The best piece of advice I ever got about wine came shortly after I started doing this, and from two different people (both well known for their irascibility). “The minute you think you know everything about wine,” each told me, “go do something else. Because as soon as you think that, you’re not capable of being any good at wine.”
In other words, shut up and listen to people who know more than you do, something I’ve tried to do as often as possible for the past 20 years. I had an excellent opportunity to do it again on Monday and Tuesday when I judged the 30th annual Dallas Morning News TexSom Wine Competition. Regular visitors here know how I feel about high-alcohol, over-ripe, and over-oaked wines. So what did I get to judge? Lots of high alcohol, over-ripe, and overoaked wines — 41 zinfandels from Lodi, Dry Creek, and Napa in California among 185 wines over the two days . And you know what? I liked some of them, and even gave two gold medals.
More, after the jump:
One of the best things about judging the Morning News competition is that I get to taste wine with plenty of people who are worth listening to. This year, that included Baltimore’s Marguerite Thomas, who told me — politely, of course, because that is her way — to stop whining and to put my energy to better use by tasting the wine. Traci Dutton, who works for the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, patiently explained to me why the zinfandels, and especially the Dry Creek wines, did not necessarily taste the way I thought they would.
Both were correct. As noted here many times, one of the most difficult things do in wine is to taste with an open mind. When I did that with the zinfandels, and especially the 16 from Dry Creek, I may have had an epiphany. How else to explain that I was more than happy to help give two golds and six silvers to the Dry Creek wines, a 50 percent medal ratio? The results haven’t been released yet, but I’ll update this when they are.
At the very least, I developed a better understanding of that kind of wine. Some, and especially the five from Napa, still seemed excessive, but the best wines were tasty and interesting. In fact, the Dry Creek flight may have been the best group of zinfandels I’ve ever judged.
The zinfandels were not the only terrific wines. We gave a gold to a chambourcin from Missouri and silver for a chardonnay from New England and cabernet sauvignon from New Mexico, three more examples of how far regional wine has come. We also gave gold to a syrah from Lodi, hardly something we expected given how much very ordinary wine comes from that part of California. In all of this, the people I judged with displayed just the sort of open mind that I aspire to. Thanks to them, I learned a lot.