Palate 2014.

The retailer won Innovation of the Year at OLN’s Drinks Retailing Awards earlier this year for The Palate after it led to a dramatic spike in footfall.

Shoppers are given wine to taste in store and asked increasingly difficult questions about it until those with the keenest palates are whittled down for semi-final boot camps ahead of the grand final.

The wine chosen by last year’s winner ended up being a best-seller, so Oddbins said it is keeping a close eye on the performance of Saunders’ choice, a Romanian red he picked from a selection of six, when it hits shelves later this year.

Oddbins managing director Ayo Akintola said: “If you’re willing to work hard to engage your customers, you can create incredibly strong loyalty.

“Since its inception three years ago, The Palate has acted as an ice-breaker, enabling us to interact with our customers and do what we love doing – making wine fun and inclusive.”

Saunders said The Palate has “really broken down barriers and taken the snobbiness out of wine tasting”.

He is about to become a father and is kept busy working at the Ministry of Defence but said he may pursue wine more seriously now he has won The Palate.

Judge Barrie said: “Can wine be competitive? You might not think so, until you’ve seen these contestants in action.

“There is tension, pressure and intensity in spades. There may not be physical violence – the atmosphere is far too convivial for that – but the hunger to win is palpable and the feats this pushes people to are admirable.”

The winners and prizes:

The Palate 2014

Steve Saunders, Bristol

– a luxury holiday for two in australia, courtesy of Berton and Longview wineries

a magnum of Laurent-Pérrier Champagne

– an engraved decanter

Runner Up

Sue Bennett, Balham

– a luxury holiday in Veneto, italy, courtesy of Tenuta Chiccheri

– a magnum of Tenuta Chiccheri amarone

Most Impressive Performance

Laura Martz, Brighton, and Robert Macaloney, Glasgow

-£300 to spend at Oddbins

Most Likely to Grow Further

Mark Walker, Chiswick

– novice-professional training course courtesy of the WSET