NCW Wine Awards: The front room
Blog: Winemaker's Journal
July 6, 2011
It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.
Imagine, if you can, sampling 240 wines in a single afternoon and judging each for color, clarity, aroma and taste. It's a challenge that makes one tipsy just to think about.
But that's just what seven experienced oenophiles did at the first North Central Washington Wine Awards last Thursday. The event was organized by Foothills magazine, a World Publishing publication. Event results will be in Foothill's August issue and are top secret until the magazine comes out.
As I wrote in yesterday's blog, the event took place in two rooms at the Confluence Technology Center. I spent most of my time in the back room with several others preparing the samples for the judges. Judges were not allowed in the back room at any time to guarantee that they had no idea what wines were in the competition or what they were being served.
I was allowed to go into the judging room, however, to watch the proceedings whenever I had a break in my work.
Wine Press Northwest magazine facilitated the event and provided their staff of international wine experts. Two local experts were also added to the team: Dan Carr, co-owner of Visconti's restaurants in Wenatchee and Leavenworth, and Barb Robertson, a professional sommelier and co-owner of Mission Street Bistro and The Wine Bin in Wenatchee.
Judges were served flights of competing wines in 17 categories, from varietals like Chardonnay and Merlot, to exotic dessert wines. There were 33 red Bordeaux blends entered in the competition, so judges were each brought three different flights of 11 glasses of wine. There were 27 Syrah to be judged, and 26 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Each wine was judged on its own merit, rather than against each other. Every wine was capable of winning a gold medal if it lived up to the judges' expectations of perfection. The judges were not required to give any gold medals — or for that matter — any medals at all.
Judges swirled each wine in its glass, examining it for depth of color and opacity. Was there sediment? They raised each glass to their nose and breathed in, searching for floral and fruit aromas. Finally, they tasted the wine, observing alcohol, sugar, acid and tannin first, then swishing the fluid in their mouth to taste the fruit, spice and more complex flavors it had to offer. Then they spit their wines out into a cup. With 240 wines to test, the last thing a judge wants to do is get drunk.
The judges made notes on a scorecard and gave each wine a rating: gold, silver or bronze. A minus or a plus could be added if they were willing to compromise on a higher or lower award. Some wines received no score due to flaws or lower quality.
When the judges completed tasting the flight, they passed their score sheets to a panel moderator. Andy Perdue moderated at one table of four judges. Eric Degerman oversaw another table of three judges. Perdue and Degerman are editors of Wine Press Northwest and have moderated dozens of wine competitions throughout the Northwest.
They compiled the scores on laptop computers, then asked the judges to talk about the wines. One Syrah received two gold minus a silver plus and a silver rating.
"I think we're on the verge of gold here," Perdue said. "What do you think?"
"It's got alder smoke. It's really juicy. It's pretty quality stuff," said Paul Sinclair, a Tri-Cities school teacher who has judged wines for 10 years.
"There's lots of smoke right out the gate. A lot of these Syrahs are really young, but this is a brilliant example of what they could be. I want to encourage this," offered Jay Drysdale, a British Columbia wine writer.
What was most interesting to watch and hear was how the judges in nearly every case were close to each other in their ratings and able to talk precisely about each wine in the discussion round and come to a compromise on each award.
After the judging ended, Robertson said it was a challenge with so many wines to sample. She said she kept to more vague assessments of each wine, looking for great examples of each wine variety while discarding wines with obvious flaws.
Overall, she said, NCW wines made a good showing in an objective and fair competition.
"I think they fared very well in the medal department," she said.