Midway during the second day of judging at this year’s event, one of the other judges smiled at me and said, “This must make you feel good.”
And it did. My panel was judging red wines from the United States made in places that weren’t California, Oregon, and Washington. And they had been – dare I say? – spectacular. We gave five silvers and a gold; the day before, we had awarded gold medals to chardonnays from Idaho's Pend d'Oreille and Michigan.
The other judge, Paul Lukacs of Baltimore, knew about my work with DrinkLocalWine and my enthusiasm for regional producers. And, as someone who judges regularly, he also knew the quality of these wines can be uneven. And while we had some clunkers during the two-day event (we judged all regional wine), the overall quality was as good – if not better – than at any competition I have judged. There was even a nifty red from South Dakota's Belle Joli made with the marquette grape. More, after the jump:
Improvement in regional wine quality is often difficult to measure. When I judged Indy last year, perhaps the best regional wine competition in the country, the wines were markedly disappointing. But, taking a longer view, what we saw this week at the DMN judging is part of decade-old trend – regional wine is getting better.
The winemakers have more experience, which is probably the most important thing in improving quality given that winemaking can be as much art as science. Grape quality has also improved, as producers better understand the difficulties of growing grapes in places that aren’t California, Washington, and Oregon. And consumers have played a role by demanding better wine from regional producers. If it’s not good, they don’t buy it, and that’s that.
Among the highlights of the judging (complete results are here):
• A red Bordeaux blend from Virginia's Pollak Vineyards, a hell of a deal for $28 and which got a gold. It was young and powerful and is only going to get better.
• The chardonnays, which were particularly impressive given how much bad regional chardonnay exists. Best yet, neither was California in style, and reflected where they were made.
• A cabernet franc from Michigan's Lemon Creek, which got a silver. This was perhaps my favorite wine -- well-made, interesting, and food friendly.
Finally, thanks to the other judges on my panel -- Lukacs, my old pal Ron Ruggless of Nation’s Restaurant News, and Kathy Morgan, a sommelier from Washington, D.C. who I don’t think had ever seen quite that much regional wine in one place but didn’t let it bother her.