I recently had the pleasure of judging the San Diego International Wine Competition. In three tasting sessions over two days, nearly 150 wines passed through my palate (lots of spitting, of course) including Barbera, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petit Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier and white blends. I judged alongside Gary Eberle, the father of Paso Robles and owner of Eberle Winery, and Ed Moore, owner of Southern California's The 3rd Corner Wine Bar and Bistro. Gary's wine are beautiful -- consistent, balanced, and focused. I haven't yet been to one of Ed's three locations, but from speaking with other judges, I know I'd like his concept; he's one of the foremost wine experts in Southern California.
Judges are brought into panels to express their individual opinions about each of the wines we taste. We are tasked with finding the good in each wine, evaluating its overall structure, varietal characteristics (or lack there of) and making a decision as to its merit. We also need to be on the look out for flawed wines. And do all of this relatively quickly -- you'll see that my notes are more short-hand than full wine review.
So there is always lively discussion among panels. For the most part, the three of us were in sync; thankfully, when we weren't, the conversation remained respectful.
Below is a list of wines and tasting notes that appealed to me. These may or may not coincide with Gold medal winning wines.
Eberle 2011 Viognier, Mill Road Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA $20
Pretty tropical fruit with abundant peach; floral; very nice balance (Gold)
Frank Family 2011 Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California $35
Lemon-lime, fresh cut grass; good acid balance with tropical note at mid-palate; full finish.
Gary Farrell 2010 Chardonnay, Russian River, $35
Lemon-lime, oregano, crusty baguette; pretty oaky with a lasting finish; good for this style of Chardonnay.
Stinson 2011 Chardonnay, Monticello, Virginia, $19
Lemon, green apple; good mouthfeel with little lime note on finish; refreshing.
Wildhurst 2011 Chardonnay Reserve , Lake County, CA, $16
Barrel spice, red apple; good weight and acid balance.
Alexander Valley Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay, Alexander Valley, CA, $18
Butter, lemon lime basil and a little tropical fruit. Very pleasant.
Brazin 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, CA $20
Raspberry, dried cherry, herbal notes; juicy palate with nice, lengthy finish.
Green Truck 2009 Zinfandel, Mencodino, CA, $12
Mint, raspberry, juicy fruit; pleasant.
Redwood Creek 2010 Zinfandel, California, $8
Raspberry, cherry jam; little pepper on palate. Pleasant, especially for price.
Fetzer 2010 Valley Oaks Zinfandel, California, $9
Raspberry, tinge of herbal; good balance with some nice acidity to balance fruit.
Barefoot NV Zinfandel, California, $7
We taste blind, but this one is especially nice for the price. Blackberry, pepper, cherry; fruity and fun.
Chatom 2009 Syrah, Calaverus County, $23
Cougar Crest 2009 Syrah, Walla Walla, WA, $34
Sopressata, blackberry, forest floor and pepper. Loved this wine!
Calcareous Vineyard 2009 Syrah, Paso Robles, CA, $36
Raspberry, black cherry; juicy with little mineral and mint. Fabulous.
Double Crossing 2010 Petit Sirah, Dry Creek, CA, $29
Deep raspberry jam, fresh leather and tobacco box notes. Quite yummy.
Green Truck 2010 Petit Sirah, Mendocino, CA, $12
Raspberry, leather, baking spice, herbal notes and slight curing tobacco aromas; balanced.
Crooked Vine 2009 Petit Sirah, Livermore Valley, CA, $34
More subtle approach (there were some that were just monsters so this was a positive), blackberry and blueberry fruit with touch of herbal notes and balanced acidity.
Rodney Strong 2009 Merlot, Sonoma, CA, $18
Smoke, plum, cedar, eucalyptus; balanced with just a slight bitter quality that dissipates.
Bonterra 2010 Merlot, Mendocino, $16
Raspberry, plum, spice rack; juicy on palate with solid tannin structure.
Nello Olivo 2009 Barbera, El Dorado County, CA, $28
Juicy raspberry, black cherry, herbal with good acid lift.
Luna Rossa 2006 Barbera Reserve, Mimbres Valley, NM, $45
Plum, prune, mint and raspberry; finishes a little light but overall a very nice effort.
Eberle 2010 Barbera, Paso Robles, CA, $28
Deep cherry, hay, raspberry; nice balance and crushed floral component on finish. (This was our first wine so it was great to start off the tasting with something so well done.) Our panel voted silver but for the record, I had it as a gold plus and possibly platinum.
This Monday I had the pleasure of judging the 2011 Idaho Wine Competition, which is run by Wine Press NW and hosted by the Idaho Wine Commission. I truly enjoyed experiencing these new wine regions and discovering some gems.
Idaho has grown from approximately 11 wineries just a decade ago to over 40. The commission seems to have improved its marketing significantly, and I'll be following them to monitor developments and growth. For those thinking of visiting, the greetings are friendly and Boise is a well-maintained college town that is easy to navigate.
