On Sunday, September 16th I was, for the first time, officially a wine competition judge; judging wines for the Denver International Wine Festival which takes place on November 8 & 9, 2012 at The Grand Hyatt in downtown Denver, CO. Most of the other 17 judges (all wine professionals) participated on both Saturday and Sunday in the double-blind tasting of domestic and international wines. A previous engagement, however, (leading a winery tour in Napa Valley), limited me to Sunday only.
I arrived a bit nervous, not knowing exactly what to expect. Beginning at 10:30 am and ending at 3pm, we tasted through about 50 wines. Each table of 4 judges tasted different categories of wines. Our table was assigned Pinot Blanc, European Dry Whites, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Red Blends, and Apple/Pear, Berry, and Flower/Vegetable dessert wines. Each was scored for nose, color, flavor, finish and overall appeal. We had a knowledgeable group of judges at our table, including one who came all the way from Sonoma. Soon I was in the groove and found my scores were quite similar to the others.
While this may sound easy, wine judging is more challenging than it appears. The glasses for each group (provided by Riedel) were laid out in front of us. Then a conga line of official pourers came past with their sheathed wines and poured in order. We only knew the classification of the wine, say Cabernet Sauvignon priced between $15 and $25.
Obviously with 50 wines to sample, there was a lot of spitting going on. Wine spitting is an art unto itself. It’s not like spitting pool water, just pucker and spew. Spitting wine in this way will irritate the taste buds on the top of your tongue, making all the wines taste bitter. The trick is to take in a good sip, softly swirl it around your mouth and allow the wine to pool under your tongue. Then squirt it out from under the tongue. I know it sounds weird, but practice in the shower and soon you’ll be a pro…without dribbling down your shirt or inadvertently hitting your table-mate.
Back to the wines. The Cabernets were my favorites. The Flower/Vegetable dessert wines were as peculiar as they sound. A few wines in our flights were real dogs, but for the most part the strong entries made for great competition. The wines were judged in total secret. We were not even allowed to go near the holding and prep room for fear we may spy the wines to be judged.
In the end, the judges gave out over 200 medals. Complete List of 2012 Winners
The Best of Show Winners were:
White Wine: Ranier Wines – Diversion Riesling N/V
Red Wine … a Tie: Delille Cellars – Doyene Signature Syrah 2009 and Steele Vineyard – Pinot Noir 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard
The Gold Medal winners will be showcased at the 2012 Denver International Wine Festival’s Pairsine Chefs Food & Wine Pairing Competition on Thursday November 8, 2012, 6-9pm. Ten Colorado chefs will create 20 culinary/wine pairings. The Grand Tasting on November 9th, 4-9pm, will showcase more than 400 wines, beers and spirits. Food samples will be available for sale. Both events are at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Denver. Tickets are now on sale at DENVERWINEFEST.COM.
All in all it was a great experience and opportunity to commune with fellow wine professionals at a well-run run wine competition. There were some truly outstanding entries from renowned American and International vintners. I am anxious for the 2012 Denver International Wine Festival in November. No doubt, the wine lovers in attendance will be impressed with both the wines and culinary offerings. See you there.