Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Purpose of Wine

This week's post was intended to be about Muscadet.  But a few things came up over Thanksgiving that I think merit a few words. 

Wine Surprises

One of the opposing realities of being an avid wine drinker is that shortly after  recognizing your passion, you become a hoarder. The number of wines multiply,   and before you know it, you have more wine than you can drink. 

Why is this a potential problem?  Because some of the wines you intend to drink may have been pushed to the back of the rack and forgotten. Or, and this is the bane of all wine collectors, you check the vintage of a red wine you want to drink, but then say to yourself, "Maybe it needs a few more months of bottle aging."


Ironically, as fate would have it, a few more months of bottle age is just what your chosen wine needs. To make my point, consider the following examples of two wines poured at the two-day Boyd family Thanksgiving gathering.

On Thanksgiving eve, we had a simple meal of calzones and salad. It wasn't meant to be a "wine meal," so maybe just a wine showing its age, past its prime, could be fun. And who knows, maybe its still drinkable. 

Tucked away, at the back of my wine rack, was a 1981 Ridge York Creek Zinfandel.  I'm thinking: This wine is 42 years old and had been moved around California and then to its final resting place in's gotta be over the hill.  

Not so. In fact, it was amazingly in very good shape!  The color was a vibrant, clear ruby red and light brick at the wine edge. There were touches of spice and dark berry, and the textured flavors offered loads of fruit, good acidity and refined integrated tannin.  Here was a drinkable aged Zin that tasted more like a mature Cabernet that was a good choice with calzones or just for sipping.

The dinner menu included a traditional turkey spread and a vegetarian Field Roast. So, I pulled a 1999 Dominus Napa Valley blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Deep ruby-garnet color, seamless Bordeaux-style bouquet, rich textured berry and black currant notes, hint of cedar, no tobacco leaf, refined smooth tannin and a long elegant finish. An ideal wine with Field Roast and turkey.
The third wine was the 2012 Williams Selyem Foss Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, from my winemaker son's collection.  He makes Cabernet but loves Pinot Noir, especially from Williams Selyem. Impeccable balance, full of black cherry flavors, a hint of boiled tea and spice, good length and structure. It was everything you come to expect from Williams Selyem. Pinot Noir, with a little age, is a great wine with turkey and it stands up to the variety of Thanksgiving sides. 
The point of all this elaboration, is to suggest trusting your wine may still surprise you, especially if your storage conditions are less than ideal.  Well made red wine usually does what it's designed to do: age gracefully, add complexity and show the patient a few pleasureable things they didn't know were in the wine. 
More on Wine and Food
In my "Turkey Wine" posting of November 17, the suggestion was to serve a light red such as Pinot Noir or Gamay with light and dark turkey meat, and save the big reds for a meal centered around red meat.  Which is just the opposite of what I describe above.

Unfortunately, when I looked at my wine cache, there were no Pinot Noirs or light reds.  So, since a "special" wine was called for, I grabbed the 1999 Dominus.
Fortunately, the 20-plus years of bottle aging had worked wonders on the Dominus, softening the tannin, melding the fruit and transforming a Cabernet Sauvignon into a pleasureable wine more like Pinot Noir. 

The Purpose of Wine

Recently, the wine press has been obsessed with the monetary value of wine. And that makes me a little crazy. Adding the bottle price in a wine review is one thing, but showing how much money a wine with a few years of age will bring misses the point of the real purpose of wine. 

For example, according to a friend, the current price of the 1999 Dominus, if you can find it, is about $300.  That's much more than I paid for the wine years ago. And while I might, momentarily, think of all those bucks, I remind myself that wine should not be a commodity but a drink to enjoy with food in the company of others.

