|Bird's eye view of my panel's table in San Francisco|
To rip off Pete Seeger (who ripped off the Bible): “To everything there is a season.” And there is a season to wine judging as well. As a professional wine judge (yes I know it seems inconceivable that it’s an actual job, but it is) March through June tends to be a busy time for wine judges as there are competitions all over California (and other parts of the U.S.), from large and prestigious to small and under the radar competitions. I participated in four California judging’s this year - The El Dorado County Fair in Placerville, The San Diego International Wine Competition, the Central Coast Wine Competition held in Paso Robles, and the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Let’s dismantle the idea that wine judging is a day of debauchery and drunkenness as we suck down as many wines as we can with no thought of our liver, reputation, or relationship to said judging. (Well, to be honest there are always a few fellow judges who might seem better suited to AA meetings than deconstructing a wine, but that’s not my call.) So I decided to interview myself on this topic.
|At work in San Diego|
Michael Cervin: Is being a wine judge cool?
Michael Cervin: Duh, yes.
Is it easy?
No. To give your full attention to each and every wine presented to you takes a focus of physical, and mental abilities. At the San Francisco International Wine Competition for example, my panel (most panels are comprised of three judges, sometimes four) worked though 277 wines in two days, and that didn’t include the sweepstakes round on the 3rd day. Do the math.
Are there problems?
Not ‘problems’ per se. Aside from roast beef dropped on me accidentally in San Francisco (the thin red meat landed at the intersection of my hand and my chest and I immediately yelled out “I’ve been hit!”), in the final rounds of two competitions there were several corked wines. On average 2 - 4% of wines under cork will get TCA which causes the wine to smell like rotten gym socks, or a moldy apartment, or better yet, moldy gym socks in a rotten apartment. TCA - “corked wine” - is an actual flaw. And then there are just some really bad wines we taste which just seem like punishment. Aside from that, it’s not a bad way to spend a day or two, not to mention we get to hang out with our peers and get geeky on wine.
|Me and the Man - Jonathan Mitchell, Somm, with the winning wines in Paso Robles|
Who cares that you do this?
That’s a valid question, Michael. Do people actually care if a wine they have never heard of is given a gold medal? Well, they should. It matters because all competitions are made up of writers (both mainstream wine publications and blogs), winemakers, retail sales people, public relations folks, people who know the wine industry. That doesn’t mean our palettes are similar to the wine buying public, or even our fellow judges – I disagree constantly with my fellow judges and a few “Best of” wines were not ones that I voted for – but the end result of a competition is never a unanimous decision, but a consensus – so those are pretty damn good odds that the public will like a wine we award.
It all seems so goofy.
That’s technically not a question but I’ll respond anyway. Yeah, it does seem goofy. We usually talk about the wines, giving our thoughts and then wrangle amongst ourselves to find common ground on an award. One judge described a wine as tasting like “bloody gauze” – seriously, what does bloody gauze even taste like? Another popular descriptor at one competition was “forest floor,” and I seriously doubt my fellow judges have stuck their tongues on the actual floor of a forest, be that conifer, redwood or any other type, but I am sure they have smelled one. We as professionals train our noses and palettes. Other colorful phrases included various wines described as “1980s cocaine drip” – “jolly rancher meets juicyfruit” – and the innocuous “LCBA” meaning “literally could be anything” – a wine so devoid of any defining characteristics it could….well, you get it.
So what’s the bottom line here?
If you see an awarded wine at your local wine shop, at Costco, winery tasting room, or grocery store – the chances are in your favor this is a terrific wine – vetted by a diverse group of professionals. No, it’s not a guarantee you’ll love it and be pleased with the price you paid so don’t take that out on anyone. We all take risks when buying anything from wine, to a special at a restaurant to a pair of pants, to a home. But, think of an award winning wine like a seal of approval. And better still – the results listed below show that many of these wines are not super expensive high end “I can’t afford that kind of wine” wines. So, go forth and drink!
At the Central Coast Wine Competition held in June at the fairgrounds in Paso Robles the Best of Show was a 2013 Albariño from CRU Wine Company ($23), Mariposa.
At the El Dorado County Fair held in at the fairgrounds in Placerville the ---Best Red was Jeff Runquist 2012 Petite Verdot ($24).
--Best White was Terra d’Oro 2013 Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend ($16),
--Best Sweet was the 2009 Russian River Vineyards Botrytis Chardonnay ($41)
The San Francisco International Wine Competition held in June, the top winners, out of 5,470 entries were:
--Best in Show White: 2013 Petr Vacenovsky 2013 Riesling, Pozdní Sběr, Czech Republic
--Best in Show Red was the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Niner Wine Estates, Paso Robles ($35)
|Contemplative in Paso|