Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Judging the California State Competition - Days 2 and 3

Once again it is 8:30 a.m. and we know what we are judging.  The first flight will be 36 2006 vintage Chardonnays and the second flight will be 37 2005 Chardonnays.  The procedure, of course, is the same, using the Peterson method, as described earlier, for these two flights.  After concluding and discussing our results, we discover that we have awarded one more double gold medal, for a total of 3 from our panel. 

Now we go on to the Italian Varietal Blends of which there are 14.  A few examples are blends such as Dolcetto/Refosco/Nebbiolo, Sangiovese/Primitivo/Barbera/Dolcetto, with some having other than Italian varieties blended in such as Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon.  In cases where the blend can fit in more than one category, the winery decides where would be most appropriate for that particular wine. 

These wines are such individuals with their vast array of components, that I do not use the Peterson method in this case.  I am judging each wine on its own individual merits in comparison to the characteristics of the varietals that have been used in the blend.

When all is said and done, we end up with a couple of gold medals out of the group.  At this point, I will not divulge the blends as they are pretty specific and folks will just need to wait until the results are published.

Next on the agenda is to choose the best of each varietal.  At this point, the two Chardonnay panels are put together so that there are eight judges.  The wines in contention for “Best of” will be all of the double gold medal winners.  If, in any given category, there are no double gold winners, then all of the gold medal winners will vie for “Best of” that category.

As it turns out, there are three double gold wines in the Chardonnay category, and they were all on my original panel.  And so we eight judges smell and taste these three wines and choose which we feel is the best one.  Our choices are then given to the moderators to compile.  As it turns out, seven out of the eight judges ended up picking the same wine.  It was a difficult decision, though, as all of these wines are quite excellent.  Once again, we will be anxious to find out the winner.

And so the afternoon is spent selecting the best of the best.  It is a delight to taste all of these wonderful wines.

On the third and final day, we judge the Best of Region and finally Best of Show.

There is a Best Red and Best White selected for each region.  There are many regions, which include the Regions of Greater Bay, Napa, North-Central Coast, Sierra Foothills, Lodi, South-Central, and North-Coast, among others.

The wines that were judged “Best” in their category (i.e. Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon etc.) in each region will now vie against each other for Best Red and Best White of that particular region.  An even more difficult judging process begins as these wines have all been judged the best in their category, and by and large, are spectacular wines in their own right.  In addition, the wines are very diverse.  There are dessert wines, dry or off-dry Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Port-style wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sherry-style wine and on and on.  Sometimes it feels like comparing apples to oranges.  This is part of what makes the task of choosing the best such a challenge.

Once we have chosen the best red and best white from each region, it is time to award the ultimate and most prestigious honor...Best of Show, red and white.  As you can see, a wine really needs to go through very intense scrutiny over and over again to get to this point. 

All of the judges present will judge this final chapter.  The Best Red and Best White from each region is presented to all of the judges.  There are new numbers on the glasses every time we re-judge for the various “Best ofs”.   It is a very intense process trying to pinpoint “the one”, but we finally come to a conclusion.  Everyone will be anxious to find out the names of the top winning wines.

And so concludes the life of a wine judge until the next competition comes along.  It is a tough job but someone has to do it.  I am honored to be a part of it.

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