What it’s like to be a #wine judge – part 2 #LACountyFair

13 Sep

Picking up where we left off, this past May I was invited  by Planet Bordeaux, the marketing arm for France’s Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur AOC, to be a guest judge at the 75th Annual Los Angeles International Wine Competition.

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Since the Bordeaux panel wasn’t until Thursday morning, I was asked to observe a panel of judges evaluating Rhone blends on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s where it gets scary. Imagine you’re prepared to sit back and watch the panel in action. Instead, you’re asked to participate in the panel, and you have exactly 10 minutes to evaluate 15 wines. And then another flight of 15 wines arrives, and you have 10 minutes to evaluate those. And repeat. And you’ve never done this before.

Oh, and did I mention the other judges at your table include a Napa Valley winemaker, a well-known Hong Kong wine journalist, a veteran wine industry publicist, and the head chef and wine guru for The Fancy House Where The Founder of the World’s Most Recognized “Lad Magazine” Parties With “Cute Little Rabbits” (wink, wink)? I kid you not.

Photo by Ann Harrison via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Ann Harrison via Wikimedia Commons.

The wine publicist explained that we were to assign one of four ratings to each wine: Gold, Silver, Bronze or no medal. Easy enough, I thought. After we were finished evaluating each flight, we would go around the table and announce our rating. To my horror, each time I gave a wine a gold rating, the entire table would say bronze. When I said bronze, the table rated the wine as gold. And so it went: if I thought a wine was swoon-worthy, the rest of the table thought it was crap.

At one point, Mr. Lad Mag and the winemaker joked that wineries should come fully equipped with trapdoors to jettison annoying wine tasters. I silently wished there was a trapdoor under my chair that would swallow me whole. Oh, the humanity!

That night, the judges were treated to an al fresco dinner on the Fairplex fairgrounds. Black-tablecloth picnic benches were arranged in long rows in the Fairplex’s garden, while the sweet, smoky aroma of barbecued meat offered a tantalizing hint at what was to come.

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All around me, the judges stood in convivial circles, sipping sparkling wine. I availed myself of a glass (okay, two), fully prepared to be singled out as The Girl With the Faulty Palate.

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Thanks be to Bacchus, it didn’t happen. I sat at a table with my two Supreme-Goddesses-of-the-Vine wine instructors, Shelby Ledgerwood and Monica Marin. Seated next to me was Planet Bordeaux’s France-based, American publicist, Jana Kravitz, whose job I unapologetically envy.

It goes without saying that each course was exquisitely paired with a fine wine. A glowing full moon bathed the whole scene in the kind of light that only happens in Colin Firth movies, reassuring me that the next morning’s experience would be better.

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Moonrise at the Fairplex wine judges’ dinner.

And it was. The Bordeaux/Bordeaux Supérieur panel comprised a well-known L.A. wine importer and a bevy of wine journalists from prominent publications, including a wine critic from France’s Le Figaro newspaper. This time, I streamlined my evaluation criteria to the BLIC formula I learned from Monica Marin: Balance, Length of finish, Intensity, Complexity.

Judging - big flight

To my ecstatic relief, my ratings were in harmony with those of the other judges. And I was finally able to appreciate the experience for what it was–an opportunity to learn, a chance to taste some of Bordeaux’s best wines, and an event I hope to attend again, this time with soaring confidence in my trusty palate.

The winners of the 2014 Los Angeles International Wine Competition are listed in a 132-page PDF that you can download from the Fairplex website. I wish to extend my most sincere gratitude to Jana Kravitz at Planet Bordeaux for the opportunity, to Renee Hernandez at the Fairplex for accommodating me at the last minute, and to the unsurpassed, wine-educating dynamos Shelby Ledgerwood and Monica Marin for all of the wisdom they have so generously and enthusiastically shared over the past three years. Raising a glass to you all. ¡Salud!

What it’s like to be a #wine judge – part 1 #LACountyFair

6 Sep

September in Los Angeles means it’s time for the L.A. County Fair. Award-winning wines from this year’s Los Angeles International Wine Competition will be poured,  and let it be known that yours truly was asked to be a guest judge at this year’s Competition back in May. Trust me, no one was more surprised than I was.

Photo by Nancy Newman

Photo by Nancy Newman

My invitation came via email from a  publicist for the Bordeaux/Bordeaux Superieur panel. Before I could over-think it, I accepted. As soon as I clicked “send,” I panicked. Me? Really? Do they have any idea I’m just a chica who loves wine and doesn’t consider herself a connoisseur? Maybe they confused me with someone else, and soon I’d receive an email with an apology for the error and a gracious dis-invitation.

