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Winemaker's Journal — NCW Wine Award secret judging

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wine judging
Many great red wines at NCW Wine Competition.

It's a wrap. Another round of judging North Central Washington's growing and improving selection of locally made wines.

Monday was  judging day for the fourth annual NCW Wine Competition. Eight judges, myself among them, and two coordinators sampled more than 250 wines from about 35 NCW wineries.

Results of the judging will be kept top secret until the Aug. 23 NCW Wine Awards Gala at the Town Toyota Center. Full results will also be published along with multiple stories about the big winners in that month's issue of Foothills magazine. The issue will be distributed statewide to get the word out about the great wines produced in our region.

Judges almost unanimously agreed that NCW wines have greatly improved over the past few years and are on par with wines produced anywhere in the state, if not the nation.

Ken Robertson, a retired newspaper editor and longtime wine columnist from the Tri-Cities area said the first year he judged here there were a few wineries making great wines and many others working to improve. Now, it's clear, he said, that the entire industry has elevated their craft.

"The improvement has been remarkable," Robertson said.

Andy Perdue, wine writer for the Seattle Times, coordinated the NCW competition with Eric Degerman. The two Richland writers created and publish Great Northwest Wines, a wine news company that also organizes wine competitions throughout the Northwest.

"We probably gave out twice the number of gold medals as we did here last year," Puedue said. The Great Northwest competitions don't give out gold and double gold awards willy-nilly.

"We're journalists. We don't have anything if we don't have integrity," said Perdue, a third generation newspaperman. He said most wine competitions award about 10 percent gold. He hadn't tallied up Monday's results by that evening, but said after the daylong judging that he expected gold awards to be close to 20 percent this year.

"We tasted 36 red blends and awarded only one bronze medal. All the rest were silver, gold or double gold. That's amazing," he said.

All wines were judged in double blind competition. The wines were stored in a temperature-controlled room until serving. Red wines were decanted. White wines were chilled. All were numbered and separated by variety or category. They were poured into identical glasses with corresponding numbers by a crew in a separate room from the judges.

Judges were not allowed to see what wines were entered or what wineries produced each of the wines they sampled. Each wine was judged on its own merit with other wines of similar style or variety. The eight judges and two coordinators were split into two panels and sampled half of the wines. Any disagreement on scores was resolved with discussion. Best white, red and best of show winners were determined by both panels.