WINSTON-SALEM — At the Mid-Atlantic Southeastern Wine Competition, my table and five other tables judged wines from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia and Florida.
We evaluated anonymous entries on clarity, color, aroma, bouquet, flavor, typicity, body and finish on a 20-point scale.
I’ve worked with the Wine Superintendent long enough to know how he likes to finish entire categories of wine so that on Day 1, judges can award “Best of” in at least three or four categories — this to ease the workload and assuage the palate on Day 2.
As table captain, I collected my team’s results and check whether we’re within a statistical norm, starting with 14 Merlots at 10:15 a.m. One teammate is a community college culinary instructor teaching wine appreciation. The other is a woman from Quebec studying to be a sommelier. She has a thick French accent, so I ask her to repeat herself.
At the end of Day 1, my team is joined by one other table captain to anoint one wine in the “Best in Dry Red” category. Other tables evaluated “Best Dry White” or “Best Amateur.”
There are 19 entries in the Dry Red category — each was already awarded a gold medal earlier. Picking the best of these is challenging and can get testy if egos are unchecked.
There is Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Montepulciano, Chambourcin, various blends and one lone Cabernet Sauvignon because — as almost no one wants to admit in the Deep South — Cabernet Sauvignon is a consistent under-performer here.
The other table captain who joined my team was our table’s facilitator. He proposed a low-pressure, elimination process that pleased us. Because in most instances, our scores were only a half-point up or down from other judges.
The table facilitator recommended we eliminate six wines from consideration in Round 1. Taking turns, he asked each one of us to recommend a wine for elimination. If three other judges concurred, the wine was eliminated.
“I recommend we pull R-131 (Chambourcin) from contention,” I said. Peers nodded in agreement. The first round was easy.
In Round 2, one judge recommended a wine’s elimination, and another judge could not support that proposal. So that same judge was asked to make a second recommendation for removal and this found favor. This process continued.
By the final round, we were at five outstanding red wines surviving multiple cuts.
The facilitator — knowing we would each champion or ditch in predictable manner — asked for a simple ranking: “One to five, one being your favorite, five your least favorite, and we all agree: These are great wines. Let’s see if we can land on one lowest scoring wine and declare a winner.”
We ranked wines, scribbling in silence so there was no group-think.
Our scores showed us all rating the same wine No. 1. As “Best Red,” it goes on to compete in the “Best of Show” round with new judges.
Later this month, the competition’s results will be announced. In October, the public can taste gold medal winners at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds.
Our “Best Dry Red” went on to win “Best in Show,” and although I can’t reveal the winning winery, I’m happy to say: The “Best in Show” is a North Carolina wine.