? 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.
? How wine is judged: My DrinkLocalWine.com cohort Dave McIntyre has a nicely done description of wine competitions and wine judging in a recent Washington Post column: "For consumers, competition medals can serve as recommendations from a group of wine professionals to try a particular wine, similar to an inside tip from a friend or trusted wine columnist." It's one of the best discussions I've seen about how judging is done, warts and all, and the bit about judges "blitzing through" wines instead of enjoying them is spot on.
? Regulating booze ads: The Federal Trade Commission will study the effectiveness of voluntary guidelines followed by companies that market alcohol, with an eye on advertising in social media — which mostly didn't exist the last time the FTC looked at the issue. The New York Times reports that a key to the current system of self-regulation is that wine, beer, and spirits ads should run only in media outlets which can certify that 70 percent of their viewers or readers are 21 or older. Which, for social media, is an almost irrelevant requirement. How do you certify that 70 percent of your Twitter feed is of drinking age?
? Canadian critic rips wine scores: And good for him. Bill Zacharkiw, in a piece in the Montreal Gazette about a wine promotion run by the provincial liquor monopoly, writes this: "I have long contended that these scores are meaningless, feigning precision for what is essentially a qualitative, emotionally based value judgment. … I will stop now because the subject drives me absolutely nuts." That's a feeling that the Wine Curmudgeon knows all to well when it comes to scores.