Weighing the Wine

Another topic of concern getting a lot of press lately is the weight of wine bottles.  Simply put, the heavier the bottle, the harder it is on the environment; from mining the raw materials, to making the glass, to transporting the bottles, the environmental cost of heavy wine bottles is high. 
So, I was wondering if a standard 750ml wine bottle weighs more now, then say, 40-50 years ago, when there was less concern for the environment.  I weighed seven empty bottles, with vintages spanning 62 years, of wines enjoyed with family and friends, and here's what I found:
Ridge 1981 York Creek Zinfandel, the lightest at 15.4 ounces
Heitz 1999 Napa Valley Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 17.1 ozs
Williams Selyem 2012 Russian River Valley Foss Vineyard Pinot Noir, 17.7 ozs
Penfolds 1999 South Australia Bin 707, 18 ozs
Dominus 1999 Napa Valley Red Wine, 19.6 ozs
Franco & Fiorino 1950 Alba Barbaresco, 23.6 ozs
Fetzer 1999 Bien Nacido Reserve Pinot Noir, the heaviest at 29.7 ozs  

Concluding questions: Between 1981 and 1999, there was a slow creep upward in bottle weight, until it nearly doubled.  As the years went by, did wineries demand heavier bottles?  Did marketers say that heavier bottles somehow suggested higher quality wine? Was anyone thinking about the cost of heavier bottles to the environment?  And, in case you were wondering, I don't know why four of the seven wines were 1999s and from different wine regions.

Finally, I read about a wine bottle weighing in at a gob-smacking 2.69 lbs!  As crazy and irrresponsible as that is, it's reassuring to know that there is a movement underway to wash and recycle wine bottles, along with innovators working to develop lighter wine bottles and bottles made from lighter materials than glass, such as paper.  Verre Vert bottles look like glass but are lighter and unbreakable.  Also, there's the non-glass Verallia Bordelaise Air bottle, 10.5 ounces. 
Next blog: Muscadet
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Thursday, November 23, 2023

Wine Touring in Italy

Anyone who knows me is aware of my love for Italy.  Mention vacation in my family and I'm sure to say Italy.  There's something about the Italian land and the people and the wine and food that resonate with me...and with thousands of others as well.

When I was a boy, my mother worked for an Italian-American family that owned an Italian deli and sandwich shop in a suburb of south Philly.  Mom Lodise, the matriarch of the family, "adopted" my mother and me and between Mom Lodise and one of her daughters-in-law, my mom learned to cook Italian dishes like pasta e fagioli, sausages and peppers and long-simmered red sauce.  

I didn't know it then, but that exposure to the pleasures of Italy helped me build a lifetime love of all things Italian. 

While serving in the Air Force in Germany, in the early 1950s, a friend and I took a road trip to Italy. My Italian-American friend, Tom, from Queens, New York, and I drove as far south as Naples where I had my first taste of pizza and Campania red wine.  

We sampled the local wines, up and down the country, sometimes with food sometimes without food, in Capri, Naples, Rome, Pisa, Milan and at a roadside inn somewhere in the Alps between Austria and Genoa. 


Once we left Austria, Tom and I spent hours in my 1950 Chevy, twisting and turning on mountain roads, and we needed a break. As luck would have it, we saw a roadside inn and restaurant just ahead that looked like a good place for a pit stop and a meal. 

The innkeeper met us at the door, and in broken English, apologized that the restaurant was closed for the day, but beaming with pride, explained that he was having a wedding reception for a member of his family. Then, with open arms and a big smile, he graciously invited "our American friends," to join the festivities. 

My foggy memory is that we ate too much food, washed down by lots of local red wine, that I figured probably came from Lombardy or Piedmont.  And, though the inn was full with family, two small rooms were found, so we stayed the night. 

Good thing we did, because the following day, coming down the Italian side of the mountains, the brakes over heated and I lost pedal pressure, just managing to anxiously coast into an overlook. Stopping and starting, we eventually made it down, limping in to Milan where we found, of all things, a General Motors garage.  The mechanics were so excited to see an American GM car, they fixed the brakes free of charge and we were on our way south.

