I had the privilege earlier this year of serving as one of 28 judges for the 19th Annual Northwest Wine Summit. The first half was held in Naramata, B.C.; I participated in the second half in Hood River, Ore.
Sometimes, it seems as if nearly every wine entered in a competition wins a medal. That was hardly the case at this year's Summit, where only 89 of the 942 wines entered received a gold medal. In addition, 254 wines earned a silver medal and 258 received a bronze.
Brian Carter Cellars' 2009 Solesce, a proprietary Meritage-style blend won Best of Competition and Best Red Wine, while Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2013 Chenin Blanc was named Best White Wine.
Two British Columbia wineries, Gheringer Brothers Estate Winery and La Frenz Winery, along with Washington's Maryhill Winery garnered Wineries of Distinction honors, based on the number of gold medals received. La Frenz took home eight golds, Maryhill earned five and Gheringer received four.
Another Washington winery, Thurston Wolfe, earned both the Best of Washington award and Best Fortified Wine for its Non-Vintage Tawny Port.
If you think judging wines is fun and glamorous, think again. There's an element of fatigue to deal with, and after tasting dozens of wines in a day, the last thing you want to look at is another five-glass flight of merlot.
In addition, the process of swirling, tasting, spitting and evaluating is serious business. Comments are exchanged, a final score is arrived at, and, thanks to a great group of fellow judges, nothing close to fisticuffs broke out at any time.
Judges consisted primarily of winemakers, distributors, and writers and critics, like me. I considered myself a representative for the average wine consumer. That sometimes left me feeling a little intimidated, especially if two winemakers were at the table pontificating in technical jargon.
I mentioned this to a winemaker after the competition, and much to my surprise he said he felt intimidated by me. His reasoning was that his laser-sharp focus is primarily on the wines he produces, while I have a broader range of wine-tasting experience to draw upon.
Volume of wines aside, his comments called to mind some of my own wine-tasting philosophies that I lost track of during the competition. First, there are no right or wrong "answers" when tasting wine, only consensus; and second, never be afraid to share with others what you taste.
That's sound advice for so-called experts, casual wine drinkers and novices alike, and it's something to keep in mind whether you're involved in a serious tasting or simply enjoying wines in an informal setting at home.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at www.danthewineguy.com.