Corman’s horror films, often starring Price and based on Poe stories, are the stuff of cult legend (and a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to my old pal and video guru Lee Murray for introducing me to Corman all those years ago). The story in the link does a fine job of outlining Corman’s career. For our purposes, it’s enough to know that Corman, Matheson, Lorre, and Price take a tired and cliched scene and turn it into something better than it should be. Lorre makes a wine tasting face at Price at about the four minute mark that is priceless.
So does this mean Dallas residents Taylor Robertson and Jacob Fergus, the winning team, have discovered the secret to blind tasting?
“To be honest, we weren’t sure how we did when we saw the wines,” says Robertson, 34, a Dallas attorney who worked in the restaurant business before going to law school — but who never lost his appreciation for wine. “The wines this year were much more difficult than last year, and we were worried about how we did.”
This year’s wines included a South African chenin blanc, a Portuguese touriga nacional, and a French white grenache – hardly the sort of thing you’ll see on most wine lists.
But no need to worry, apparently. Tournament director John Viljus called their performance a very strong one, and is optimistic about the U.S. team’s chances at the 2019 world event this October in France. Belgium won the 2018 world competition, followed by Finland and France. Robertson and Fergus will be joined by Gwendolyn Alley and Sue Hill, who finished second in thee U.S. competition with 92 points.
Last weekend, a dozen two-person teams blind tasted six red and six white wines, getting points for correctly identifying the wine’s producer, its varietal, vintage, and region. They had just eight minutes to taste each wine, something Robertson says presented one of the tournament’s biggest challenges. At some point, tasting fatigue sets in, and it becomes more difficult to tell which wine is which.
They key to winning, says Fergus, who works at Savor Gastropub at Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park, was understanding the difference between the U.S, Open tasting format, which is more open ended, and the way blind tasting works for wine certification programs like master sommelier, which focuses on identifying specific wines.
And as for the world competition?
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” says Fergus. And why not, with a score like that?
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.
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?
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.”
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.
• Damn those young people: The panel discussion was probably terrific, featuring some of the smartest people in wine retailing. But the report of the event highlighted just how bewildering wine drinkers who aren’t Baby Boomers remain to those who sell wine. One of the lines in the story read: Retailers are having a difficult time understanding “the fickle tastes of younger consumers.” Which is winespeak for “Why don’t younger consumers drink the same wine that the Boomers do, and pick those wines by scores like the Boomers do?” Because that’s what the wine business is set up for, and why should it change for the people who buy the wine?
• Bug infestation: The glassy-winged sharpshooter, the scourge of the wine industry, has been found in Sonoma and Napa counties in the heart of California wine country. And while it’s not yet time to panic, any appearance of the sharpshooter and the Pierce’s Disease it transmits means it’s time to be concerned. The sharpshooter injects bacteria into the vine, and the bacteria blocks water from going through the plant, which kills it. Pierce’s can total a vineyard, stripping all the leaves from the wines in almost no time at all. There’s no cure or treatment, and the only preventative is pesticide, which brings its own problems. All this means that Pierce’s is perhaps the worst problem in wine that isn’t phylloxera.
• Cranky and irritable: Those of us who prefer bitter tastes, including apparently some kinds of red wine, are more likely to be sadists. Or so says a recent study from the University of Innsbruck in Austria. Granted that one person is a small sample size, but I am drinking black coffee as I write this, but feel no urge to kick either of my dogs. Still, the researchers say it may be that those who enjoy bitter tastes also tend to show a lack of emotion or empathy and display more anti-social behavior.
Michael Green, formerly of the late and much missed Gourmet, is the other moderator. The panel is top notch: Dr. Richard Becker of Texas’ Becker Vineyards; Ralf Holdenried of Napa’s William Hill; and Sergio Cuadra of Texas’ Fall Creek.
How to win (and these are the rules for all Wine Curmudgeon contests): Pick a number between 1 and 1,000 and leave it in the comments section of this post. At about 5 p.m. central today, I’ll go to random.org and generate the winning number. The person whose number is closest to the random number wins the prize — and no, you can’t pick a number someone else has picked. Only one entry per person.