AWS Colorado Winemaking Competiton 2011

Two things to note about this competition, which was held in Denver last week: I got to assess the quality of Colorado wine with visiting Colorado next year, and the event takes the recent criticism of wine judging quite seriously, using some sophisticated math to try to make the results less arbitrary.

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.

The best of show wines: Cottonwood Cellars Classic Blend 2005 ($16) for red, and Whitewater Hills Riesling 2009 ($12), for white. Both showed Colorado terroir, which meant they were varietally correct but didn't taste like they came from California, and both offered value for money.

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.