Commercial Wine Competitions: A Behind the Scenes Look

Flight of merlot eldocty

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

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
-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

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
—Yes, right up my alley!








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Grape to Glass: Wines of the Sacramento Region –aka– @sacgrape2glass
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