Tag Archives: wine tasting

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.

Winebits 430: Millennials, glassy-winged sharpshooters, wine palates

MillennialsDamn 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.

Win two Savor Dallas tickets

Win two Savor Dallas ticketsAnd the winner is: KT, who picked 653. The winning number (screen shot below) was 797.

Win two Savor Dallas tickets for a Saturday winemaker tasting panel co-moderated by the Wine Curmudgeon, who may also mention a thing or two about the cheap wine book (and have some for sale).

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.

The seminar is at 11 a.m. March 22 at Bob’s Steak and Chop House in Dallas.

randon savor

wine snobs

Happy New Year 2014

The blog is off today for New Year’s, but will return tomorrow with our usual features in the run-up to the 2014 $10 Hall of Fame, which debuts on Monday.

Until then, enjoy this primer on wine tasting (courtesy of Holyexpletive on YouTube), which puts everything we’ve talked about on the blog in wonderful perspective. Only wine snobs would think that being a snob would help them get chicks. Or, as the waiter says, “Excellent palate you have, sir.”

Happy New Year from the Wine Curmudgeon.

26 bottles of pinot noir on the wall, 26 bottles. …

There used to be a picture of the dead soldiers from the June 13 under-$15 pinot noir tasting, undertaken at the behest of Beverage Media for an upcoming article (and I still have a half dozen or so to taste). I ?ll link to the story when it runs later this summer and offer my thoughts; several of the wines will also show up on the blog in reviews.

Surprisingly, given the Wine Curmudgeon ?s less than happy experience with a similar sweet red wine tasting, all but a handful of the pinots were professional and sound. A half dozen or so were much better than that, and even those that didn ?t taste like pinot noir were at least drinkable red wine blends.

A tip ?o the Curmudgeon ?s fedora to the legendary Diane Teitelbaum, who tasted the wines with me and made many funny comments along the way.