Friday, August 1, 2008
Attendance at this year's CA Wine Tasting Championships was disappointing. It was the 26th anniversary of the event, and used to be so popular that parking was a problem. This year, I parked right next to the entry gate.
Which is why the event is being discontinued as a public event next year, the pleasures of this friendly, skill-honing competition being shared only amongst the sponsor's wine club members. The sponsor is the intrepid Alan Green and his winery, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. Interested parties can join their wine club here.
Between rounds of the competition I sat with friends I see annually at this venue. We were all puzzled as to why the event has seen declining in popularity. Suggestions were readily offered, but all the usual reasons - its remote location, limited food options, etc etc - were all equally compelling during the event's halcyon days.
It even generated unprecedented publicity this year, and tested an expensive advertising budget in Sunset and other relevant publications. All to no avail. Leaving us puzzled over the lack of interest in this valuable opportunity to hone our palates, to understand our own strengths and weaknesses as wine lovers.
The Benefits of Blind Tastings
I remember a story once told to me by someone who worked with Master Sommelier Larry Stone at the famed restaurant Rubicon (he's now G.M. of the larger Rubicon Estates). He described how Larry's incredible energy and enthusiasm for wine kept his staff constantly on their toes:
"I would be in the middle of dinner service - as stressful time under any circumstance - and Larry would stick a wine under my nose and say 'Tell me about this!' I would have to stop everything, sample the wine, and quickly find something intelligent to say. Every new staff member soon learned to hone their palates under Larry's guidance. Even those who began with nothing more than 'It smells like grapes to me' would soon be describing full flavors, identifying old world vs. new world, and nailing grape varietals..."
I have long believed the the best way to hone my palate is to have unknown wines shoved in front of me with the command "tell me about it". In my single days, when my schedule was less congested with family duties, I organized an annual blind tasting of sparkling wines. Cost of admission was one bottle of sparkling wine from anywhere in the world and formal attire. Each bottle was wrapped in identical paper and randomly labeled. Duplicate entries were wrapped and labeled separately, to see if evaluations were consistent. Results were always fun and eye-opening.
Such mano-a-vino confrontations bring out the true characteristics of the wine as well as the taster, both of which are stripped of any pretense or pre-conceived notions. I encourage anyone with more than a casual interest in wine to undertake this exercise as often as possible. It is humbling, so I don't recommend it to those with fragile wine egos (read BIG). But for those with a curious mind and a true love of the grape, it can be a most enjoyable way to learn.
Have a story about blind tastings? Please share your experiences in today's comment box - readers want to hear from you.
“A peek at the bottle is worth 50 years of tasting” ~Michael Broadbent, famed wine critic and auctioneer
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