29 Jan 2009 Judging Pinot Noir at the 2009 Pinot Noir Shoot-out

I was asked to be a judge at the final round of the 2009 Pinot Noir Shoot-out held at Boudin’s bakery on Fisherman’s wharf.  The “Shoot-out” tastings are organized by Affairs of the Vine.  Currently, there are “Shoot-out“s for Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and region comparisons. 

Each winery submits 4 bottles of the same wine for consideration.  On the appointed day, the preliminary round of tasting is done on the wines to see which wines should be considered for the frinal round of judging.  There were 267 entries for the 7th annual Pinot Noir Shoot-out in the initial round.  The final round had 64 wines in it.  The final round wines were broken into two tasting groups — blue and green.  Each group was tasted by 8 or 9 judges.  The judges were asked to taste the wines in their group in flights of 8 wines and rate the wines on a 100 point scale.  It took 2.5 hours for the tasting to be completed.  The scores for each group per wine will be tabulated based on sex on the judge and then overall winners determined.  The final results will be posted in the near future. 

When the results become available, I will post a link to the results as well as do a comparison of how my scores compared to the averaged scores.  It will be an interesting test to see how my palate compares to professional wine judges, critics and journalists.  There is an interesting article in the current journal of Wine Economics, “An Examination of Judge Reliability at a major U.S. Wine Competition” by Robert T. Hodgson.   Hopefully, I fall into the 10% that can reliably score a wine given several chances to score the same wine in a blind setting…I guess time will tell. :)

There were a few surprises in the tasting for me.  In my group, there were three wines that we nearly undrinkable.  The judges were not allow to discuss the opinions of the wines during the tasting but afterward the judges in my group all agreed these 3 wines were bad.  Out of the group of 32 wines I tasted, three wines were in the top tier.  It is hard to determine quality of the wine because it depends on several factors: wine style, wine made to represent a specific terroir, balance, food-friendly vs. cocktail wine.  In this blind tasting, you did not know the region so you did not have to judge the wine to see if it is representative of a regional style which did make it a bit easier.  

Pinot Noir is hard to judge as it has a large range of styles, flavors and aromas.   Pinot Noir tends to be a love it or hate it type wine.  If it is made well, the wine can be very seductive and velvety smooth — what is not to like there. :)   However, Pinot Noir tends to either be very good or bad with very little in the middle.  I am always a bit reticent to try low-cost (< $10) Pinot Noir as the fruit for that wine tends to be low-quality with a resulting wine that is less than enjoyable.

It was a great experience being a judge and really helps to keep you focused as a winemaker to think about how your wine will be received by a judge vs. a consumer.  Judges and consumers are looking for different things.  As a winemaker, you need to be mindful of how to balance your wine to please both judges and consumer while respecting your personal style.  It is a hard tight-rope to walk at times!

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