All Things Wine. That is what it says on my business card. I sort of like the phraseology. It doesn’t pigeonhole me into anything in particular in the world of wine, which is beneficial for exploratory purposes, but I don’t totally love it. Even though the following phrases describe the different things I do, I don’t do backflips over these either:
Wine Writer-It’s too limiting.
Wine Blogger-It can be too controversial and sometimes garners a lack of respect.
Wine Consultant-Seems too slick.
Wine Educator-Not particularly hip and a little snoozy.
Wine Enthusiast-Not really professional enough.
Wine Pairing Advisor/Party Maven-Sounds too soshy and chick-like.
I guess what is best about All Things Wine is that it allows me to pursue numerous interests within the world of wine, especially something that I find to be pretty groovy: wine competition judging.
At the grocery store you’ve likely seen the little gold, silver and bronze medal stickers stuck on random bottles of wine. Maybe you’ve seen a shelf promotion, or you’ve spotted medals and ribbons hanging around certain bottles in your local tasting room. Last year I decided to navigate my way into the origin of all that fanfare: the wine judging scene. I scored a gig as a guest media judge at the State Fair; it was a fabulous opportunity to learn about the process and get to know some of the players.
Last week I served as a Guest Judge at the El Dorado County Fair Commercial Wine Competition. My panel consisted of myself and three seasoned veterans from the judging circuit: one a local winemaker, another a local wine consultant, the other a well-known local wine educator/author/radio personality and former SacBee Journalist (hmm, Sacto friends, who could that be??). Judging is a focused, concentrated wine tasting effort. There is constant note taking and except for the sound of gurgling and spitting, much of the time it is quiet.
Panels were assigned their varietal flights at the beginning of the day; our panel had chardonnay, zinfandel, Italian red blends, Syrah and merlot. The number of wines within each of our flights varied from 5-12; we also had a handful of best of show flights at the end of the day that needed to be rated as well. All in all, we tasted over 60 wines.
In competitions like this one, wines are poured in a secluded area and presented to each panel blind; each glass is labeled with its associated bottle i.d. number. Using a system I refer to in my appreciation classes as S-5 (see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor), judges assess each wine on its appearance, aromas, flavors, texture, finish, beneficial features and flaws. They also search for wines with excellent varietal characteristic and finesse. Wines are scored individually and if there are any outlier scores, re-tasting occurs, subsequent discussions ensue, and a final panel award is assigned. This process serves as an effective check against personal palate preference or even a bit of tasting fatigue. As a guest judge, my scores and discussions were respected and considered by the panel, but not technically considered in the final award designation. Far more often than not, there was consistent agreement when it came to assessing the wines in our flights.
Trying to wiggle one’s foot in the door of the wine judging world is not for the faint of heart. It takes sensory skills, tasting acumen, professionalism, persistence, a bit of self-promotion and a ton of patience. You didn’t hear it here, but I have noticed that the domain of wine judging appears to be a bit of a man’s world. That’s ok with me though because the particular group of gentleman I worked with last week provided congenial collaboration and gracious mentoring, as well as some pretty good tips on how to avoid being struck by lightning on the golf course.
Wine Competition Judge—Yes, right up my alley!