Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Experience Judging Wine for the Fair

The Clark County Fair wine and beer competition that I entered my cider and bell pepper peach wine into is sponsored by Bader Beer and Wine Supply Homebrew Supply. I met the owner, Steve Bader, while attending the WineMaker Magazine Conference in May, and he invited me to sit on the judge’s panel for this competition. Later, and email was sent out to all their email subscribers asking for judges.

There were about 30 judges who were split into teams of three or four, with each team having some experienced judges and some new judges. There were about 80 wines, most of which were fruit wines due to ease of getting fruit versus paying for grapes, and most were sweet wines. My team ended up judging four grape wines and about five fruit wines in about two hours, at which point we had some food and were free to taste what was judged the best by other teams or other wines that interest us.

When Bader invited me to judge, I hesitated. He explained that the score sheet would help guide me, and he was right. It was probably the most useful wine score card I have seen, and I will probably adopt it because it does guide so well. It was broken down into appearance, aroma, taste, aftertaste, and overall impression, each with different scores. Each category had some word descriptions, which I circled if they applied, and then space to write down thoughts. This space was very important, as winemakers, such as myself, would want that feedback as to what was wrong, what was right, what was liked, and what was disliked about the product. The maximum scoring went like this:

Appearance: 3
Aroma: 4
Taste: 6
Aftertaste: 4
Overall Impression: 3

This gave a total of 20 points, so the classifications were something like this:

18-20 Exceptional
15-17 Excellent
12-14 Very Good
9 - 11 Pleasant
6 – 8 Drinkable
0 - 5 Needs improvement

Really, there should be very few “Exceptional” wines, and hopefully most wines get a 9 or higher, with the “Pleasant” category maybe having a few flaws, but nothing to really stop a person from drinking it willingly. Believe you me, we hit a peach wine that we scored a 4-5, and later gave it to others at the end of the night and they smelled it and refused to taste it. It got points for looking nice, and that was about it. The higher scoring wines were also rememberable, while the pleasant wines lacked that something to push them over.

We would go though and score as individuals, and then compare notes. As long as the scores came within four points of each other, and they usually did, we submitted as is, though we usually talked about what we found. Sometimes I felt bad that I didn’t write down very good descriptions, but then talking to the more experienced tasters, I would realize that they were able to vocalize clearly what I couldn’t and so I didn’t worry so much.

Unfortunately, the best wine we had was the first one, which, being the first wine, we rated a little low at 15. It probably should have been a 17, with a ding because it wasn’t clear. It was a pinot grigio, and that wine maker ended up having another bottle of pinot noir make the nomination table for best wines. We also tasted a blackberry wine that we had to ding because it looked more like a raspberry wine, and one wine that escapes me now had very little aroma. We had a chocolate raspberry wine that I called cheap and another gal said it tasted like a tootsie roll. I believe the award for best wine went to a raspberry wine, which was very good. The official results will be posted in a few days.

I’m definitely doing this again next year!

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