Posts Filed Under wine industry events

(Surprising) Results Of The 2013 Critics Challenge

Late last month, I wrapped up a stint at the fourth and final wine competition in which I’d be judging in 2013, the 10th Annual Critics Challenge in (Stay Classy) San Diego.

The results of that comp. have been announced. Following are some thoughts on the Critics Challenge itself, and notes on some of the winning wines.

All hyperbole aside, I loved judging at the Critics Challenge with a passion that burns like the core of a million undiscovered stars [ Editor’s Note: not all hyperbole has been taken aside ]. And so, this might turn out to be a love letter of sorts to the CC.

The only CC cavil I’ve got is that the location, a bit outside of downtown (Stay Classy) San Diego isn’t the most convenient or picturesque of spots (unless you really enjoy close-up views of twelve-lane highways and strip malls). Otherwise, the CC is the kind of wine comp. in which almost any judge wishes he could take part: high-caliber judges who aren’t douchebags, a volunteer staff that keeps pace with any (I’ve yet encountered) worldwide, a well-organized agenda, generally very-good-to-excellent wines being entered, and a total dismissal of what has become a meaningless award given in American wine comps. (the Bronze Medal). I can’t even fault them for giving me that Petit Sirah flight, since a) many of them were good, and b) they gave us Sensodyne whitening toothpaste.

Each of the CC judges is paired up, with each pair getting a volunteer captain to coordinate logistics, and the highest medal awarded between the pair for any given wine becomes the final award chosen (predicated on the idea that if you only invite judges who know what the hell they’re doing, this system should turn out to be fair to the wines and to consumers). In what I can only conclude was a fit of insanity, head honcho Robert Whitley paired me with ThirstyGirl.com founder and all-around-awesome-girl Leslie Sbrocco; we beat the oddsmakers, though, in that neither of us was either kicked out of the comp. or arrested by the (Stay Classy) San Diego police…

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Wine Competition Myths Busted (California State Fair 2013 Commercial Wine Competition Results)

Vinted on July 4, 2013 binned in kick-ass wines, on the road, wine industry events, wine review

As of last week, the results of the 2013 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition have been fully revealed, and July 4th seemed an auspicious time to recap the (all American) Best of Show winners from the comp. (itself a bit of an American institution, having been established in the 1800s), and share my thoughts on my fave wine of the competition from the judge’s seat.

And now that I’ve completed my tour of the International wine judging circuit for 2013 (having lent my palate to the 2013 Argentina Wine Awards, the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge, the 2013 CA State Fair Commercial Wine Competition and the 2013 Critics Challenge), this also seems like a good opportunity to confirm or bust up several wine competition myths, since wine comps. in general are once again under attack in the media as “junk science” (can anyone, anywhere, name one single soul who has ever proffered wine competition judging as an actual scientific endeavor? Because I’d like to be first in line to kick that person in the gluteus max).

First, let’s tackle the wine comp. myths, because that will go a long way in explaining why some of the wines that won Best of Show in the newly-revamped CA State Fair comp. (now headed up by my friends and long-time wine writers Mike Dunne and Rick Kushman, both of whom have done yeomen’s work in bringing new levels of both fun and professionalism to the event)…

Warning… 1800+ word screed ahead… you have been warned!…

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Back From The Dead: Casca Wines Battles To Save Ramisco

Vinted on April 11, 2013 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine industry events, wine review

It’s not often that you hear a winemaker say things like this about one of their wines:

“We don’t care if people like it or not; if not, I’ll drink it!”

And yet, that’s exactly what Casa Wines’ Helder Cunha said to me earlier this year in New York City, when I worked my way through a tasting of the 50 Great Wines of Portugal as selected by MW/MS Doug Frost. Cunha was talking about a wine he makes from the grape Ramisco; and he feels passionately about the wine, because its made from a grape that is a “dying variety, even in Portugal.”

It’s a rare grape, even in a country known for its small plantings of nearly-extinct grape varieties, and one of which few wine geeks have ever heard. But Cunha seems determined not to let Ramisco go gently into the dark night.

Casa Wines sources its Ramisco fifteen hectares of a vineyard on Portugal’s west coast, a cool and foggy area known as Colares on the southwestern edge of Lisboa. You could, apparently, just about spit into the ocean from the vineyard. These old vines, literally on the beach, aren’t even head-trained. Cunha knew he wouldn’t get much out of them, but viewed them as special and was determined not to let them get grubbed up even as Ramisco became a footnote in a country known for grape variety footnotes.

“Instead of ripping this up,” he told me, “we said, ‘let’s see what happens’…”

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Results Of The 2013 Argentina Wine Awards

Vinted on March 21, 2013 binned in on the road, wine industry events, wine review

Last month, I was away in Mendoza playing Team America as an International judge in the 2013 Argentina Wine Awards. The AWAs were followed by a seminar that centered on the topic of how to reach “next generation” (Millennial) wine consumers. Today, I’m going to focus on the Trophy results of the AWAs – but believe me, a lot more is coming on the seminar and the topic of Millennial wine drinkers (including thoughts on the wines that my co-judges believed appealed to those next gen drinkers) later.

I’ve two main takeaways from the 2013 AWAs, which are organized by Wines of Argentina (who footed the bill for my participation) and Hunt & Cody (a UK-based team consisting of MW Jane Hunt and Tina Cody):

1) I was self-conscious just to be in the same room as the rest of the judges, all of whom I felt outranked me in terms of tasting prowess, winemaking knowledge and industry accomplishments (I feel privileged to have made fast friends with many of them), and

2) If you try to taste thirteen Gold Medal winning Malbecs in only a few minutes and rank them in order of preference so that a Trophy winner can be determined, you will destroy your palate’s ability to taste anything (including coffee, tea, air, water and, I suspect, crude oil) for several minutes afterward.

The entire process of judging was incredibly fun (despite being shut up in a large conference room in the Diplomatic hotel while the sun was raging all Summer-style outside our windows), and enjoyed seeing the different tolerances we all had as tasters. For example, the UK judges putting up with more Brett (having ben schooled on Old World / Western European wines), the Chinese judge having a higher tolerance for oxidation (because so much international wine reaches her only after it’s been impacted by oxygen), the Argentine winemaking judges almost universally accepting high levels of VA (sought after to smooth out the mouthfeel of those tersely tannic Malbecs).

As for yours truly, receiving boatloads of California samples has taken its toll: I clearly had higher tolerances for oak influences and riper fruits. Sigh

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