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Thursday, April 3, 2014

43 Bottles of Wine in One Day

Last Saturday I drank from 43 bottles of wine in one day.  I was one of about 200 "judges" in the Consumer's Taste Contest held by the Independent Winemaker's Association.  The real name is in French: Vignerons Indenpendents. It was my first time to participate.  Everything was in French, including announcements, the test, and the evaluation sheets.

"The test?", you ask?  Yes, there was a test of our knowledge of wine, which I did miserably on.  And not because it was written in French.  There were some easy questions, like "What is a blind taste test?", or "What is unique about this contest?" But, there were also some really difficult ones, like "Only one of these terms does not designate a bottle.  Which?  Jeroboam, Frontignan, Tiare, Clavelin."  Or, "La Roche-aux-Moines is a cru found in which appelation?  Clos Veugeot, Chateauneuf de Pape, Savanierre, SolutrĂ©."  No clue.  But, that doesn't matter. It's a Consumer's Taste contest where what the consumer likes best is what IS best. Actually, I hear this same association also tries to educate the public with free classes on wine.  I need to take one of those too!

The association was formed by small wine producers to help them compete against the giant corporate wine producers.  The difference between these small producers and big corporate producers is in the product.  The product of giant producers come from many different growers and plots of land by necessity, in order for them to be able to produce such large volumes.  To wine lovers, the downside of this is a reduced romantic ideal of the farmer on his land lovingly producing a specific tailored flavor from only one or a few vineyards completely under their control. I think wine lovers also like the idea that there are thousands of flavors of wine out there, different for every vineyard on earth, and every year.  Having a huge producer take grapes from many different vineyards and mix them thus reduces the variety of flavors of wine in the world.

Anyway, this association decided to start holding contests of "consumer taste", i.e., ignorant bumpkins like myself, who like wine, but are no experts in the field, could come in and give out medals.  

The contest consists of four or five people at a table tasting 16-20 numbered bottles of a certain kind of wine, and each of us grading the wine on several questions about appearance,  aroma, and flavor, plus an overall rating.  There were about 100 of these tables, each with a different set of 16-20 bottles!

 After we individually rated the wines, the leader of the group tallied the top three wines from each person.  I was impressed to see that there were certain bottles that most of the people in the group picked, even though we hadn't discussed our ratings.

The Tally.  Notice the groupings of marks where three out of five of us chose the same wines.
Finally, we discussed with each other which were our favorites.  Of course, it was necessary to taste the best ones again, to be absolutely sure they deserved their medals!  The rules allow the table to award up to six medals, of any mix of gold, silver, and bronze.  My first group gave two gold and one silver.  My second group gave two gold, two silver, and one bronze.

The postscript to the story is that the Salon of Independent Winemakers was the very next week.  My second table had tasted Languedocs from 2010-2012 from La Clape.  I found the list of medal winners on the web site, and narrowed it down to Chateau Rouquette.  So, I went to the salon to buy a dozen bottles.  I had the unpleasant surprise of gradually realizing that Chateau Rouquette doesn't exhibit at the Spring Salon.  They only come to the Fall Salon. 

There was only one possible solution to this problem: taste more wine.  I went home with 13 bottles of wine and two bottles of wine liqueur.  I'd never heard of wine liqueur, but this Domaine Castan CartagĂ©ne is heavenly.  I wanted a second opinion, so I had the wine expert I live with test it.  The result: she stole my glass. 

The contest web site:

One of our Languedoc gold medal picks:  Chateau Rouquette

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