The Washington Times-Herald


August 14, 2012

Key to wine judging: sniff, sip, swish, spit

WASHINGTON — I had the honor of being offered the chance, as a media representative, to serve as a “guest judge” at the 2012 Indy International Wine Competition the first week in August.

The opportunity was intended to highlight the role wines and wineries play in Indiana’s agritourism industry and to familiarize journalists with the local and international wine scenes. It was an opportunity too good to pass up, as the Indy International is a premier event. Let me just say: It was amazing!

Now one of the top wine competitions in the nation, the Indy International began in Indianapolis as The Indiana State Fair Wine Competition in 1973 with 454 commercial and amateur entries. In 2010 it was moved to Purdue University and the name was changed.

This year, the South Ballroom of Purdue’s Memorial Union was wall-to-wall tables filled with bottles of wine. More than 2,300 wines were entered from 41 states and 14 countries including France, Australia, Chile and Germany — and the Wine of the Year Award, presented to the very best wine out of those 2,300, went to an Indiana wine! It’s the first time in the event’s history that an Indiana wine has won, and the distinction went to River City Winery in New Albany for its 2011 Vignoles.

I don’t think I tasted that particular wine and gave my “expert” opinion! Each “flight,” or category of wines brought to the judging panels have numbered glasses so judges don’t know where the wines are made. They only know the type of grape or other fruit and the sugar level.

Judges make their decisions based on clarity, color, aroma, taste, aftertaste and overall opinion. Each category has a points range and total points are added to determine if the wine receives a gold, silver or bronze medal. If every judge on the panel gives a wine a gold rating, that makes it a “double gold” and it competes for best of class. No medal may be designated if the wine is flawed in some way.

This year 50 judges were divided into 13 panels and set up at tables in the Union’s North Ballroom: nine panels judged commercial wines and four panels judged amateur wines.

In general, their backgrounds were in wine making, marketing, writing, research, Extension, distribution, and other wine-related careers. Two judges were international, coming from Canada and the United Kingdom.

My panel was comprised of Dana Huber, marketing director from Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyards in Borden, Ind.; Jeanne Burgess, wine maker with Seavin Inc. in Clermont, Fla.; Sara Spayd, North Carolina State University Extension; and Bruce Bordelon, Purdue Extension. I couldn’t have asked for a better group! They were knowledgeable, helpful, patient and fun, providing an interactive learning experience for me.

Judging a flight went something like this: Our “pit cru” (a play on “pit crew,” in France a cru is a vineyard producing high quality wine) of Bonnie Warren and Kim Somermeyer, both of Indianapolis, brought out the flight and arranged each numbered glass in front of each judge in the same order. The judges went through a sniff, sip, swish, spit routine with each glass of vino, scored it according to their observations, made comments, then shared their opinion with the rest of the judging panel. The final placing was an average of the judges’ scores.

Afterward, we removed the numbers from the glasses and emptied the remaining wine into our spit cups. The pit cru came back, took the empty glasses, dumped our spit cups into a bucket and set up the next flight. Water, olives, crackers, cheese, and in some cases, roast beef, were available to cleanse our palates between flights.

Surprisingly to me, my favorite flight was the Concords. According to Judge Sara, it’s hard to screw up Concord wine because it’s not complicated.

Rosés are my favorites, so I also enjoyed the rosé flight. Judge Dana described rosés as “pleasant.” She said it’s a wine you should keep on hand because it can be served with anything.

I was anticipating the fruit wines, because I tend to like those, but I was sorely disappointed. Most of the fruit flavors, in my opinion, were overpowered by the alcohol content.

My least favorite flight was the Chancellors. This is supposed to be a fruity red wine, but it didn’t taste fruity to me. I couldn’t even finish judging this flight because they made my tongue numb and tasted nasty to me! In fact, one was so bad that I spit it into my spit cup with such velocity I had backsplash on the white lab coat they gave me to wear!

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