Monday, August 26, 2013

The Sexy Side of Being A Wine Judge

First, I must confess. The title really isn’t reflective of today’s post. It is about wine judging and it is interesting. But sexy? Probably not, but I’ll leave that to you to decide.

At the end of July I had my second experience as a wine judge. My first was at the Indy International Wine Competition. This is a major contest in which thousands of bottles of wine are judged. I was serving as a guest judge, but was there shoulder to shoulder helping the judging panel sort through wines of distinction and those more dubious.

It was quite a production. A gigantic ballroom held thousands of bottles (you can see the photo on our Facebook page) – enough to boggle the mind of any wine lover. Volunteers with white lab coats rolled out carts with each flight. Judges received fresh glasses with numbers written on them.
We communicated using a series of flags, raising one when we were complete or another one if we had an issue or question.

At the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in British Columbia I attended a session on how to be a wine judge. It revealed some good thoughts, such as, “Drink wine in a holistic approach.” We also got to sample a Summerhill 1996 vintage sparkling wine. Pretty cool.

When I received a call from notable wine guy Mike Gregg who asked if I’d be interested in serving as a wine judge for the Wood County Fair, I gave him an enthusiastic yes. In addition to Mike and me, our TWAV tasting team member Dr. J was on the judging panel.

Together we judged more than 140 wines. This was done at the fairgrounds in Bowling Green in the Home & Garden World Building. The judges sat on a raised platform (next to the judges for the home brew). In a novel approach, the audience was the winemakers, who would be watching as we judged live. There were 15 categories including White Sweet Non-Grape. This was definitely different than I read about in Wine Spectator!

Here are a few lessons I learned during my recent judging gig:
  • Home winemakers are passionate about what they do. The top prize was $10, but the pride is priceless.
  • Quality can be relative. Would any of the wines tasted outdo a wine from Napa or Bordeaux? Of course not, but within the competition, the ability of good winemakers stood out and resulted in wines that trumped the others.
  • Good tasting notes are essential. When you are tasting 21 wines within a category, and then have to announce the first through third-place winners in front of the competitors, you need to have succinct thoughts to present on each.
  • Palate fatigue is real! When you are tasting 40 or more wines, you must have a good method, or you will be unable to tell one wine from another – or even fall off your chair. My method is to take a “micro-sip” followed by a larger sip that I “chew” and then spit.
  • In our area of northwestern Ohio, home winemakers are experimenting with a wide range of grapes, including Gerwurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Chancellor and Marechal Foch. This is in addition to the native varieties of Catawba, Niagara and Concord.
  • Viewpoints and tastes can vary drastically. At the end of category judging, we had to select a best of show. Dr. J had a sparkling wine with a unique spicy flavor he liked. I favored a red. I guess this is why they use an odd number of judges.
  • Fruit wine has its place. My preference is for dry, complex wines. We tasted quite a few sweet wines and plenty of fruit wines. There were wines from apples, peaches, pears, blueberries, cherries, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries and even rose petals. Some were very good and could be a nice refresher or dessert.
So, is being a wine judge sexy? Perhaps in Sonoma, but probably not in Bowling Green. There’s a lot of thought (and spitting) that happens, all in the effort to give back to the wine community.

Enhanced by Zemantak

1 comment:

Mike G. said...

Great post Dave! I was very pleased that you accepted the position, and look forward to next year's competition.
I always have a blast at these events. Through them, I have been introduced to a field of wines and winemakers that I never even knew existed. The hard work and passion that these people put in their wines is evident in every bottle.
Many wine guys and gals will turn their nose up at such an event and at the grapes that come into play, but that is a huge mistake.
At home I drink Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Oregon pinot noir, Washington syrah, and many other world-class, professionally made wines. The wines made by the folks (many of them area farmers)at the fair are similar in one very important regard: they pour their heart and soul into those bottles. Sure, the results vary greatly, but the ingredients (aside from specific grape varieties and soil content) are the same.
At the risk of sounding super-corny, I'm happy to have you on the team, Dave. I think that we, along with Mr. Kessler, can help to make this annual event to grow and succeed.