Great Red Wine of the South

I returned to Naples and Campania wine many years later, as a writer on a visit to Mastroberardino, at the family's earthquake battered winery in Atripalda, on the backside of Mount Vesuvius. As I turned on to Via Manfredi, it was clear the damage caused by the 1990 earthquake had tilted the dun-colored walls, causing them to lean precariously toward the street, propped up only with wooden braces.   

Mt. Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples

On the other side of the wall, Mastroberardino's winery appeared to be bustling and reassuring.

Antonio Mastroberardino, a quiet, studious man who spoke English with a gentle accent, introduced me to Walter, his brother and partner in the winery. Then,  Antonio and I adjorned to his office and library.

Antonio Mastroberardino's passion was to make wine from, what he called, "grapes of antiquity." The extensive collection of 19th century, and earlier, books and folios on grapes and Campania wine, fed his passion, mainly for ancient Greek and Roman varieties.

Mastroberardino's reputation, led by Antonio, for revitalizing the historic grapes of the Campania region, helped boost the popularity of the red Taurasi and two white wines: Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. Of the many unique Italian wines, those three from Mastroberardino stood out for their distinct personalities and flavors. 

My visit to Mastroberardino was an unforgettable and singular experience, an occasion to taste unique Campanian wines with the man considered indispensable in bringing wines of antiquity to today's wine consumer. 

Togetherness in Tuscany

Group vacations can be great fun or one of the most trying things you'll ever do.  One year, a group of friends, three couples with a link to Colorado, one couple from California, decided to rent a farmhouse in Tuscany. 

Our chosen destination was the Chianti Classico region, outside of Florence, where we settled in to a large farmhouse that was part of the Italian agriturismo, a program that offers the traveler an opportunity to participate in farming or just relax in a private room in a farm house or a separate building.  

But, who goes to Tuscany to relax?  Not us.  We were there to taste wine, eat Italian food and see the many sights of Florence.  Absorbing the architecture and art of Florence is a full-time undertaking and there are hundreds of guides to make sure you don't miss a thing. 

But, armed with a guide book, we headed out on our own to experience the riches of Florence, artifacts of the past that left a lasting personal impression: Michaelangelo's David in the Accademia Gallery, the Duomo cathedral, the Piazza delle Signoria, Ponte Vecchio over the Arno river, the stunning Uffizi Gallery art museum.  

Ponte Vecchio on the Arno

And, for an unusual wine experience, there was a buchette del vino, or "little wine hole," (the one at Osteria delle Brache is the oldest) a holdover from the Renaissance, where a glass of wine is passed through a small ornate "window" in the outside wall. 

Sated with food and wine, we still had room for a creamy gelato, so before heading back to the farmhouse each day, we stopped at Vivoli.

Counting off just a few of the many places to eat in Florence is not easy. There is no denying that you have to work hard to find a bad meal in Italy.  And we hit it lucky, finding a small trattoria, with the odd name of "Everest," in a small town, not far from the farmhouse. 

The food at Everest was local, tasty and filling, but what really impressed us was, in place of a wine list, there was a large table against one wall packed with bottles of Chianti Classico. No other wine, just Chianti Classico.  Walk over to the table, select the bottle you like, bring the bottle to your table to be opened and you pour the wine when you're ready. 

We liked Everest so much that we returned a few times that week, for more good Tuscan cooking and Chianti Classico wine. 

Other Tuscan food memories, that are still with me today, was walking into the nearby village, from the farmhouse, each morning for a slab of freshly baked warm aromatic foccacia; and the incredible hunks of roast pork between two slices of crusty bread we bought from a food truck parked on a narrow hillside road. 

But, finding a farmhouse with a large friendly kitchen in Chianti Classico, worked in our favor.  A day of sightseeing or visiting a winery or two would usually mean a few bottles of Chianti Classico came back with us. We had some aspiring chefs in our small group, so Chianti-fueled dinners were a relaxing way to end the day.  

