Tag Archives: U.S. Open

U.S. Open wine competition returns this weekend

U.S. Open wine

Byanca Godwin

Top two teams will represent U.S. in world championships

Byanca Godwin didn’t expect much when she entered the U.S. Open wine tasting championship last year. All she wanted to do, she says, was to get a little blind tasting experience in as she prepared to take the various certification exams she had scheduled.

So how did she end up representing the United States at the 2018 World Wine Tasting Championships in France?

“I tried it just to have some fun blind tasting, instead of practicing like I usually do,” says Godwin, a wine retailer who will compete in this year’s U.S. Open on Sunday in Ventura, Calif. “I thought it might be interesting to compete. And then I finished third, which I didn’t expect.”

The Wine Curmudgeon has always thought blind tasting should be a competitive sport. Blind tasting is difficult enough, but imagine it with the pressure amped up – an audience cheering (or booing) as the contestants sniff, swirl, sip, and spit. Talk about grace under pressure.

The U.S. Open offers all of that. Two-person teams work their way through a dozen wines, getting points for correctly identifying the wine’s producer, its varietal, vintage, and region. And they have just eight minutes until another wine comes along. The top two teams will compete for the U.S. in the world championship in October in France. Belgium won the 2018 competition, followed by Finland and France.

“You really have to approach this like an athlete,” says Godwin. “When you’re competing, you have to stay focused on the wines and pay attention. You have to find the answer in the glass. Being distracted by the audience does not help your performance.”

One addition this year: Event organizer John Vilja says audience members can taste the wines as the contestants taste them in a sort of mini-competition. There’s also a blind tasting app.

Bring on the Swedes: Top U.S. wine tasters ready for world championships

wine tasting

Nicole and Jordan Moyen (front) Byanca Godwin and Prem Sundaram competed in last weekend’s U.S. Open wine tasting. Godwin and Sundaram finished third.

U.S. Open wine tasting winner: “All of the other countries take this seriously. We have to get the message out that this is a great opportunity.”

Kristen Shubert, a California wine shop owner, says participating in this year’s U.S. Open wine tasting championship “was a way to challenge yourself, to find out how much you know, to compete against the best.”

Which Shubert and teammate Lisa Stoll did. They won last weekend’s U.S. Open, and will compete for the United States at the sixth annual world championships in October in France. Shubert and Stoll won the blind tasting, scoring 124 points and correctly identifying seven of the 12 grape varietals. The team of Gina Cook and Christine Tanaka, who finished second, will join the winners on the U.S. squad.

“The thing that makes it so difficult is the self doubt,” says Shubert, who owns the VinTura Tasting Room in suburban Los Angeles, and spent 25 years in the restaurant business in Las Vegas before that. “You know that the grape can be from almost any country, any year, and you start to doubt that you have it right.”

The U.S. will have much to overcome in October, where Shubert says the defending champion Swedes are the team to beat. The best U.S. finish was third in 2016 (Shubert was on that team), but the Americans regularly finish out of the top 10.

“All of the other countries take this seriously,” she says. “We have to get the message out that this is a great opportunity.”

And how did Shubert feel about tasting wine in front of an audience, just like any other competition? (Which, frankly, is my favorite part about this.)

“You’re so focused, you’re so in the zone, that you really don’t notice the other people,” she says. “You can’t help but hear the people in the gallery talking about the wines, but you have to shut them out and focus on your zone.”

Which is the same thing I heard over and over during my long ago career as a sportswriter. Who says wine drinkers aren’t athletes?

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The U.S Open – wine tasting as a competitive sport

U.S. open wine tasting

“Oh wow.. did you see that swirl and spit?”

The U.S Open wine tasting offers wine drinkers a chance to see how good their palates really are

One of the things wine has always lacked – no matter how much else it has to offer – is dramatic tension. Now, though, we’ve got just that with next month’s upcoming U.S. Open wine tasting championship.

Imagine a blind tasting, and watching teams of wine drinkers sniff, swirl, and spit as they try to identify the wine in their glass. Does competitive sport get any better than that?

“Blind tasting is really hard,” says John Vilja, who is organizing the event on Aug. 11 in Marina Del Rey, Calif. “That’s what makes it fun.”

And it should be even more fun with an audience and cheering. Even booing, maybe? Can you imagine Hall of Fame baseball announcer Harry Caray shaking his head in disgust? “Boy oh boy, how did they screw that one up? You know, anyone should be able to smell that oak and know it’s California chardonnay.”

Who needs the World Cup? We’ve got competitive wine tasting.

There is a serious side to this: The winning team will represent the U.S. in the sixth annual World Wine Tasting Championship in France in October. Sweden won the 2017 event, while France finished 11th and the U.S. tied for 15th. In 2016, Vilja helped the U.S. finish third.

How does a competitive tasting like this work?

• Teams of two people will blind taste six white and six red wines from around the world.

• Teams score points by identifying the primary grape, country and region of origin, vintage, and producer.

• The teams are allowed to discuss the wines among themselves, but that’s it. No phone, no Internet – just their palates.

The competition is open to anyone, whether a wine professional or consumer. In addition, spectators will be able to blind taste along with the competitors.