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.
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.
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.
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.
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!