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How the judging works

A trio of three-judge panels tasted and reviewed 236 entries submitted by 35 wineries for the North Central Washington Wine Awards competition. Judging took place June 12 in Wenatchee.

When the judging was completed, the totals added up to 13 Double Gold, 48 Gold, 119 Silver and 37 Bronze medals. Nineteen wines did not earn a medal.

Backroom volunteers, the unsung heroes of every wine judging, kept busy throughout the long day. The dedicated crew opened bottles, labeled glasses, poured wines, delivered flights of wine to judges, washed glasses and handled just about every other detail involved in pulling off a successful wine judging.

Judges typically look for true-to-type wines that offer a satisfying, sometimes exceptional, drinking experience for all. As one judge mentioned, there is no shame in earning a Bronze medal because it’s the equivalent of the judges agreeing that they would recommend a wine consumer buy a bottle of that wine. A higher-level medal is simply a stronger endorsement of that particular bottle.

Wines are judged double blind. Judges don’t know which wineries are entered in the competition. Panel moderators tell the judges what type or varietal is in the flight of glasses in front of them but offer no specifics about the producer or source of the grapes.

Judges taste the wines in flights according to type. Something new this year was splitting of flights, with two different panels each taking a flight of some of the varietals with 15-plus entries. Both panels would judge their flights, with the third panel choosing from the Double Gold and Gold selections to pick the Best of Class for that variety.

How does the process generally work? It’s pretty straightforward. Judges inspect each wine’s color and clarity and the clear layer at the top of the wine that offers information about its alcohol level. They swirl the wine to blend in oxygen and expose aromas. They sip the wine and wash it over taste buds in different parts of the mouth before spitting it into a cup. Spitting out the wine is the part that kills some wine enthusiasts — so much wine simply going to waste. There’s a rather obvious reason for that, of course; if judges consumed the wine they are judging, they’d be three sheets to the wind in hardly any time.

Judges take notes for each wine. Often, judges will revisit a wine two or three times to see if it opens up after a few minutes.

Judges score each wine a Gold, Silver, Bronze or no medal. Once a judge scores all the wines in a flight, the scores are passed to the panel moderator, who records them in a spreadsheet.

If all three judges on the panel agree on a medal — say, Bronze — that is how the overall grade is recorded in the spreadsheet. If all three judges score a wine as a Gold, it is elevated to Double Gold status. If there are differences in opinion, the moderator calls for discussion to reach a consensus. Judges can take another sip of the wine in question and argue their case up or down on the medal score until they agree.

All judges taste the highest-rated wines to decide the Superlative winners — Best Red, Best White and Best Rosé. From that mix, judges decide which wine is the overall standout that deserves Best of Show honors.