My Taste Buds Will Never be the Same

A few weeks ago, I had the immense pleasure of being part of something bigger than I ever thought.  I was asked to be a judge at the TWGGA Texas Wine Grape Growing Association Lone Star International Wine Competition.  This was my first time ever evaluating wines for a competition, so I was looking forward to it.  I had no idea of what was in store.

I was one of 25 judges who had the great task of evaluating wines for the Best in Show in each category. After reading the competition handbook, I decided to bulk up on breakfast and travel to the competition.  I can not divulge specific information regarding the judging, but I can list my thoughts.

I was a bit Overwhelmed

Since this was my first time being involved in a competition for wine, I did not have any idea of how it was going to run and what I would need to assist with.  While the competition was exceptionally top notch (hats off to the organizers), my taste buds were in for a challenge.  As a Sommelier, I’m used to tasting and have a set procedure on how I do it to be consistent.  These involve the usual:

  • Check the aroma a certain way
  • Look for the flavor profiles
  • Relax and feel for the body of the wine on the palate
  • And most important, shut up- what’s in the glass!! Which means, look at what is in the wine, instead of assuming it should be this or that.

As I arrived at my assigned team area, I casually flipped through the binder as I met the group.  Umm…how many wines are we sampling?  The binder was full.  I’m serious, the binder was full of the evaluation sheets with multiple wines per sheet.  Did I mention 27 sheets?  Well surely this will be over two days was my first thought.   WRONG.  DEAD WRONG.  I sampled app. 175 wines the first day.  That is not a typo. 

I was prepared more than I knew

I love being a certified sommelier.  Anyone that knows me knows that I always have this saying:

  • 90% of what a sommelier knows is only relevant to another sommelier.

The customer does not care about soil aspect, hill side direction, a stuck malolactic fermentation, etc.  They just want a wine they like for their price point that they can enjoy.  I understand and totally respect that.

Now all the late nights reading about wine, studying from five different textbooks, countless notes about wines all over the world made sense.  I was able to use this knowledge to help me accurately judge the wines presented.  For example, being able to refer to mental notes for every grape variety and their anchors assisted me to evaluate the wines.  As I’ve mentioned before, every grape has anchors or characteristics that help to distinguish its quality.  I was worried that I would be lacking here but I had a mental profile of every grape we tasted.

Being a Chef forces me to evaluate

Some of you may not know that I’m also a Certified Executive Chef through the American Culinary Federation.  I’m honored that I went through the process to become certified as it has taught me a great deal over my career.  The number one aspect that I teach others is this simple fact:

  • FOCUS CONSTANTLY!!

That’s it.  I know that sounds like a lot but it’s a mantra that I preach all the time.  Focus on what you are doing to make sure that you prepare the item the best way.  Spending long hours in the kitchen to prepare something has taught me a valuable lesson.  I’m able to focus and concentrate for a long time if needed.  That helped tremendously to be able to look at each wine individually and focus on the contents of the glass to evaluate it.

“Shut up – What’s in the Glass.”

This is a mantra that I use and teach all the time.  This is a reference to make sure that I reset my brain each time I evaluate beverages.  My job is to look at every beverage for its unique characteristics, not for what I think is there.  Just because I know the wine is 100% Chardonnay does not tell me anything other than it’s potentially Chardonnay in the glass.  That’s it.  So, I needed to focus and look specifically at what’s in the glass.  When I say the phrase, my mind clears completely and I’m able to see what truly is there.  I’ve been doing this for years and I finally saw something that explains the process.  I’m attaching a link below of the movie For the Love of the Game.  I’ll wait 😉.

Seriously, I’m able to shut everything out and focus.  It’s something that is important for sensory evaluation of any type.

Networking

I love our business and working with a great group of people.  I was able to network with several incredible professionals over the two days.  I interacted with educators, consultants, wine sale professionals, and owners of wineries.  For each of them, I learned new things about Texas wines and the state of the industry.  It’s amazing how much information you can pick up through conversation.

Day Two

Day two we covered approximately 110 to narrow down the field to Best in Category and Best Overall.  I must admit the first night was rough when I got home.  Two huge BLT’s later and no alcohol, I was able to rest and be ready.  Breakfast consisted of lots of water, a good amount of oatmeal and protein.  I loved Day Two even more.  Now that I was comfortable and confident, I was able to clearly evaluate each using the skills from above. 

I did notice one additional aspect.  The Volunteers were incredible.  Think about having to pour 25 pours of each wine times how many per flight and place them all in right order every time.  Plus having to clean all that glassware so it was neutral.  Every single one of them was friendly and helpful.  I loved talking with all of them and look forward to working with them again. Wow….my hats off to them all. 

Final Thoughts

The results of the competition are out.  Please refer to the link at the top to see the results.  Overall, I enjoyed the entire experience for two reasons:

  • To be part of a great competition that supports the Wine Industry as a whole, and
  • Being able to use the skills that I’ve learned over the years to be able to judge.

#artofthepair