 Vinitaly in Verona

The first time I went to Verona, was to attend Vinitaly, then the biggest show of Italian wine in the country and probably the world. Verona is a lovely city, on the Adige river, that reminded me of a smaller Florence, with its jewel box opera house, restored coliseum used today for outdoor entertainment, lots of excellent restaurants, and a number of nearby wine regions, like Soave and Valpolicella. 

Ponte Pietra on the Adige

Vinitaly, like its sister wine exhibition, Vinexpo, in Bordeaux, overflows with just about every Italian wine imaginable.  And, if you found yourself with an appetite,  there's an adjoining food fair, where I saw a mortadella the size of a tree trunk and a robust man wielding a knife almost as big as the meat roll, hacking off large chunks that he handed out to salivating attendees. 

On the first day of my two-day visit to Vinitaly, I just wandered around the hall, up and down the aisles, wondering how anyone could taste even a small number of the wines on display.  Large wineries, like Bola, had a big spacious booth, while small wineries, usually in a remote corner of the hall, were pouring unfamilar wines.  I sampled a selection of muscat dessert wines from Pantelleria, a small volcanic island near Sicily, and wondered why they were not in my local market.

Vinitaly is impresssive but it can be overwhelming.  So, I suggest a plan of what to taste, who to visit and what can be ignored.  Vinitaly 2024 will be held, March 31 and April 1-3.  Set your plan, then go to Verona and enjoy yourself.

Note.  The above wine tour of Italy is in place of "My California Wine Adventures," a continuing series of personal reflections that will cycle in now and then in the coming months.

Next blog: Muscadet

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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Turkey wine

The title of this post could have been,"the wine of Turkey," (there are some), or maybe a smarmy statement, like, "This wine is a turkey!" 

What I'm saying with the title, though, is it's time, once again, for the annual suggestions of which wine or wines to serve with "The Bird" on Thanksgiving.


Let me assure you, faithful readers, that I have no intention of suggesting that I know more about your personal tastes in wine and food than you do.  However, I do have a few general ideas to offer you, hoping that they will bring added cheer, and expressions of admiration from your guests gathered around the holiday table. 

So, let's begin. 

Not every Thanksgiving feast is centered around turkey. Plenty of people believe you can celebrate this uniquely American holiday by loading down the table with ham, beef, sausages, or maybe, chicken or duck. 

As a vegetarian, it pains me to think that thousands of sentient creatures will be sacrificed this Thanksgiving, but I understand that it is what it is, and so, I'll give thanks for the plentiful amount of non-meat victuals available during this holiday.

Anyway, the following suggestions are for folks who are undecided about which wine to have or for folks needing some general advice; not for the experienced wine drinker who knows which wine is best, for their tastes, with Thanksgiving  fare.

Before pulling a bottle of wine from the store shelf, or from your personal cache, please remember that the side dishes on your menu, and not the main meat, are the most important consideration when selecting a wine.

A typical American Thanksgiving table is heavy with a selection of sweet and savory dishes, ranging from sweet potato casserole to cranberry sauce to spicy green beans to cornbread and oyster dressing to, well, you get the point. 

There's no one wine that's a perfect match with any of these sides, so let's focus on picking a wine that pairs with turkey and a few other meats. If turkey is on your holiday table, remember that there is both white meat and dark meat on The Bird, so you'll need a wine that goes with both, like Beaujolais or Gamay or Grenache. Any light-medium fruity red will do, including Pinot Noir or Cote de Beaune Burgundy. 

Some people wait all year to pull out a treasured Cabernet, Syrah/Shiraz or Zinfandel, but if you're planning a traditional Thanksgiving meal, you may be disappointed with your choice of a big red over a light and fruity red wine. So save the big rustic Syrahs and tannic Cabernet Sauvignons for another occasion.

A Thanksgiving meal is all about enjoying the food, the day and the people at your table. It would be a shame to spoil all that with searing alcohol and the hard tannin of red wine that call for an entree more substantial than turkey white meat.

