|Since I'm not an athlete, this is my chance to hoist the Stars and Stripes|
In past years I just worried about my own opinion of the wines. I enjoy discussing wines with other judges, but this year, because I collected the scoresheets, I really noticed how divergent the opinions of even wine professionals are.
My panel was also something of a tower of Babel, with five different first languages and no language fully shared by even three of us. That made it harder for us to influence each other, so our opinions were more pure.
It's not news that two people can taste the same wine and think differently about it. But when it comes to awarding medals, a pattern quickly emerged to the detriment of wineries that entered wanting one.
Two of us had similar palates. Two others had similar palates to each other. And the fifth judge was very different from any of us.
If group A liked a wine, that could be two votes for a gold, but then group B might not like it, and vice versa. On all of the rare occasions when all four of us liked a wine, the fifth judge did not. So I don't believe we awarded a single gold medal out of 150 wines, although the Concours uses statistical analysis to eliminate outliers and may be able to fix that.
All of us thought there were some gold medal worthy wines -- we just didn't agree on what they were.
If there were 3 judges, it would be easier for two who agreed to discuss the wine with the third judge and come to a consensus. But with 5, it's really hard.
Maybe the Concours wants that. Wine competitions lose respect if they give too many medals. One reason I love judging at it is that we taste so many wines we might never otherwise encounter. This year I enjoyed Rieslings from Bulgaria and Slovakia. In past years I loved a Brazilian Cabernet Franc and Viognier and discovered the high overall quality of Luxembourg Riesling. But realistically, if you taste a flight of 15 wines from an emerging wine country, you can't expect to give eight golds.
The Concours had 7,050 wines entered last year and gave only 703 gold and grand gold medals combined, along with 1,329 silvers. Giving 10% gold and 19% silver keeps the medals meaningful. So there's a different side to my argument.
However, there are winery owners in Rioja and Vinho Verde who won't get gold medals I think they deserved because the 5 of us couldn't agree, and even though being president of a jury with four Europeans felt like being a NATO general, I didn't feel it was my place to impose my will.
I would like it if you would address comments to El Presidente.
Last year I got in a Twitter discussion with Bruce Schoenfeld and Jamie Goode about which is worse: bad California Cabernet, or bad Bordeaux. Jamie asserted that we don't get the worst Bordeaux in the States and that its bottom end is lower.
We had two flights of Bordeaux and on the last one, we thought the wines were Pinot Noir from a country with bad hygiene.
Memo to Jamie Goode: You're right.
A guy from Quebec sat next to me at breakfast on the first day and said he'd just been to California, driving up from Santa Barbara ("did you know the wineries in Sideways really exist?") through the Santa Cruz Mountains to Napa. He liked Bonny Doon and said he had a Pinot Noir from Marin County that he liked.
He also said, "I had a California Cabernet, it was so oaky and bad, I couldn't drink it."
Me: "Which one?"
Him: "I don't remember."
The punchline is that he made this trip to write a book about California wine for Quebec readers, and he is already finished.
Memo to Quebec: Nous avons plus d'un Cabernet en Californie. (We have more than one.)