Posts Filed Under going pro
Roughly two months ago, in the follow-on discussions on a feature on the wines of Lodi producer Matt Powell, a reader named Olivier chimed on with some though-provoking questions, the kind that, for me, define the 1WD readership because they exponentially increase the value of the content on this little ol’ website.
The discussion was around how we might define wines of “true character,” and it ended with a bit of a challenge from Olivier:
“…[It] would be nice to dig into detailed info (taste/aroma/flavors) that differentiate wines of true character and C+/B- wines. I have my own idea, but listening to others and getting examples would be great and very educational.”
That’s the kind of request that often sends me so far down the wine world rabbit hole that I’m seeing Jules Verne style dinosaurs. In other words, the really fun kind.
We are certainly rabbit-hole bound, because in the course of thinking about this question, I had to get deep into the very heart of wine ratings.
And I’ve determined that all of them (mine included) kind of suck, even if they do provide value to a lot of people (and they do), and even if they help sell wine (and they do).
Once again, don your miner’s hat, the one with integrated flashlight bulb and intercom link, because you’re gonna need it where we’re going…
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A little over a week ago I helped to judge the 2011 Lake County Wine Awards Competition, which was held at Brassfield Estate Winery in the ludicrously-beautiful Clearlake Oaks area. Over 180 wines carrying the Lake County AVA on their labels were submitted to the competition.
While I’m well-past the “cutting teeth” stage of judging when it comes to wine writing competitions, before the Lake County event I’d never judged wine in that professional of a setting before. Here’s the quick-take on the LCWA event, in the form of the top five things I learned after taking the judging plunge:
1) Organizing wine writers, critics, winemakers, and wine educators at an event held at a winery is like herding hungry cats with attention-deficit disorders at a tuna processing plant. But somehow Ray Johnson, our panel director, the Lake County Wine Assoc. and Brassfield managed to do it with nary a hiccup. Made props to those peeps.
2) Lake County wines are very good, but not yet quite All-That-And-A-Bag-Of-Chips. I was especially pleasantly surprised by the whites in the competition, and there’s certainly no shortage of tasty wines providing great QPR in Lake County. But the big reds, the Cabernet flights in particular, were a bit of a let-down after the heights to which my hopes had climbed coming into this competition of Wines With Altitude. Yes, there are some amazing Cab blends being made there, and a ton of value to be had, but a high number of duds were in there, too – some downright flawed and others just downright dull. There’s serious red wine potential to be capitalized on out in Lake County, I just hope more producers get the lead out on making it happen for the reds. Speaking of reds…
3) Much like trying to convince people that the word varietal is not a noun, judging big reds poured right out of bottle is an exercise is frustration. These wines needed time (in some cases, probably several hours in a decanter) to properly show their stuff – pouring the big reds right out of the bottle is not being fair to the producers who entered their wines into the competition. Yes, I know it’s totally impractical to decant dozens and dozens of wines for hours before a competition – but producers of big, complex red wines need to know that they’re setting themselves up for lower competition scores.
4) Much love, respect and good vibes are due my panel-mates : Randy Caparoso, Deborah Parker Wong, Marc Hinton, Tina Caputo, and Martha Dunne. You should be checking out the work being done by each of these people, if you’re not already familiar with their writing. The event was divided into two panels, and luck of the draw had me paired up with this group. I upped my wine tasting IQ by about sixty points just watching these people, all of whom have some tenure on the wine judging circuit, and all of whom were so damn fun that I found myself wishing the event would go on longer than two days. On the not-at-all-related-to-wine front, it’s just awesome to hang out with people like Deborah (who exudes approachable elegance), and Randy (who has seen just about everything in the wine and food business, and to whom I owe a big-time favor for driving my ass to the Sacramento airport at the crack of dawn… on second though, I bought him dinner so f*ck that, we’re even!). The whole crew was great, and they also put up gracefully with my disruptive behavior, god bless ‘em.