Beef is best with a red like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Rhone/Syrah.  Merlot or Grenache are good with roast pork, but a high-end Pinot Noir or red Burgundy will also work nicely.

Some people like to keep the heavy out of the holiday meal, so they go for fish, roast chicken or pork, or just turkey breast meat. For that you might opt for a dry white wine, or even a medium-dry white, one with a little noticeable sweetness.  


Stay with unoaked Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc or a dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer; there are loads of them from Alsace, Germany, Australia, California and New York's Finger Lakes.  

One more caveat: watch the level of oak in white wines, like Chardonnay, since heavy oak, especially if it's new oak, will overpower most light foods.

Dessert is another course that trips people up. Should you even serve wine with dessert? Maybe, but remember holiday desserts are always sweet, no matter if its pumpkin pie or chocolate mousse.  Think of it this way: a sweet dessert will struggle with a sweet wine, with both of them losing.  The solution: Have a late harvest German Riesling or French Sauternes as dessert rather than with dessert. 

Now, before closing this post, let's circle back to non-meat holiday meals. Although there are many ways to go when building a meatless meal, the base really comes down to three meat substitutes.  The most common is tofu, a soy bean product that comes in soft, firm and extra firm textures. Tofurky is a brand of tofu that sells well during the holidays, but I find the flavor and texture of Tofurky an acquired taste.


Another soy meat substitute is the firm fiber-rich Tempeh. The third is Seitan, made from high-gluten wheat.  Often called the "white meat" of meat substitutes, seitan is available in a number of forms, especially from Gardein.

Wine recommendations with any of these meat substitutes is the same as for a meal based on white and dark meat turkey. 

Finally, when a good friend and fellow wine fan, Denis Broderick, who lives outside Belfast, Northern Ireland, read that the next post was titled "Turkey Wine," he wrote me about visiting Vinopolis, in London, a number of years ago and found a computer that allowed him to ask for recommended wines with certain foods. 

Denis entered "roast turkey" and got a short list of 15 wines of various styles and colors. Then, at the bottom of the screen, he noticed "page 1 of 97."  That impressive over kill, made Denis smile and say, "Whatever takes your fancy."

I agree and add, Happy Thanksgiving.


Next blog: Wine Touring in Italy

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Thursday, November 9, 2023

The Other Red Cabernet


If you mention Cabernet, I'm likely to ask, Cabernet Sauvignon?  My response makes sense since the market is saturated with Cabernet Sauvignon.  

But I could have said the other red Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, a red hot wine right now. According to wine industry statistics, Cabernet Franc jumped from 16th to 7th place among the most shopped wines, an impressive change in value of 87%. 

Bordeaux Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is the third most popular variety in the vaunted Bordeaux quintet  of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Today, along the left bank regions of the Medoc and Graves, the go-to blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, occasionally with small percentages of the other two varieties. 

On the right bank, St. Emilion and Pomerol rely more on Cabernet Franc, blending it with Merlot, while Cab Sauv is an afterthought. The St. Emilion first growth, Cheval Blanc, for example, is predominately Cabernet Franc. 

Today, you pay dearly for top-end right bank wines: Ch. Ausone, a First Growth St. Emilion that is 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot, is selling for $1,000.00.

How much Cab Franc makes a difference in the structure and taste of the blended wine? Even a small percentage can add an inviting scent and taste of fresh raspberries with a leafy or mineral back note. In the warm soils of the Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc develops those flavors plus depth and complexity.  And, Cab Franc helps boost the wine's longevity.

Loire Cabernet Franc

Americans shopping for French Cabernet Franc are more likely to stop at the section with Bordeaux reds, than they are to look for Loire Valley wines.  Not to be missed are the fruit-forward reds of Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur and Anjou, all from the Loire Valley. 

Wineries in these middle Loire areas hold Cabernet Franc in high regard. And, while using Cab Franc as a blending component is common in Bordeaux, in the Loire Valley, the other red Cabernet often stands on its own.


