Last week I trekked west to the 72nd Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition (LAIWC) at Fairplex where I discovered confident connoisseurs from around the globe gathered in the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts sniffing, swirling and tasting (not swallowing) over 3,000 wines from the world’s finest producers.
Considered by industry experts be the country’s premier wine judging, the LAIWC featured 64 skilled winemakers/enologists, wine retailers, sommeliers, educators, restaurateurs, and wine journalists.
With tasty Graber olives, neutral flavor crackers (for cleansing the palate) and water at their side, judges were busy discussing and recording findings of color/clarity, nose/bouquet, palate/flavor. Acidity, sugar, alcohol, tannin, balance and finish were a cluster of the terms overheard as they evaluated the red, white, sparkling, dessert, late harvest, blush/rose, organics, fruit, non-alcoholic and sake wines. Whew!
In just two days over 12,000 (1.5 ounce) tastes were poured by skilled LAIWC staff and students. Also included were spirits and extra virgin olive oils. Best of Class, gold, silver or bronze medals were awarded to the winners.
The LAIWC is committed to educating the public about wine, featuring industry experts with extensive knowledge about grape growing, selection, and tasting. “Wine and food pairings continue to play a most important role for consumers.
By providing a new point system, we are helping adults make informed decisions on what wines to buy and try. Combined with the fact that we offer public tastings and educational seminars during our annual L.A. County Fair, we are a valuable resource to wine enthusiasts and beginners alike,” said Dale Coleman, vice president sales, marketing and creative programming. Local students assisted the 16 judging panels.
“We find that the judges enjoy having the college students involved and it is certainly wonderful that they have a chance to meet all these people who are so important in the wine business,” said Margie Ferree Jones, associate professor of the Collins College of Hospitality Management, Cal Poly Pomona.
The event allowed me to catch up with many friends of the vine including judges Dan Berger of Santa Rosa, Rene Chazottes of Newport Beach, Gary Eberle of Paso Robles, Chuck Keagle of Upland, Daryl Groom of Healdsberg, Marc Lurton of Bordeaux, and Jon C. McPherson of Temecula.
The spirited Daryl Groom is owner/enologist of Groom Wines Australia. His highly acclaimed Australian winery concentrates on shiraz, sauvignon blanc and zinfandel.
He is also involved in several other projects including production of Colby Red, a flavorful California cuvee ($10) inspired by, and named after his 13 year old son Colby who underwent two successful (back to back) heart surgeries at 8 and 9 years of age. The wine is marketed nationally in partnership with Walgreens which to date has raised over $100K for heart research. View http://www.colbyred.com or facebook.com/colbyredwine.
Groom’s DXG brand is a limited-release range of quality wines from premium appellations. His 30 years previous vintage experience includes winemaking and operational management at Penfolds, Geyser Peak Winery, and Beam Wine Estates.
“Groomy” as he is affectionately called by insiders, is one of the world’s “flying winemakers.”
With one harvest down-under, and the other in Northern California, he’s truly on the go year around.
“It’s fun to contrast harvests in both the southern and northern hemispheres each year. When things go well it’s okay,” said Groom, who has been making wines for over 30 years and judged at the LAIWC for 15 years.
“We tasted a flight of 10 viogniers today that were strong and quite delightful. I enjoy seeing the shift in viognier from years ago when they were heavily oaked and chardonnay-like to now they are more elegant and interesting.”
“This varietal shows much better without the influence of oak aging absolutely. It has a lovely honey-suckle and rose petal sort of fruit nuance. It should always be oakless.”
This Aussie offers a keen word on L.A.
“This judging is the best competition without a doubt in the country. It is professionally run, great judges and entries of wines, and it operates smoothly. I think the thing that I like best is the caliber of the judges. You sit at a table with several professionals that not only know about wine, but have so much diversity. For a wine to earn a gold medal here – it’s a damn good bottle of wine! No worries, Gino,” said Groom who participates in 5 to 8 competitions annually.
French enologist Marc Lurton returned to Pomona from one of the world’s most famous winemaking areas – Bordeaux, where there are more than 5,000 ch teaux producing wine, over 20 are owned/operated by the Lurton family.
Lurton judges at several International competitions and travels the world marketing his Ch teaux Reynier vintages. Lurton also worked several years at J. Filippi Winery where he served as Director of Winemaking and directed the popular blends of Deux Mondes.
“We started early yesterday with sauvignon (blanc), and Meritage blends of Bordeaux varietals, then to merlot and zinfandel. My panel tasted over 50 merlots and I can tell you I had to adjust my palate to the American taste,” said Lurton. “I have seen that my judgment was a bit too strict as I was expecting merlot with more flavor and body and the merlot here are much more round and light. The merlot of Bordeaux are more full-bodied.”
“What I enjoy most about this tasting is the professional abilities here. It is very interesting to me to taste with winemakers, distributors, journalists, sommeliers, and it is very organized,” said Lurton.
“We have many wines to critic each day – there are over 100 wines for our panel and you must be at the top to do this and everyone is at the top. We agree and work very well together as no one insists to push a wine forward. It is always it very good ambiance here.”
Winemaster Jon C. McPherson is the director of winemaking at South Coast Winery, Resort and Spa in Temecula. He was most impressed by the quality of the petite sirah and the sparkling wines brought before his panel.
“All the sparklers were brilliant. Exceptional domestics, Cavas from Spain, Proseccos from Italy and the French Champagnes all were great,” said McPherson who also works with Lurton on ultra-premium blends.
The 2011 medal winners will be crowned and announced June 25 at the first-ever FUN Decanted public tasting. This unique event will focus on educating guests about wines while still providing a fun and memorable experience full of delicious foods, music and beverages.
Set in the breezy Wine & Spirits Marketplace at Fairplex, the evening offers guests a casual romp through the world by way of glass or stein. Tickets are $50. per adult and proceeds benefit the educational programs of The Learning Centers at Fairplex.
For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.fairplex.com/wos/wine_competition/AwardsCelebration
Gino L. Filippi can be reached at Ginoffvine@aol.com