I had the privilege of serving as one of 28 judges in the 19th Annual Northwest Wine Summit earlier this year. The first half of the event was held in Naramata, British Columbia and I participated in the second half in Hood River, Oregon.
Sometimes it seems as if nearly every wine entered in a competition wins a medal. That was hardly the case at this year’s Summit, where only 89 of the 942 wines entered received a gold medal. In addition, 254 wines earned a silver medal and 258 a bronze.
Brian Carter Cellars’ 2009 Solesce, a proprietary Meritage-style blend was selected Best of Competition and Best Red Wine, while Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2013 Chenin Blanc was named Best White Wine.
Two British Columbia wineries, Gheringer Brothers Estate Winery and La Frenz Winery, along with Washington’s Maryhill Winery garnered Wineries of Distinction honors based on the number of gold medals received. La Frenz took home eight golds, Maryhill earned five, and Gheringer received four.
Another Washington winery, Thurston Wolfe, earned both the Best of Washington award and Best Fortified Wine for its Non-Vintage Tawny Port.
If you think judging wines is a “fun” and glamorous task, think again. There’s an element of fatigue to deal with, and after tasting dozens of wines in a day, the last thing you want to look at is another five-glass flight of merlot.
In addition, the process of swirling, tasting, spitting and evaluating is serious business. Comments are exchanged, a final score is arrived at, and, thanks to a great group of fellow judges, nothing close to fisticuffs broke out at any time.
Judges consisted primarily of winemakers, distributors, and writers and critics, like me. I considered myself to be a representative for the average wine consumer. This sometimes left me feeling a little intimidated, especially if two winemakers were at the table pontificating in technical jargon.
I mentioned this to a winemaker after the competition and much to my surprise, he said that he felt intimidated by me. His reasoning was that his laser-sharp focus is primarily on the wines he produces, while I have a broader range of wine tasting experiences to draw upon.
Volume of wines aside, his comments called to mind some of my own wine tasting philosophies that I lost track of during the competition. First, there are no right or wrong “answers” when tasting wine, only consensus; and second, never be afraid to share with others what you taste.
That’s sound advice for so-called experts, casual wine drinkers and novices alike and it’s something to keep in mind whether you’re involved in a serious tasting or simply enjoying wines in an informal setting at home.