So there I was, KK, the winemaker wannabe, (Yes, I’m having a 50th birthday later this year and I’ve gone back to school, seeking a Viticulture and Enology A. A. S. Degree at Grayson College), seated to serve as a first time judge for the 32nd Lone Star International Wine Competition. Pretty cool.
To my immediate left: Jeff Cope, founder of Texas Wine Lover, Level 1 Sommelier. Next to him: Paul Botamer, an Advanced Sommelier and Director of Wine and Beverage at Fearings of the Ritz-Carlton Dallas. To my right: Mirek von Springer, also a Sommelier and Wine and Spirits Director at Goody Goody, Inc. I was seated in good company.
In front of me my info. notebook, a fresh spit cup (with my name on it), a bottle of water, a cocktail plate with celery, French bread, roast beef slices, and two perfectly folded paper napkins. I was ready to begin.
Next, a cart of festival tasting glasses with five one ounce tastes for our “Flight 1” rolls up. The wonderfully trained and delightful volunteers from the Grapevine Wine Pouring Society began their art and craft, providing us with super attention and service including glassware removal, water bottle replacement, spit cup emptying, celery, roast beef and bread refills galore for the next two days of wine judging. Again pretty cool. And so we began with our Festival Style Judging. (Click here to read about the 2015 competition rules).
There was the customary visual examination, swirling, sniffing, and tasting, of course. And then, I was immediately amused by the first sounds of all four of us spitting into our spit cups. It was 10 am, too, but convincing oneself to continually spit, takes some getting used to. I’m the girl who tries not to waste wine when I go out and about on my wine tasting adventures.
For our group, Panel 5, the first wine we sampled, 100% Petit Verdot, did end up the winner of Double Gold. This was my first taste of wine, the morning of the first wine competition I’ve ever been invited to judge. I was quite pleased with myself. From this first flight, there were also two silver medals awarded from this very first flight I’d ever judged. A nice way to begin judging why, yes?
Panel 5 proceeded to taste 103 wines on Monday. Nine flights in the morning and eight flights after a lovely lunch. Flights 1-7 were all red table wines, 3 flights international, 1 flight limited production, and 3 flights from Texas. After lunch, Flights 8 and 9 were rosé and blush wines, Flights 10-13 white table wines, Flight 14 fruit wine and other than grape wine, Flight 15 and 16 late harvest, dessert and ice wine, and Flight 17 fortified wine. Again, international, limited production, and Texas producers. I’m so proud of these Texas wines and our Texas winemakers. As a future winemaker, hoping to produce some award winning Texas wines myself, this was really wonderful to be exposed to so many quality Texas wines all in one place.
We returned on Tuesday morning to a room set for a half-circle where the entire corps of judges would taste 13 flights and collectively judge all the finalists from Monday’s flights for the Best in Varietal and Grand Star Awards, the Best of Show for each competition (Texas, International, and Limited Production). We tasted nearly 50 wines by the time it was all said and done, and sometimes when the votes were close, we tasted a second time to develop our majority opinion. For my part, out of the 13 flights, I was in the majority for 7 winners. For the other 6, my vote wasn’t among the majority opinion. So, that is my curious take away from my first time as a wine judge. (Click here to view the 32nd Annual Lone Star International Wine Competition results.)
Thoroughly, I enjoyed every moment of this experience. I’m delighted to know I’ve already been invited back for next year’s competition as well. I was pleased to sit in the company of Sommeliers and Industry professionals and realize that my tasting capabilities were good enough. Do I have so much more to learn? Of course I do, but I’m willing to keep practicing and keep on tasting. What is great about the world of wine, and the world of wine in Texas specifically? The professionals are passionate about wines, wine’s potential, the industry’s potential in addition to the shared wine experience, and they are open minded and willing to share their depth of knowledge, plus they welcomed a newbie’s perspective and input, especially once we talked about pairing with food and flavors. I am not new to wine, but I am new to the Texas wine community, and in just a short time I have been warmly welcomed, friended, and invited to dive in.
A special thanks to Jeff Cope for suggesting to Debbie Reynolds (TWGGA) I be given an invitation to serve as a judge. And to Jeff and Jeremy Wilson for welcoming me as a future Contributing Writer for Texas Wine Lover. I’m looking forward to it.