In the Touraine district, both Chinon and Bourgueil specialize on Cabernet Franc, allowing up to 5% Cab Sauv in the blend.  The wine ranges from light and fruity to more complex, barrel-aged styles. Anjou is famous for Cabernet (Franc) d'Anjou, a rose with good acidity and a bit of tannin.  Up river from Anjou is Saumur, known for its sparkling wine and Saumur-Champigny dry red, made from Cab Franc.

Further south in France, wineries make Cabernet Franc the major part of blends in the regions of Madiran and Bergerac. In Madiran, Cabernet Franc is known locally as Bouchy and is sometimes blended with the Tannat grape.  

Tannat was falling out of favor in France, but it moved off shore and found a new home far away, in Uruguay, where the grape's rough edges were smoothed off by blending with Pinot Noir.  A similar move happened when Malbec found success in Argentina. 

Cab Franc's popularity continued to spread throughout the world, especially since the rise of interest in California, Australia and South American wines. Today, the versatile red grape is successful both as a blending grape and as a varietal in northern Italy, California, Washington state, Australia and South Africa, to name a few places.

California Cabernet Franc

The history of Bordeaux varieties in California likely took root in the 1970s with the belief among Golden State winemakers that varietals made more sense than blended wines.  Eventually, the belief gave way to blending of two or more of the five Bordeaux grapes; the most common blend, then and now, is some variation of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot.

The latest numbers show Cabernet Franc the sixth most planted red wine grape in California. A few years ago, to help things along, a marketing group popped up to convince the consumer that a Bordeaux-style blend is more interesting than a single varietal. 


Over the last decade, Cab Franc acreage in California grew and so too did the price for the grapes.  In 2022, a ton of Cab Franc hit a high of $10,419.  Compare that to the more reasonable $2,074 a ton in Washington state.

The growth habits of Cabernet Franc are more accommodating than those of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab Franc adapts easily to both warm and cool soils, thus it is found in California wherever Cab Sauv is grown.

Look for varietal Cabernet Franc or in blends from Napa Valley: Lang & Reed, Hendry, Beringer, Turnbull, Keenan, Truchard, Darioush.  Other California Cab Francs: Union Sacre (Paso Robles), Blue Rock (Sonoma),  Foxen (Santa Maria), Lava Vine (Sonoma), Gainey (Santa Ynez Valley).  The price range is wide, from $25 to $60 a bottle.

Washington Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is the fourth most planted red wine grape in Washington state, after Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Washington red blends rely on Cabernet Franc and the Evergreen State is building a solid reputation for varietal Cab Franc. 

Cabernet Franc didn't arrive in the state until about the mid-1980s with a small plot at Red Willow Vineyard.  Popularity grew slowly until Chateau Ste. Michelle released a Cab Franc from its Cold Creek Vineyard.  

Other Washington Cab Francs of note include Columbia, Andrew Rich, Cayuse, Chinook, Sightglass Cellars and Walla Walla Vintners. Expect to pay $25 and up for a Washington varietal Cab Franc. 

Want to experience more about Cabernet Franc?  Then mark your 2024 calendar for the Cab Franc-a-Palooza, "a wine tasting carnival for the senses and a celebration of all things Cabernet Franc," started by the Steven Kent Winery. The celebration is held for four days in June in the Livermore Valley.

Next blog: Turkey Wine

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Thursday, November 2, 2023

Reflections of a Former Wine Judge (My California Wine Adventures 7)


Had you asked me, five or six years ago, if there was a future for wine competitions, my answer would have been that it doesn't look good. Criticism has been on and off about the value of wine competitions and the expertise of those people selected to judge the wines. 

In its original form, the idea of staging a competition where wines of like type are  pitted against each other in a controlled setting, by carefully vetted judges, would "improve the breed," was idealistic.  Also in question was rewarding winemakers who submitted a wine as an excellent example of its type, or informing a winery  that their wine didn't measure up, might help make wine better. 

