Tag Archives: wine judging

The Judgment of Princeton

Blind tasting

Jersey wine? You're kidding me, right?

Blind tastings and wine challenges are nothing new these days. I get a couple of news releases a month detailing the latest faceoff between wines from various regions, and we even did one in April at DrinkLocalWine between Colorado and California.

So what makes this event, a blind tasting between wines from France and New Jersey, worth writing about? First, one of the organizers was George Taber, the only reporter present at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, the tasting that has become the model for everything since. Second, lots of people did write about it, which shows how far wine ? and regional wine ? has come. Third, the New Jersey wines held their own, which surprised more than a few people. More after the jump:

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Winebits 232: “Girly” wines, wine judging, wine scores

? More than long legs: The great Elin McCoy takes on wine developed and marketed for women, the ones with names like Skinnygirl: ?According to the new ?girly-wine ? brand marketers, we want to be skinny, to toss our hair playfully like ponies as we pick our bottles to match moods, not foods. ? Just looking at them makes me want to forget about drinking and head for the gym. ? McCoy ?s piece does an excellent job of deconstructing the way these wines are marketed, along with the notion that there is some male fantasizing going on that has nothing to do with women. And the other thing about the wines? How about this for a tasting note? ?Chilled plastic cup party fare. ?

? Trials and tribulations: Mike Dunne writes about the rigors of judging wine competitions, and especially if and how palate fatigue and alcohol affect the way judges score wines. His theory is that judges run into a wall, caused by tasting too many wines (palate fatigue) and the alcohol, some which is absorbed even when judges spit. It ?s a thoughtful piece, well worth reading to anyone who wonders about wine competition medals and if they mean anything.

? Making scores mean something: Regular visitors know that the Wine Curmudgeon considers this all but impossible, but one group wants to see if it can be done. The Ultimate Wine Challenge aims to give scores some depth by using a panel of expert judges to assess wine, so that consumers can trust the 100-point system results. The judges were impressive, and the results seemed mostly spot on (with a few surprises that made me wonder if palate fatigue had crept in). The catch? Wineries have to enter their products, paying $95 a bottle for the privilege, and only 700 wines were rated ? about the number done in a small competition.

International Eastern Wine Competition 2012

image from vwm-online.com

This was the 36th version of the competition, which has always spotlighted wines made in the east and midwest. This year, that focus was sharpened — only wines from the eastern and midwestern U.S. and eastern Canada were eligible. This meant that we didn't have to judge the hundreds (literally) of California grocery store wines that always entered, so the number of entries was cut from 2,000 or so when I last did it in 2010 to 800 this year.

That was not a bad thing.  Yes, we can boast about how manly we are when we judge 100 wines a day, which is quite common in major competitions, but I don't know that anyone actually enjoys it. So doing 50 a day, which is what we did this year, was quite a pleasant change.

The judges were also top notch, including the legendary Dan Berger, Elin McCoy of "Emperor of Wine" fame, and noted riesling winemaker Peter Bell. I judged with Virginia's Jenni McCloud, the queen of the norton grape, and California wine publicists Tim McDonald and Bill Smart.

Unfortunately, we didn't get enough quality wine to judge. The whites were better than the reds, but that's not saying much. Those of us who carry the banner for regional wine were disappointed; my buddy Dave McIntyre, also a judge, said he was sadly surprised at the poor quality.

And it didn't help the cause that Californians like McDonald and Smart had to taste what they tasted. McDonald was overwhelmed by one flight of a dozen nortons, and it's not hard to see why. They were not of the highest quality, which meant lots of acid and too much foxiness (an unpleasant aroma in poorly made norton). Smart, who filled in for McDonald the next day, endured a couple of flights of cold-hardy red hybrids that did not do the grapes justice. He was a trouper about it, but I wouldn't blame him if he vowed never to try another regional wine again.

