Judge For a Day
By Gina Ruccione, Cuisine Writer
If you are a wine aficionado, you might be a little jealous after reading this article.
On July 19, I had the pleasure of attending the Long Beach Grand Cru wine tasting competition, the country’s only nonprofit wine sip-off.
The Long Beach Grand Cru celebrates its 21st anniversary this year. Each year the Grand Cru raises funds through its public tasting festival to benefit the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Greater Long Beach Community Medical Legal Partnership. Proceeds from the fundraiser help provide legal support to low-income people in the community.
In preparation for that event, there is an international wine competition that precedes the public tasting and wine festival. The two-day competition boasts a prestigious panel of judges, including winemakers, winery owners, wine writers, industry professionals, educators — and of course, yours truly.
Structured as a double-blind judging process, each judge samples about 120 wines per day — and believe me when I say, it’s a long and arduous process. Judges are set up at round tables and served flights of wine, both white and red so as not to exhaust the palate. Judges are then asked to award medals based on several characteristics: subtlety, varietal character, terroir (the combo of factors including soil, climate and sunlight that give grapes their character). Discussion is encouraged. At the end, a vote is taken to determine if the wine is worthy of a bronze, silver or gold medal.
I had no idea what to expect that day—I assumed I would be stuck at a table with wine elitists who would be less than welcoming, but that was hardly the case. Everyone at my table, from enologists (people who study the science of wine), to vintners, were incredibly friendly, helpful, and engaging. They took time to explain how the judging process works. One person at my table broke it down in layman’s terms:
“Would you serve this wine at a dinner party? If you would, then it should be awarded a medal.” Next question: “How much would you pay for the bottle? Ten dollars should be awarded a bronze medal, $20 should be awarded a silver medal, and $30 dollars should be awarded a gold Medal.”
I enjoy wine and consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about it, but wine jargon can be stuffy at times, and tasting 25 different white wines in one flight proved to be more challenging that I expected. By the end of the day, everything started to taste the same. It was hard to discern what was good, what was bad, and/or if my taste buds were still functioning properly. To my surprise, my palate is more sophisticated than I thought. Most of the judges at my table and I had similar taste in wine.
To say I felt a little dehydrated after the competition would be a severe understatement. I found myself snacking on the palate cleansers in the middle of the table (cheese, roast beef, olives, crackers) to avoid an accidental buzz. Apparently, I’ve been doing this wrong for years. I’ve been eating a box of crackers and having a glass of wine, when it should be a bottle of wine and a couple of crackers. Or—wait. No, that can’t be right.
The Long Beach Grand Cru Public Tasting will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. Aug. 8, at the South Coast Botanic Gardens in Palos Verdes.
Entertainment, delicious food from local restaurants, and of course, the opportunity to try plenty of wine is all on the agenda.
Gina Ruccione has traveled all over Europe and Asia and has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County. You can visit her website at www.foodfashionfoolishfornication.com.