Yesterday I had the honor to be one of the 45 judges for the upcoming Cincinnati International Wine Festival. There were 350+ wines entered in the competition, of which I only evaluated about 40. I thought you may be curious to get a little behind-the-scenes peek at how judging is done for these competitions—as well as a sneak peek at my personal picks.
This wine festival is one of only two in the country that train their judges to ensure consistency—the other is the American Wine Society competition. All judges in Cincinnati are required to attend a training session about a month prior to the actual judging.
The wines in the Cincinnati competition are judged on a 20 point system, using a modified version of the American Wine Society evaluation chart. It’s modified by changing “appearance” to only 1 point and “overall impression” to 4 points. This is a much different system than I use on Cheap Wine Ratings where, as you know, I provide a score based on a 100 point scale. The evaluation is a lot faster than I typically spend with a wine also. I usually spend 20-30 minutes exploring a wine while I take my notes, but at the competition we had about three minutes with each wine.
The judging is done by panels of five judges. All wines are tasted blind. We each rate all the wines in a flight of 4-8 wines and then compare our scores. The goal is to have all judges within a three point range. If one of the judges on the panel has a divergent opinion on the wine, then we all revisit it and debate why we gave the scores that we did until we can come to a consensus. It’s a good way to ensure that one person’s personal preferences aren’t the deciding factor on a score.
Typically there is a progression from white wines to red wines in these events, but the organizers mixed it up this year and I was surprised at how well that worked. The panel I was on started with a flight of Malbec, followed by Pinot Noir, red blends, then two white flights before we went back to reds.
The day started with a warm up. Everyone in the room tasted two high-end wines, a white and a red. We tasted them blind and the results reinforced my position that expensive wines are not that much better than affordable wines. They were both good wines, but definitely not a life changing experience. And the scores around the room did not give them perfect scores either.
Disclaimer: I don’t know the medal winners for this competition yet, and I won’t know until it’s announced to the public. I also didn’t taste all of the wines entered into the competition—I didn’t even taste 20% of them. I’ll share with you my favorites from those that I tasted, but to avoid being a spoiler I won’t give you my scores.
I will tell you that I’m not listing everything I tasted, I’m only listing wines that I thought were very good to exceptional. But these are listed in the order I tasted them, rather than how they scored. You’ll have to check out the official results to get the scores. I should also note that although I typically focus on wines that are $20 and less on this website, the wines I tasted ranged in price and a few of my favorites were over $20. But there are a number of great deals in the mix. The prices listed are approximate and based on prices I found in online searches.
Tamari Malbec, 2006 – $14
Septima Malbec, 2006 – $11
Mac Murray Pinot Noir, 2006 (They have a couple different Pinot Noirs and I didn’t note which one. I’ll update when I find out)
Sebastiani Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 2006 – $18
Robert Mondavi Private Select Meritage, 2006 – $10
Helix Pomatia Red Blend, 2005 – $22
Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Rubric Red Blend, 2005 – $19
Dry Creek Valley Vineyards Fume Blanc, 2007 – $14.50
McNab Ridge French Colombard, 2008 – $14
Michel-Schlumberger Pinot Blanc, 2007 – $21
Maryhill Winemaker’s White White Blend, 2007 – $14
Menage a Trois California White White Blend, 2007 – $12
Michael David Petite Sirah, 2006 – $18
Two Angels Petite Sirah, 2006 – $25
Annabella Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 – $12
Sebastiani Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 – $18
Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 – $16
Attend the Cincinnati International Wine Festival
If you want to try these and hundreds of other great wines, consider attending the Cincinnati International Wine Festival. The event runs March 12-14, 2009 and offers a number of different tasting events. Tickets run from $55-100, depending on which events you want to attend. For the bargain hunters, the Saturday afternoon tasting is the way to go at $55. It also tends to be less crowded than the other times. The proceeds from the event go to charity and your ticket is partially tax deductible. It’s a fun event and a great way to discover some new wines and make some new friends.