As is typical with me, I offer some of my favorite "gold" wines below -- these are not necessarily competition gold medal winners.
Williamson 2010 Riesling, $9 - This wine ultimately received a silver, but was nearly a gold in my opinion. Tangerine, lemon cream, floral and basil notes filled the nose, which was confirmed on the palate that offered good balance and a clean finish. For $9 it's a great buy!
Cinder 2010 Chardonnay, $18 - Lime, pear, green apple aromas were quite pretty, with noticeably nice oak integration on the palate. This is a polished Chardonnay that showed best in its class. It could stand up against competitors from known Chard regions and with the quality:price ratio, knock them right out of the running.
Williamson 2010 Blossom Rose of Sangiovese, $12 - Another winner from this winery, the rose features pretty pear, floral, lavender and cherry aromas. There is a nice acid balance on the palate which leads to a clean finish. Great "summer sipper" all year long (we shouldn't give up rose just because the sun is hiding).
Snake River 2009 Arena Valley Vineyard Syrah, $17 - I gave this wine a gold, as did my colleague panelists, so it was rated a double gold medal. I loved its smoky cherry, blackberry fruit aromas and notes of bacon fat and pepper. The palate is filled with rich fruit and it brings a long finish. (The website is beautifully done -- can't help the marketing note.)
Wood River 2008 Cabernet Franc, $28 - An impressive showing and gold for this variety, which tends not to be made on its own. The nose has cedar, black fruit, raspberry and bell pepper. The palate features great balance with good acid:tannin: fruit ratio for structure. Delicious. It won best red of show.
Koenig 2009 Riesling Ice Wine, $20 - Wow this was a fun wine to taste -- I may have even swallowed a sip :) Aromas of apple, pear and lemon zest were complimented by slight graham cracker and herbal notes, which added complexity. The palate featured very ripe peach and apricot notes and a very long finish. In short, this is downright delicious.
If you haven't ever tried a wine from Idaho, I encourage you to look for these gems and explore -- afterall, one of the reasons that wine is so engaging is because it offers a way to discover the world.
PS - a special thank you to my colleague, Janel, who participated in research for this post
I was happy to return as a judge for the Oregon State Fair's wine competition. As usual, Elaine Lisle and Desa Swaim did an incredible job with the volunteers, organization and excellent treatment of their judges. The pre-judging dinner at Bentley's in Salem is always a treat because it features gold medal winners from the prior year. Sommelier Brian Kemmerle, a fellow judge, and chef Derek Ridgway do an excellent job pairing wine with the cuisine.
Some highlights included tasting the Italian varieties from Cana's Feast by winemaker, Patrick Taylor. And of course Stoller Vineyards' 2006 SV Estate Pinot Noir being awarded "Best Red of Show". (No, I had no idea which of the many Pinot Noirs was my client's because this was a blind tasting :)
It's always interesting to compare your judging notes with the overall medal list. As I wrote after the WA wine competition, there isn't a lot of time to savor these wines, so my notes are my 30 second to one minute impressions. Here I present my personal "Golds":
Phelps Creek 2009 Gewurtztraminer
Mineral, fresh rain, oregano and white peach aromas. Pretty tangerine and lime notes in mouth. Delicious with great acid!
Phelps Creek 2008 Chardonnay
Deep golden delicious and red apple. Nice oak integration with spice and good length. Best white of show/Best wine of show.
Shadow Mountain Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris
Very inviting notes with pretty lemon-lime and fresh rain aromas. Bright acidity with a crisp mouthfeel with a touch of almond on the finish. More of a Grigio style -- fun and sexy.
Firesteed 2008 Rose of Pinot Noir
Ripe strawberry, sour cherry, floral and herbal aromas. Strawberry really comes through in mouth with nice acid structure -- refreshing.
August Cellars 2006 Pinot Noir
Deep, inviting red cherry, raspberry and baking spices -- multiple layers. Some good stewed fruit notes with a touch of fresh tomato, cherry and a nice minty/herbal character. Long finish.
Stoller Vineyards 2006 SV Pinot Noir
Very inviting, sweet black cherry jam, tea leaves, curing tobacco, earth with a hint of dusty character. Ripe, rich and round with a long finish.
Stoller Vineyards 2007 JV Pinot Noir
Deep, beautiful ripe, brambly raspberry, cherry and espresso aromas. Espresso turns to toffee and mocha in mouth which has rich feel. Love this nose! Nice balance and smooth finish.
Evergreen Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir
Brambly with raspberry, cherry and fresh leather aromas. Deeper black cherry with earthy/forest floor and baking spice in mouth. NICE.
Cana's Feast 2007 Sangiovese
Deep red berry, leather, sweet curing tobacco with white pepper. Nice, dusty mouthfeel with raspberry and great acid. A terrific food wine with a long finish. What more could you want in a domestic Sangiovese?!! Best one I've ever tried.
