Posts Tagged ‘wine judging’

Simple Hedonisms goes ‘Zinful’ and judges Napa vs Sonoma Zin Sibling Rivalry

Last month I had the honor to participate as a judge in the first of the series of a Napa vs Sonoma tastings, also known as ‘Sibling Rivalry.‘ The event is sponsored by wine entrepreneur Becky Tyner of Small Lots, Big Wines.  Becky showcases small boutique producers in Napa. I have a soft spot for the little guy scrapping it out, so I am a big fan.

Becky and I have been connected via Social Media for awhile, but met for the first time (geek term IRL – In Real Life). (I have been resolving with my well attended Facebook Wine Meetups.)

The Sibling Rivalry Series donates a portion of its proceeds to The Rutherford Grange, a historic building, and great venue.

I have to admit, despite a lot of classes in wine evaluation, sensory analysis,  at UC Davis and SRJC and lots of tastings and reviews, was a little nervous judging against Sommeliers, Master Sommeliers, and Wine Makers, especially when Becky announced in addition to the blind tasting, there would be a separate contest  for fun; where judges attempted to barrel program, County, AVA, price point, blend. On top of this, while I do like Zin, and have a decent amount in my cellar, it’s not a red varietal I drink a lot of.

Blind Tastings and Sensory Thresholds

Stories abound on blind tastings, and just how hard it is to determine many of these factors, or even just guess the varietal. Judges have ranked sub $10 wines higher than $100 ones, only to be embarrassed later.  Studies in sensory analysis at UC Davis and other institutions, have learned a lot about the sensory thresholds of the palette, and what people can and can’t taste.

You can actually measure at what level a person can detect tannins, or a certain aroma characteristic, esther, or other wine components, and it varies widely by person. Recognizing that one wine judge versus another can have a big impact on scoring. If one can detect tannins very easily, and the next requires a much higher tannin level to detect, the two judges may have very different experiences of the same wine. Numerous articles exist to support this, including this one. (Warning – wine geek document.) A less geeky article is also here.

Some wine  contests (few so far it seems) are starting to divide judges in categories of non tasters, taster, super tasters, based on these thresholds and taste bud density.

I decided to just focus on what I know about wine, my fairly broad experience, and evaluate each wine for its own individual attributes, as objectively as I could. The fact that Zin isn’t my most favored red varietal may have in fact helped, as I think I was able to somewhat divorce personal preferences, and focus on the quality of the wine. Whether it was skill, luck, or some combination, it seemed to work, as I actually had the best overall score.

The Results:

Judges Choice

  • The overall Valley winner in the Judge’s competition was…..Napa, by a narrow margin of one point, which was the 07 Fontanella/Napa Valley/ Mt. Veeder and Oakville.
  • The highest scoring Sonoma Zin was 07 Tin Barn Russian River/Sonoma County/Russian River-Glisson Vineyard.

Public Choice

There was also a public competition, with 13 tables of a Napa vs Sonoma. The public leaned towards Sonoma.  The top three favorites were all Sonoma wines with Mayo and Viansa both coming in at number one.   Chase Cellars was the favorite Napa Wine. In 13 head to head competitions, Sonoma wines won 8 times.  Even when broken down between male and females..Sonoma still wins.   Some tables were very close, separated by only a point or two.  Others were landslides. (Detailed results in Becky’s blog post.)

Next Up – Napa vs Sonoma Cabernet

This Sunday, Feb. 20th, is Round Two: Cabernet. This time Becky did 3 rounds of pre-tastings to narrow down some of the wines, I participated at one of these, kindly hosted by Cellars of Sonoma. Tickets for the public are only $10, and dinner (Please RSVP and pre-order) is only $8. The event runs from 4-8 p.m. but the judging stops at 6, so that there is time to announce the results.

I enjoy Cabernet and Bordeaux varietals, in fact that’s almost all I drank the first ten years of my wine drinking. Since then I have become much more of a fan of Burgundian varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) and Rhone (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Viognier, etc.) Cabernet is generally more complex and winemakers sometimes take a more active role in its style, so this event will be interesting. I am guessing my fellow judges, which include some big Cab enthusiasts, will edge me out this time, and I will do better next month when we do Syrah – but it’s a blind judging, so we’ll see!

Come out and support your favorite valley. Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!!!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010
4:00pm – 8:00pm
Rutherford Grange
8576 St. Helena HWY
Rutherford, CA
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