April 8, 2014-The Consumer Wine Awards tasting is a golden opportunity for ordinary folk who love wine to volunteer as a judge for a day. And it’s a lot of fun!
We gathered in a large hall at the Grape Center in Lodi, located about 84 miles east of San Francisco, dubbed by the local wine industry as the “Zinfandel Capital of the World” at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The enthusiasts, all 138 of them, came from various parts of Northern California as well as from other states. When they sent in their application, they had selected the type of wine they preferred to judge such Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Chardonny, and so on. I chose Sauvignon Blanc since it is my white wine of choice.
Wines in the competition came from California, Virginia, Texas, Indiana, Ohio, Idaho, North Carolina and other states, plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Portugal.
The logistics of sorting who tasted what and where was mind-boggling. A panel of six was assigned to each varietal. But to avoid collusion each table had two “judges” tasting different wines. My tablemate, Connie, was tasting flights of sweet wines. For me there were two flights of 10 each Sauvignon Blanc, plus three Rieslings, one Semillon, three Verdelhos, an Albarino, a Petit Manseng (which I’d never tasted before) and a dry Muscat Blanc for a total of 30 wines.
This was a blind tasting. Each wine on our list was assigned a number but no other identification, apart from the type of grape. We tasted in order of the numbers on our sheet. Volunteers arrived at the table with each flight. Each glass had a sticker with the number of the wine, which corresponded with our list. See what I mean about logistics! A timekeeper told us when to move from wine to wine, allowing two minutes to taste each wine and another two minutes to let our palates rest before moving on. Spitting was mandatory, not just for liability purposes but because drinking dulls the senses.
In front of each person was a laminated strip to score each wine from zero “Dislike” to seven “Wow! This is as good as it gets”. Volunteers recorded each panelist’s vote per wine. Imagine collating all this information six times over for more than 500 wines. It would fry my brain!
The tasting lasted about two hours. After lunch Tim Hanni hosted a seminar and we evaluated a few more wines, some paired with surprising food like pickles. He’s an entertaining speaker and it was fun and informative. At the after tasting party, all the wines were revealed with their labels. Now we knew just what we had tasted!
For the wineries, which paid to participate, some submitting as many as 60 different wines, the tasting provides excellent consumer feedback. It also raised money for several worthy causes of Lodi Rotary.
Everyone I spoke to said they had a great time and hoped to come back next year. If you can find your way to Lodi around the end of March next year, you will have a fun and memorable day. Check http://www.consumerwineawards.com/ for the date of the seventh annual tasting in 2015 and how to apply to be a judge.