A day in the life of a wine judge

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What is a day like for me as a wine judge? Well, as fun as it sounds, a day of wine judging is a lot of work and responsibility.

As a wine judge and as a consumer, it’s good to know why wineries enter their wines into competitions. Wineries seek re-affirmation of the wines they have made, as well as awards to help market to consumers looking for a stamp of approval on quality. Wine judges have to be skilled and honest. All wines are tasted blind and judges have to be ready for a rigorous day of tasting. In most wine competitions, the day begins around 9:00 AM and often lasts until 4-5:00 PM. It is long and tiring, even for long-standing, experienced judges.

At the sound of my alarm clock, the judging day starts! I wonder who will be on my panel at this competition.  Will they be old friends or new ones?  Will they be experienced or newbies?  Of course all of this does not matter because I have a job to do. On most judging days, a panel will take on 125-175 wines. I look over the assignment list to see what our panel has drawn (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, etc.) Some competitions offer the judges a choice, but most assign you what they think you would like or can handle. In the end it does not matter, the job is to judge wines, and there are many.

The first flights arrive. We typically taste silently. The judges give their individual awards and the scores (Gold, Silver, Bronze and no medal) are recorded. We then break down the awards and arrive at a consensus for the panel’s group award. This goes on flight after flight until the day is done. All the while, I keep myself organized as I record my notes and scores for later use long after the competition has been completed. I drink lots of water, refresh my palate with crackers when needed and even roast beef to cut the tannins in red wines. You may be thinking: Does Wilfred ever gets tired? You bet I do, but the show goes on. Between flights, I will stretch my legs, take photos of the event and just take a breath.  It’s a long day, but I find it educational and enlightening.

I have been on the circuit for a long, long time. My wine judging career began in the mid 1980’s and has now spanned 30+ years, more than 200 competitions, 30,000+ wines and five countries (the United States, France, Spain, New Zealand and Australia). As an extreme wine researcher, covering all aspects of wine from vineyard to bottle, wine judging remains the finest equalizer. In a year’s time, blind tasting under these circumstances keeps my palate well grounded. If you give me a bottle of Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to evaluate, my brain is already making qualitative decisions on the wine’s quality. In a blind tasting, my palate has control and the brain cannot influence it by knowing the price or producer. Over time, a wine taster improves in the understanding of what is in the bottle by tasting in different situations. Days as a wine judge are not always the most pleasurable, but they serve a great purpose.