Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Judgment of Albuquerque

The Judgment of Albuquerque
The New Mexico Vine and Wine Society, sponsors the New Mexico State Fair wine competition each year for evaluating and awarding wineries for their best efforts. For the most part the judges are volunteers with a passionate interest in wine, and can include grape growers, commercial wine makers, and amateur wine makers. It can also include wine writers, which is how I came to be a judge at this event.

This invite came right after I’d attended the Southwest Wine Competition that precedes the Toast of Taos wine event. I jumped at the chance to be part of it. You may be thinking, free wine! Actually, the judging takes all day and requires a judge’s full attention. We also make judicious use of a spit bucket, to keep our palates and brains sharp. The fellowship of other wine lovers and the conversation – always on wine – is part of what I most enjoyed.

I also gained insight into objectively evaluating wine apart from my own palate preferences, which serves me very well as a wine writer. I also discovered that using the traditional swirl, sip, and inhale technique does not work very well when you try a specialty-green chili wine. My eyes watered profusely down the sides of my ruined nose and my palate went into hibernation. Good thing it was the last wine I tried.

The Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal winners can be found on the Vine and Wine Society’s website at and includes awards to newly emerging wineries and smaller wine making organizations as well as the bigger wineries such as Gruet.
As it turned out, my biggest challenge was finding where the event was held. The Sandia Courtyard Hotel and Conference Center was previously a Howard Johnston hotel, which was the information I was given. When the familiar blue and orange colors did not appear I had to do the unprecedented: ask directions. You know how hard that can be for a guy to accomplish. I still made it on time.

One of the interesting things I learned was that the judges first taste a know varietal. The calibrating wine chosen is one true to its grape’s primary characteristics. It’s sort of like the first violin tuning the orchestra. Once that is accomplished we all begin to taste flights of wine, usually all six or seven wines are of a particular grape variety, except for blends and specialty wines.
By the time I got to that last wine, my palate was reaching saturation. The green chili wine completed the saturation. You might keep that in mind if you decide to become a wine judge. Salut!

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