It is the first day of judging and I have my assignment. It is 8:30 a.m. Nothing like a little breakfast wine, I always say! I will be judging the Chardonnay category once again. There are about 171 Chardonnay wines scheduled for our judging table (panel), 98 from the 2006 vintage the first day and the rest for tomorrow. After we judge the rest tomorrow, we will have 14 Italian red blends before we get into the “Best of” categories.
There are 68 judges this year, with 4 to each panel.
Every competition has its own way of doing things. At this one, all of one variety is given to one panel, or, in the case of Chardonnay, two panels, because there are nearly 400 Chardonnay entries. Other competitions usually will give a flight of maybe 10 Chardonnays or a couple flights to every panel and spread the wines between all judges. This is probably a difference in philosophy. At the California competition, they feel the same judges will yield more consistent results if they judge all the same variety of wine.
In order to refresh our mouths, tongues, and taste buds between wines, some palate cleansers are provided. We each have bottled water along with a plate of bread pieces, small bits of celery, and, believe it or not, olives. But these are not just any olives. They are like nothing else I have ever tasted. While these olives are greenish brown in color, they are not the salty product one associates with green olives. I truly dislike standard green olives and was skeptical at first to try these. The brand name is Graber Olives and they are produced in California. They have a very mild taste with the slightest hint of salt and are excellent palate cleansers in addition to being rather addictive. Bread and water, of course, are standards. Celery was added some years ago because it was discovered that it is very refreshing. I think this is a great addition.
If one is judging red wines, there is usually the addition of some small pieces of rare roast beef. You always hear “red meat with red wine” and there is a very valid reason. Red wines have considerably more tannins than white wine. This is what gives the mouthfeel to red wine. To experience tannin, a good example to try is strong tea, which has a lot of tannin. When you drink strong tea, there is a drying sensation of the tongue afterwards. This is caused by the tannin. Red meat cleans this tannin off the tongue and therefore refreshes the judge for the next wine.
We are given our score sheets and a couple of “pointy” pencils, as well as some instructions for the new judges who have not done this competition before, and a refresher for the rest of us. We have a “clerk/monitor” assigned to our group who is in charge of recording the scores of each judge on a master sheet. Our charge is for each of us to decide if a wine deserves a gold, silver, bronze or no award. We will judge in total silence, not discussing the wines at this point, or making any comments until all judges have finished their group of wines.
Next Week: The Process of Judging