What did we judge that was worthwhile? The results haven't been released yet, so I don't know what each wine was. But we tasted the best peach wine I've ever had, and it won best of show for fruit wine. The rieslings, as always, were top notch, and the one that won best of show was, to my mind, not even the best riesling entered. Our panel gave a gold to a Wisconsin riesling that was a stunner — slightly sweet, rich and lemony, and that was only our second favorite. And we had a gamay from Michigan that was deep and dark and quite interesting.

Nice wines — just not enough of them.

The Dallas Morning News and TexSom Wine Competition 2012

This year's competiton, the 28th annual, was held Sunday and Monday. The biggest news, at least from where I was judging, was that the quality of the California wine did not hold up to the quality of the U.S. wine that wasn't from California. Hard to believe, but the other three judges on my panel agreed — the regional wine we tasted was mostly better than the California wine, and we tasted wine from parts of California, like merlots from Napa and cabernet sauvignons from Alexander Valley, that should have been full of gold medals.

But it wasn't. And it wasn't because of the Wine Curmudgeon and his idiosyncratic palate. The others on the panel — Texas winemaker Kim McPherson and wine writers Marguerite Thomas and Laurie Daniel — very often felt the same way. We tasted a lot of California wine that wasn't varietally correct, poorly made or both. Or, as I asked out loud more than once, how can a winemaker screw up wine made with grapes from California, which produces the best grapes in the world?

We did about 100 wines from the rest of the U.S. and about 100 from California, all tasted blind. The standouts included a chambourcin, which probably came from the East Coast; what was likely a $10 sauvignon blanc from California and which got a gold; one of those Alexander Valley cabernets, which did get a gold because it tasted like it was supposed to taste; the best flight of regional merlots I've ever judged, which is saying something; and an orange muscat dessert wine, which McPherson took one sip of and pronounced spot on — also a gold.

Why the difference in quality? I'm guessing, though entries were up 500 or so from last year to 3,300, that many California wineries that do better quality wines still don't want to spend the money to enter. The recession took a toll on wine competition entries; they were one of the first things that wineries cut back on when they were looking for ways to reduce expenses, and the competitions haven't fully recovered. My sense is that the increase in entries came mainly from grocery store producers, and there is a lot of grocery store wine these days that counts on label or cute name, not quality, to attract consumers.

The results will be out in about a month, and I'll follow up this post when that happens. And a tip o' the Curmudgeon's fedora to Carolyn Westberry, Dave Oatman, and Sara Nichols, our table crew — the people who brought the wines out, cleared the empty glasses and handled the paperwork. They were excellent and true professionals; anyone who puts up with me sipping and spitting for two days deserves all the recognition they can get.

Virginia Governor’s Cup 2011

It’s almost enough to make one think Virginia wine is jinxed. First, there was the terrifically unseasonable heat and humidity during the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville in July, and we know how that turned out. Then, Hurricane Irene hit the Atlantic coast at the same time that judging was scheduled for the white wine portion of Virginia Governor’s Cup competition.

Two judges canceled, and Landsdowne Resort, where the judging was held, was as empty as I have ever seen it (and the Wine Curmudgeon has been to Landsdowne more times than he would have thought possible). And even I was a little worried about the storm — probably from watching too much shouting on The Weather Channel.

But all went well. The wine, though entries were down from last year, was more then competent — and some were even better than that. Irene stayed far enough out to sea so that Landsdowne didn’t get any of the storm, and we had more rain on Sunday morning than we did on Saturday when the hurricane came through. Competition guru Monty Barrett did a stellar job.

Five wines made it through the first round of judging to compete for the Governor’s Cup — a petit manseng, viognier, chardonnay, vidal blanc and white blend. We tasted blind, so I don’t know the producers, and the winner won’t be announced until October. But I thought the two best wines were the viognier and vidal. The former was young and rich, almost French in style, while the vidal was fresh and citrusy, without a hint of hybrid foxiness.

My guess, though, is that the chardonnay will win. It was about as oaky and toasty as an East Coast wine can be, and that’s a style that judges like. It was well made, certainly, but I didn’t think it reflected the state’s terroir as well as the others.