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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!