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No such email arrived, and after sending a frantic plea for help to the amazing Shelby Ledgerwood, my very first wine instructor at UCLA Extension’s Wine Education program, I started practicing the breathing techniques I learned  in a “Yoga for Relaxation” class. It turns out Shelby was a regular judge at the event, and after reading her reassuring response and helpful tips, I packed an overnight bag and drove to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds.

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So here’s how a wine gets judged. All wines are tasted blind, that is, we have no idea which wine we are tasting. All you know is that the wines are from a particular region or made with a particular grape variety. Each flight could have as many as 15 wines, and there are about three flights per session. Do the math. There are usually five to six judges and a secretary who records all of the ratings. And there could be guest judges whose ratings are not counted in the official tally but whose opinions are considered by the other judges.

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If  you’ve ever seen the “I Love Lucy” chocolate factory episode, substitute me for Lucy and glasses of wine for chocolate. Gone was the luxury of 10 minutes to evaluate one wine, the standard in my WSET Level 3 classes. Instead, I had about 10 minutes to get through a flight of 15 wines. As with all professional wine tastings, I was spitting everything I tasted. And I know a thousand tiny violins will play in unison at this next line, but being a guest judge put my stress-o-meter into turbo-charge mode. Wait’ll you hear who was at my table!

How’s that for a cliff-hanger, chicas y chicos? Stay tuned for part 2 of “What it’s like to be a wine judge” next week. Until then, ¡Salud!

 

In honor of #InternationalDuckDay, #wines with ‘duck’ in the name

27 Aug

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Who doesn’t love a duck? In the Señorita Vino household, ducks are universal symbols of all that is right in the world. Rubber duckies brighten our bathrooms–and offices–with their cheery yellow livery, and in the years since we’ve been married, Señor J and I have amassed quite a collection of duckie Christmas tree ornaments.

LA Duckie

Imagine my joy last week when I learned that a rubber duckie as tall as a six-story building would lead a flotilla of tall ships into the Port of Los Angeles. Turns out all of LA was jonesin’ for cuteness. Nearly  300,000 Angelenos made the trek to the San Pedro waterfront to catch a glimpse of the gargantuan bath toy. And because we’re Angelenos, traffic was backed up for miles on Sunday, which was supposed to be the duckie’s last day in L.A.

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Thankfully, the Los Angeles City Council came down with a serious case of Rubber Duckie Attachment Syndrome and decided to let the little fella stay on through Sept. 6, which includes today, International Duck Day.

In celebration, here’s a roundup of wines named for ducks.

1. Duckhorn – This Napa Valley wine is named for the owners, who have spun off other labels including “Decoy.”

Image courtesy of Duckhorn Vineyards

Image courtesy of Duckhorn Vineyards

 

2. Luis PatoPato means duck in Spanish, but this wine is from Portugal. And it’s the winemaker’s last name. So it’s technically not named after a duck, but he put a duck on the label, so there you go.

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3. Canard Vineyard – And speaking of foreign languages, canard is French for duck. This Calistoga vineyard produces a Cabernet Sauvignon that’s, uh, just ducky.

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4. Baby Duck – It seems this Canadian sparkling wine is no longer in production. It’s a shame, because I can’t think of a better bottle of bubbly than this to christen the tall ships  in the flotilla led by the ginormous rubber duckie last week.

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5. Duck Commander – Okay, would you buy wine from these vatos locos?

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Exactly. But that didn’t stop them from making Duck Commander. It should, however, stop you from smearing GI Joe paint all over your face and getting your own reality series.

Duck Commander

 

6. Lucky Duck Wine – Amazing things happen when you do a search for wines named after ducks. It turns out Walmart sells this wine with a most fortuitous moniker, which comes in five different varietals, including Malbec. Now say this in your best Donald Duck voice: Who knew?

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7. André Cold Duck Sparkling Wine – Let’s not forget this little piece of American winemaking history. Born in Detroit in the late 1930s, Cold Duck flew away to New York the 1970s–and resurfaced in South Africa nearly four decades later as 5th Avenue Cold Duck.

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So there you have it, chicas y chicos. Aren’t you glad to know winemakers all over the world share an appreciation for our adorable little feathered friends? And aren’t you also glad that there’s a rubber duckie for every occasion, including Fraternity Rush Week at your local college campus?

 

"Which way to Delta Tau Chi?"

“Which way to Delta Tau Chi?”

¡Salud!

#LA’s only #Latino-owned #winery

23 Aug

Darlings, it’s been a crazy week, so I’m sharing an oldie but a goodie. Here’s a post on LA’s only Latino-owned winery. Now you know that you really can go wine tasting in L.A. ¡Salud!

About an hour’s drive north of downtown Los Angeles, the radio signal in my car begins to fade. Minutes later as I exit the 5 freeway at Agua Dulce Canyon Road, a country western station pipes in crystal clear.