Cana's Feast 2007 Nebbiolo
Blueberry, cherry, raspberry jam; smoke and moss. Good acid/tannin balance. Nice present finish -- still juicy so more time left to age in bottle.
Ribera Vineyards 2007 Merlot
Very concentrated aromas of stewed plum, fresh leather, clay. Delicious soft and round mouth with big fruit flavors retaining complexity of nose. Silky, velvety and round.
Cana's Feast 2007 Counoise
Peppery fabulousness. Red cherry, blackberry. Ripe with good acid.
Devitt Winery 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
Plum, bark, blackberry, clove, olive, mint and a little je ne saisstank. What a nose! Ripe fruit with good balance. Love the mouthfeel. What a delicious glass of wine!
Stone Wolfe Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
Blackberry, black cherry, fresh leather, tobacco, eucalyptus. Very focused, fine ripe sweet fruit with peppery note and silky mouthfeel. Good tannic structure and balance. Long finish.
I had the pleasure of judging Washington's Sunshine wine competition on June 12. My panel, headed up by AndyPerdue of Wine Press Northwest, saw Viognier, white blends,Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux blends, dessert whites and fruit wines. As usual, Washington Cabernet Sauvignon shined.
Below is a list of my favorite wines with tasting notes and two medal notations -- the one I personally awarded and the wine's ultimate award given by the panel.
In wine competitions, everything is done "blind", so we only know what variety and perhaps vintage we're tasting. First, individual judges taste and note their scores (you'll see my notes below are not full reviews because we only have 30 seconds to a minute to evaluate each wine). After each flight, the panel discusses the individual wines and must come to agreement on a final medal.
2006 Le Chateau Bordeaux Blend - aromas of blueberry, graphite, cedar and cassis; smooth, pretty and integrated on the palate with a soft finish (Gold from me and overall)
2007 Foxy Roxy Vixen Bordeaux Blend - earth, moss, and blackberry aromas with a similar palate offering dusty tannins; nice finish (Gold from me; Silver overall)
2007 William Church Sur La Mer Bordeaux Blend - pencil shavings, deep blackberry fruit with a little rhubarb burst; palate has herbal, coffee and raspberry notes; nice lingering finish (Gold from me; Silver overall)
2006 Robert Karl Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - sweet black cherry, cigar box and herbal aromas -- great blend; good depth and finish (Silver+ from me; Gold overall)
2006 Portteus "Old Vine" Cabernet Sauvignon - graphite and sweet curing tobacco aromas (reminds me of home in NC); awesome black fruit, minty, herbal and graphite flavors; good tannic structure and complexity (Gold from me*; Silver overall)
* We had so many Cabernets and Bordeaux blends that we actually judged two rounds of each. The first was a "retain/eliminate" round where we decide collectively whether or not to send the wine to the medal round. This makes it interesting because I have two sets of notes on every wine. Since I remember liking this one so much, I went back to my "retain/eliminate" notes to see if I was consistent. Indeed I had given it a "retain ++" and noted its "herbal, older world style with mint and leather and nice graphite". It retails for $38.
2007 William Church Cabernet Sauvignon - apparently I like this producer's style -- stewed black fruits, cedar, tobacco; silky and slightly spicy palate with nice mouthfeel (Silver+ from me; Gold overall)
2007 Rio Vista Cabernet Sauvignon - graphite, dusty black fruit and cedar aromas; very nice integrated fruit on palate with good tannin level; doesn't have a super long finish but I like it (Gold from be; Bronze overall)
2008 Kiona Chenin Blanc Ice Wine - very deep gold color with nose of golden delicious apple, pear flambée, and a hint of very ripecantaloupe; honeyed on the mouth with a little fresh spritz (Gold from me and overall)
2007 Northwest Totem Cellars Viognier Ice Wine - tangerine, white peach, lavender with a hint of fresh cut grass; nicemouthfeel with hint of acidity (Gold from me and overall)
2008 Kestrel Semillon Ice Wine - nose of rose petal, tangerine,and a little fresh hay -- very pretty (Silver+ from me; Bronze overall)
For a complete listing of winners, visit the Sunshine & Wine competition website.
This summer I had the pleasure of judging the very well organized Oregon State Fair wine competition. Elaine Lisle, Desa Swaim and their crew did a tremendous job and I truly enjoyed getting to better know my fellow judges. Last week I received the results and my judge's notes in the mail.
Judging at this year's Washington State Fair was a true pleasure. In addition to it being a very well organized event with a dedicated team of volunteers and experienced judges, it afforded me an opportunity I wasn't expecting: I fell in love with Washington Cabernet Sauvignon!
This month I judged two very different, yet very well executed wine competitions: National Women's and San Diego International.
I truly enjoy the experience of judging as it provides great opportunities to exercise the palate, learn about new wines, network, and remove myself from the glare of my computer. Judging always reminds me of the power of blind tasting: when labels, brand perceptions, and prices aren't revealed, the quality of the wine is the only factor.
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