The 20th annual Indy International wine competition offered a variety of insights into wine competitions and U.S. regional wine. It offered a glimpse of the future of the former with a test of electronic scoring, while reaffirming that the latter are legitimate members of the wine community and deserve to be treated as such.
This year, there were 2,500 entries from 15 countries and and 38 states, which seemed to be not as many as last year. But my panel judged 212 wines over two days (not including the final round of taste-offs), and that was enough.
A quick note before the final day of judging today, when we pick the best of the best. Yesterday, our panel gave a double gold to a red Bordeaux blend made with cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. We won't know the name of the wine until later today, but it's worth noting that we think it came from the U.S. East Coast.
It was an excellently made wine (my pal Dave Falchek called it a knee-buckler) that combined the structure of the cabernet franc with the fruit of the cabernet sauvignon. Equally as important, the wine showed its terroir -- it was lean and reserved, and was noticeably different from similar California wines.This is not to say one style is better than another, but that they are different, and one of the great joys of wine is appreciating those differences.
• I'm judging with Rene Chazottes of the very fashionable Pacific Club in Los Angeles and Indiana wine distributor Michel Pascal. We judged together here last year, and I learned a lot. Learning even more this year. Michel, for example, grew up on a vineyard in the Rhone, which gives him a perspective not many others have. Our head judge is Amanda Stewart, who is doing important research on growing hybrids.
• Gave a gold medal to a chambourcin and a double gold to what seemed like a cool climate syrah among the 100 or so wines we tasted today. Otherwise, quality seemed uneven, though there were some very well done sparkling wines, including a catawba.
• We judged a bunch of white wines made with grapes I had never heard of, like ehrenfelser and geisenheim. One of the reasons I enjoy this competition so much is because I get to taste these kinds of wines. Anyone can judge chardonnay; who gets to judge ehrenfelser?
So what were two of my favorite wines in this week's Lone Star competition, the 28th annual? A merlot and a high alcohol viognier from California. Which, as I am constantly reminded, is why one should taste the wine before one judges it. And, not to be overlooked, we tasted the infamous blue wine pictured on the left. The rest of my judging panel liked it a lot more than I did.
And what did I learn? That Colorado wine has taken a step up since I judged this event last year, and has made significant strides since I first tasted it it a decade ago. Usually, when you judge a competition, there are some very good wines and some horrible wines. The key in assessing the quality of a region: How much professionally made, retail competent wine is there? That's the hardest thing for any new wine region to do, and it was as true in California 50 years ago as it is most regional wine states today.
And, in this competition, most of the wine I tasted was in that middle category. Which means consumers can go to the store, buy a bottle of Colorado wine, and know it will taste like wine. That progress is huge in establishing a region's credibility.
Finally, a word about Colorado enologist Steve Menke and his much appreciated efforts to take the variables out of wine judging. There were three panels of five judges each for the 200 or so wines, and each wine was judged by at least two panels to get a wider perspective. That's rarely done, as is the statistical analysis of the results to eliminate any bias or bad judging. I tease Steve when he says things like "perceptual and visual scaling," but he's on the right track.
I don't post this out of vanity; I know I'm not that good liking, but out of shameless self-promotion. Not all of us can get as much free cyber ink as Gary V. Think one of the big wine Internet aggregators will pick this up?
The other thing I like about the drawing is that I got to play the good cop in the good cop-bad cop discussion that Doug and I had about Texas wine, something that usually doesn't happen. Hard to believe, isn't it, that I always get to be bad cop.
And the artwork was created by Dallas' Michael Hogue for The Dallas Morning News.