The twangy guitar and folksy melody provide a fitting soundtrack for the winding country roads that lead to Reyes Winery, the only Latino-owned winery in Los Angeles County, and one of a few wineries 45 minutes away from the heart of downtown L.A.

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Robert Reyes, winemaker and general manager, warmly welcomes me and a crew from ABC-7, who are here to do a segment on Señorita Vino for their Sunday morning television program, Vista LA [NOTE: the show aired Nov. 17, but if you're in L.A. County, you might catch a re-broadcast in the late evening or early morning].

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Besides making wine, Reyes, a native of the Dominican Republic, paints and scuba dives. Yet this Renaissance man’s passion for wine stems not from idyllic trips to Europe’s wine regions, but from a beloved aunt.

“I’ve loved wine since I was a kid in the Dominican Republic,” Reyes says. “My 92-year-old aunt would visit us in Santo Domingo and she’d bring a bottle of her homemade fruit wine. As kids, we’d get a taste.”

Reyes was smitten, and as an adult, he started making his own version of his aunt’s fruity concoction.

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What started as a passion developed into a serious interest, and Reyes began schooling himself in the art of winemaking by reading books. He also consulted other winemakers and took courses at UC Davis, which has a world-renowned viticulture and enology program.

He planted the first vineyard at Reyes Winery in 2004, and harvested a small crop the next year. Today, the boutique winery produces 3,500 cases annually from five varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Muscat.

On display in the tasting room are Reyes’ own paintings of the vineyard and scenes evocative of his homeland. Also visible are some of the awards his wines have garnered.

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“Our wines have been on the market for the past two-and-a-half years, and in that time we’ve earned medals in every competition we’ve entered,” Reyes notes. To date, the winery has won 29 medals.

Despite the honors, Reyes remains grounded. And he’s quick to dismiss wine snobbery. “There are a lot of people out there who, for whatever reason, have this attitude about wine knowledge,” he says. “If you taste a wine and like it, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else says about it.”

When asked about wine consumption among Latinos, Reyes observes that Hispanics are definitely upping their wine drinking. He attributes the increase to the fact that Latinos are becoming more affluent as they integrate into American culture.

Vines are planted on 16 acres of land.

Vines are planted on 16 acres of land.

“Where we once worked in the fields, we now have the means to be able to make wine and especially drink wine,” states Reyes. “It’s a social phenomenon that we’re all participating in.”

Reyes Winery. 10262 Sierra Highway, Agua Dulce, Calif. 91390. (661) 268-1865. Open for tastings Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Book a tasting and winery tour at www.reyeswinery.com.

 

Humor is the best medicine. RIP Robin Williams.

12 Aug

This post is a departure from my usual wine-related content, and I hope you’ll bear with me. As you know, yesterday the world lost one of its most brilliant comedic minds.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Robin Williams first beamed into my family’s living room on the “Mork and Mindy” show. At the time, I was an awkward sixth grader, trying to establish a sense of identity in the not-always-kind world of middle school.  For my brother and me, the Mork character was the embodiment of our own quirky sense of humor, a fellow geek trying to find where he fit in his surroundings.

As I grew, so did Williams’ influence. His portrayal of John Irving’s character, Garp, brought a high school reading assignment, “The World According to Garp,” to life. In college, his role in “Good Morning Vietnam” shed a little light on the war that, for decades, was brushed under the rug. As a writer and literature major, “Dead Poet’s Society” struck a chord. In my early thirties, seemingly stuck on the dating merry-go-round, Williams seemed to be speaking to me, as well as Matt Damon, on how to find that ever-elusive love in “Good Will Hunting.”

I leave you with a quote that I hope touches your heart as much as it does mine. A toast to the man who could make me laugh, even in the darkest times.

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

- Robin Williams (1951-2014)

 

6 tips for storing wine

8 Aug

Where does the time go, chicas y chicos? Hard to believe it’s the weekend, but GADQEV (that’s Spanish for TGIF).

Lots has happened this week, including yours truly being accepted into a (gasp!) part-time M.B.A. program, which starts in (gulp!) three weeks. I promise I’ll continue posting about The Wonderful World of Vino, since I have a feeling I’ll be needing mucho vino to get through the economics and financial analysis classes.

After: No more chaos!

But enough about me–let’s talk about you. Specifically, your wine storage habits. Don’t worry–I won’t tell that you’re storing your wine in the spare bathroom shower stall. My latest article for TheLatinKitchen.com features six easy tips for storing your wine. Check it out here–and happy cellaring!

¡Salud!

Cool off with white #wines from Argentina and Spain

1 Aug

Feliz Friday, chicas y chicos! For your summer heatwave pleasure, I’d like to introduce you to some cool white wines from Spain and Argentina.

It’s all here in one of my most recent articles  for Latina magazine’s amazing food and wine website, TheLatinKitchen.com

¡Salud, and here’s to the weekend!

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