The object of wine competitions is to bring together a group of people, with different backgrounds, knowledge of wine and tasting expertise, to decide if a wine merits a medal.  Wine competitions make money for the owners, but otherwise,  I suspect they are of questionable value.

So, the question is, do wine competitions still make sense, or are they an outdated exercise that pretends to suggest wine quality to both the wine industry and the wine consumer?

Becoming a Wine Judge

I first learned about the supposed major aim of wine competitions at the 1978 Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition, then the largest and most important wine event of its kind in California. 

My career as a wine writer was just taking off and the invitation to join a panel of such known California wine experts and judges as Belle and Barney Rhodes, Narsai David, Bob Thompson, Darrell Corti, Steve Mirassou and Dimitri Tchelistcheff, was not to be missed.

Tasting hundreds of wines sounds like a sweet assignment, but I can honestly say that in time it became hard work.  As entries surged from hundreds to thousands, it became clear that it took a lot of ordinary wine to fill the classes.  

For the price of an entry fee and a few bottles of wine, a winery owner could put his or her wine(s) up against other wines of like type in hopes of winning a coveted gold metal, or maybe silver or bronze.  

The reality of that gambit is if you don't win a gold medal (or even silver), your lesser medal is mostly lost on the wine consumer. The hard reality is no one remembers (or cares) about a wine that won a bronze medal.  

That's cynical, I know. And a bronze medal winner might counter: "At least my Chardonnay won a medal in a class of 400 entries."  True that. But, beyond the personal satisfaction that your wine won recognition, if a bronze (or even silver) medal doesn't help sell more Chardonnay, then was it worth the entry fee and wine?


After a few years at the judging table, my personal opinion about the value of the L.A. wine competition won out over my desire to be there. But I continued to judge at various wine competitions throughout the country and the world, most notably in Washington state and D.C., New York, Texas, Australia, South Africa, Belgium, China and Italy. 

Finally,  politics, a lack of professionalism and the absence of high-end wines,  ended my time as a wine judge. Wineries that sell all of their wine have no economic reason to enter a wine competition. And, why would a winemaker risk getting a bronze or no medal for a top-selling wine the critics and wine consumers love?

Competition Faux Pas

Every wine judge I have known has had issues with fellow judges (probably, including me) or objected to the administration of one competition or another.  These are but a few of the odd things that irked me during my years as a judge. 

* At a European competition, the organizers arranged for each panel to have a majority of local judges, resulting in more higher medals for the wines of the host country.

* At a California competition, the director assigned a noted, and perplexed French sommelier to a panel judging flavored wines and unfamiliar, to him, varietal wines.

* At a U.S. competition, the organizer, hoping to stage a wine competition with a different focus, required the judges identify and describe wines by detectable terroir, when it was clear that any terroir was masked by wine making. 

* At various Australian competitions, judges were tasked with tasting and evaluating as many as 80 young highly  tannic red wines and to be as accurate with their assessments of the eightieth wine as the first. 

* At a California competition, a judge from the restaurant wine trade refused to award a gold medal to any wine assigned to the panel, claiming no wine ever reached that quality level.

Closing Thoughts

If you've read this far, you're probably asking if I had developed such a negative opinion of wine competitions, why did I hang in there for so long?  Fair question.  

As a wine writer, I have worked for years to increase my knowledge of all wine and to improve my ability as a wine taster and judge. I believe in "improving the breed," and hold out hope that wine competitions will accomplish that goal.  Finally, I enjoyed the fraternal opportunity, provided by wine competitions, to gather with fellow judges, to taste and discuss wine. 


It has been more than five years since my participation in a wine competition and it looks like my earlier prediction that wine competitions were becoming irrelevant has apparently not proven out.  If anything, the number of wine competitions has increased.  Which leaves me puzzled and asking, why?

Next blog: The Other Red Cabernet

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