5) Expect wild inconsistencies in how wines are scored. I doubt many of you out there haven’t caught on to this already, but just in case: one person’s “No Award” is another person’s Silver Medal. We all taste differently, and no one at that level of tasting experience is totally right or wrong. In the end, if you can support the why of your decision, you have the basis for solid discussion and will reach a point where none of you are losing sleep because you didn’t ‘do right’ by a wine you were judging. As Randy put it, “we all respect each other as tasters” (to be fully honest, I’m still kind of blushing from that remark!). And that’s not even getting into how differently the same wines might show across multiple days. If you ever needed proof positive that wine appreciation is at least partially a subjective art, and/or that no wine critic can ever capture the essence of a wine in a single snapshot judgment, I recommend that you volunteer for the humbling assignment of being a wine competition judge!
Much more to come soon on the process behind the competition, and the wines that took top honors (some of which are probably going to surprise you). For now, I offer some event pics below (after the jump).
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Chances are pretty high that, if you’re reading this (and you’re reading this), you are a wine geek.
And by “wine geek,” I mean that you are atop the U.S. wine consumer pyramid (that’s if you’re living in the U.S., of course – those of you outside the U.S. are just gonna have to play along on this one). As in, the tippy, tippy, holy-crap-it’s-a-looooong-way-down-from-here, tippy-top of the pyramid.
And it doesn’t even matter if you consider yourself an avid oenophile or not – simply by virtue of treating wine with any semblance of importance in your life, you’ve firmly entrenched yourself in wine-geek-out territory, at least when compared with the general consumer-going public in America.
And don’t worry about it…. because it’s okay.
In fact, I’m going to explain why that’s not only okay, but that you ought to revel in the fact that you are in the upper echelon of the wine-buying U.S. public. In fact, I’m going to explain why it’s downright awesome. After a bit of exposition, of course. C’mon, you think I’m gonna let this thing go under 1300 words? Are you nuts?
It all came to me after day one of the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, during a steamy, 8-billion degree, 5000% humidity evening in downtown Charlottesville (I might have exaggerated that last bit), in which a bleary-eyed (due to travel-, conference-, weather-, and wine-induced-fatigue) yours truly took part in an off-premise “fireside chat” on the topic of Wine & Tech, which eventually turned about as heated as the sweltering northern Virginia night.
The event was organized by wine industry think-tank group Vintank and Crushd (the team behind a newly-released iPhone wine-journaling app). Thankfully (since most of us were already melting through our clothing) there was no actual fire was lit at the host venue (Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar), and to assist (as if we needed it) getting our tongues wagging and opinions flowing, there were several interesting Rioja wines being poured courtesy of Vibrant Rioja (I can now attest personally to the tastiness of a well-chilled 2010 Marques de Caceres dry white Rioja on a stiflingly sultry Virginia Summer evening, by the way)…
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As you read this, I’ll be fresh (or maybe not-so-fresh, after thinking about the stamina-melting temperatures, and lengthy after-after parties!) from the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference – and after about 24 hours at the homestead, immediately off to Lake County, CA where I’ll be a judging in the 2011 Lake County Wine Awards Competition.
The deal goes down on July 28 at Brassfield Estate Winery in Clearlake Oaks (gotta love town names that make multiple bucolic references!). It will mark the first time that I’ve been in any way involved in an area’s sesquicentennial celebration, by the way (I’m guessing there aren’t too many of those going around).
Several things attracted me to this gig, not the least of them being the fact that the competition doesn’t really deal in medals or trophies that have little consumer meaning – just the opposite, in fact. From the website:
[On] November 5, 2011, a consumer event will be held at Langtry Estate & Vineyards—People’s Choice Wine Awards—where the people get to ‘blind taste’ the judges top picks and select the “People’s Choice.”
In other words, after the judges’ faves are revealed and promoted, the real winners are picked from that bunch in a large blind tasting where consumers decide who gets top honors. That’s awesome.
The competition is meant to showcase wines that specifically state Lake County or a Lake County AVA on the label. That means, generally, wines from high-elevation vineyards, and for me personally, wines with some pretty high expectations…
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