into the great unknown

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The first flight of yesterday’s judging was a doozy. Two auxerrois, one Bacchus, two Kerners, three chenin blancs, a sémillon, three ehrenfelsers, a pair of siegerrebes, a Sovereign Opal, and a vidal. Hello! You have maybe 20 minutes to taste through them, decide if they are no medal, bronze medal, silver medal, or gold medal, and cast your vote. The four votes are tallied, we look at the totals, and compute medals.

Since we are four-person panels for this competition, it takes three votes to award a medal. Wines that have a preponderance of gold/silver votes will go to a full panel taste-off on Wednesday; the others get what they get.

I noted that, since this was the first time I’d encountered a Sovereign Opal, it was the worst and best example of that wine I’ve ever had. But seriously, how do you evaluate wines such as these, that are presented in mixed flights, with maybe one or two peers?

I put on my consumer mind – which is to say, I start with like/don’t like. I look for flaws, because a flaw is a flaw is a flaw. (I know that one person’s ceiling is another person’s flaw, but that’s a debate for another time). Once wines are eliminated for flaws, I look for the other side of the coin – texture, layers, depth, detail, balance, varietal character, length, purity. Is the wine clean? Do the flavors gain complexity? How ripe and pure is the fruit? What other details can be found?

With those parameters, such a lineup is less daunting. Surprisingly, the panel was pretty well in agreement on which wines deserved to be cut, and which deserved medals.

More contentious was the panel on rosé. The lineup of 11 rosés was presented with no indication of grape (other than a single rotberger) or sweetness. Colors were all over the map – not unusual with rosé – so we agreed up front that color would not be a factor. But other things were – sweetness for example. One particular wine, a very fruity wine with noticeable sweetness, got a strong vote from me but no support elsewhere. These things happen. But sometimes the questions are more interesting than the answers. What should a gold medal rosé taste like? In a blind flight of mixed varietals, how do you know? It really comes down to like/don’t like as often as not, even among pros.


Wawineman said...

If you had to run a wine judging event, is this how you would run it?
Is this process really doing a favor for the consumer?
I would sure like to know the comments made by each judge for every wine he/she sampled.
Are the results ultimately a reflection of the judges instead of the wines?
Your thoughts on an individual may taste great in a small social setting with cheese, but end up as plonk in a blind taste-test. So, when a wine is judged in a "competition", what is the intent when awarding a medal? That it's a good blind-test wine, or goes great with... ?

Steve Heimoff said...

As you know I've participated in these kinds of judgings, but I have to say I think the critics of this approach have the upper hand. It really turns into a beauty contest. There's been a lot of reporting in recent months about how undependable multi-judge contests are. So consumers should take them for what they're worth. Still, I guess a judging like this at least helps the consumer a little bit in making a choice when confronted with the Wall of Wine.

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