Wine Competitions Offer New Twists

Wines judged according to taster sensitivity and food affinity

by Tina Caputo
Wine Competitions Offer New Twists
Doug Frost
Lodi, Calif. and Ankeny, Iowa -- In most wine competitions, a group of judges blind-tastes, compares and rates wines by variety, and medals are awarded to the top-scoring entries. While this format has proved successful with both wineries and consumers, two upcoming wine competitions are about to give the concept a whole new twist. Set for March 11 and 12, the Lodi International Wine Awards aims to pinpoint wines that appeal to judges (and thus, consumers) with varying degrees of palate sensitivity. The 2008 Mid-American Wine Competition, scheduled for July 11-13, will evaluate wines tasted alongside specially selected foods.

The 'budometer' barometer

Billed by its organizers as "a new, unique and rather revolutionary concept in wine judging and evaluation," the first-ever Lodi International Wine Awards will use methodology based on research developed by Drs. Michael O'Mahony and Rie Ishii, of UC Davis, and wine educator Tim Hanni, MW.

Open to wineries from the United States and Canada, the competition will divide judges into panels according to their palate sensitivity. This will be determined by painting their tongues blue with food coloring, then counting their tastebuds to see if they are "tolerant," "sensitive" or "hyper-sensitive" tasters.

The categories are defined as follows:
  • Tolerant--those who tend to favor dry, high-intensity, assertive wines
  • Sensitive--the median group with a broad range of preferences
  • Hyper-sensitive--those who tend to have an aversion to bitterness, and favor delicacy over intensity. They often prefer some degree of sweetness in their wines.
"Most wine judges are either tolerant or sensitive tasters," event director G.M. "Pooch" Pucilowski told Wines & Vines. "The people with the hyper-sensitive tongues tend to be people who don't drink wine. If they do, they tend to be the people who might drink White Zinfandel." Having the wines evaluated by judges in the appropriate categories will give all types of wine a fair shot, he said.

When the results are in, consumers will be able to test their tastebuds (no blue tongues necessary) through a simple online questionnaire and a graphic device called a "budometer" (see budometer.com). They can then purchase the award-winning wines that meet their personal sensory preferences.

Participating wineries will receive information about the "bud" rating of the wines they enter, which they can use to target consumers. For example, Pucilowski said, tasting-room staffers can take visitors online to "get their buds tested," then recommend wines accordingly. "Wineries, and even restaurants, will be better able to direct people to the type of wines that they're going to like," he said.

So far, winery response to the competition has been "phenomenal," Pucilowski said. About 100 wineries have already entered, and he expects a few hundred more to sign on by the deadline on Friday, Feb. 8. For more information, visit lodiwineawards.com.

Food-friendly judging

Judges for the 2008 Mid-American Wine Competition won't be able to "get their buds tested," during the annual contest in Iowa, but they will have the opportunity to evaluate wines alongside appropriately matched foods.

"In general, all good wine should show better with food--I think that statement is only slightly controversial," chief judge Doug Frost, MW, told Wines & Vines. "Certainly far too many critically acclaimed wines obliterate all but the heaviest of foods. Mid-American wines are no different than wines from other areas, except that hybrid vines tend to produce wines with more pronounced acidity and less tannin in the reds than their vitis vinifera counterparts. We think that all wine competitions ought to consider food affinity when selecting wines for acclaim."

Wine Competitions Offer New Twists
Bob Foster
A group of 30 wines will be selected to participate in the food and wine judging. Wineries will then choose one food item per wine from a list of available dishes that will be prepared by local chefs. Frost and competition director Bob Foster will help vintners choose the best pairings, if necessary.

"The hope is to promote wines that may not have the intensity and weight to prevail in a typical wine competition format, but that are delicious with food, as wine is supposed to be," Frost said.

Open to all bonded wineries in the Midwest, the competition will be held July 11-13 on the campus of the Des Moines Area Community College. For more information visit dmacc.edu/ici/winecompetition.asp, or e-mail Bob Foster at rfoster2@san.rr.com.
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