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San Francisco International Wine Competition 2017
June 30, 2017



Notes by
Gerald Weisl

Wines from all over the planet are entered in one of the world's most prestigious wine judgings.

On the final weekend of June 2017 wine experts from all over drove or flew into San Francisco for this annual event, as
"it's time."
The roster of judges has evolved over time and Tim McDonald, director of Judging, has assembled a stellar group to evaluate, sniff, taste and spit well more than 4000 entries.

The wines are varied and the judges are all "most interesting."

The San Francisco International Wine Competition began in 1980, so this event is older than a few of the judges!

Speaking of well-aged...

The event is coordinated by an army of people and they do a remarkable job in operating in a most efficient manner.

Judges from around the countryside arrive a day (or more) ahead of time.  Some come from overseas...Japan, Australia and Germany this year.  Others make their way from the East Coast and inland to participate in what some say is the most prestigious wine judging in the US.

Well more than 4000 wines were entered this year.

Typically each panel tastes 250, or so, wines over the course of two days.

Each wine is rated on its own merits.
So, in a flight of a dozen wines, for example, it's possible that every entry earns a medal.
Bronze Medals for those well-made wines of sound/good quality.
Silver Medals are awarded to wines found to be a cut above.
Gold Medals are given to top quality wines.
Should each member of the three or four-person panel find a particular wine to be worthy of a Gold Medal, this entry is then given a "Double Gold" and it may be sent to the "best of the best" tasting on Sunday.

The judges write down personal notes on the wines they taste.
I am always interested to review my notes and see which wines we tasted.
The tasting is "blind" and usually the only information we have on the wines is the particular category or type of wine and the vintage.
For one category, we are given a general price range such as "Bordeaux Blends, Less Than $25" and "Premium Non-Bordeaux Blends +$25."
Otherwise, we are tasting wines retailing for $10 against wines of the same type carrying $50-$100 price tags.

If a particular category has lots of Double Golds which have been launched into the Sweepstakes tasting, the organizers will then gather 8 or 10 judges to make a selection of the best two or three wines.
For example, there were 19 Syrah/Shiraz wines which had earned "Double Gold" medals.  We helped whittle down the field so only two or three of these were presented in the Sweepstakes tasting the next day.

For the average person, trying to taste so many wines in a day is nearly impossible.
But for seasoned veterans, evaluating so many wines is achievable.

Early on Friday morning the judges assemble, find their name tag and a lab coat.

Some judges have more sensitive noses than others.

That's George Skorka's pal, "Hugo Chandler."  Chandler is in reference to our late manager, Chandler Moore.

Chandler Moore

 

The weekend is somewhat of a Family Reunion, except there's far less confrontation and argumentation.


Leslie Sbrocco and Jeffery Stivers


Ron Washam and Rachel Van Til

As it's nearly time to begin, Anthony Dias Blue takes center stage and explains the ground rules.

 

It seems each year we have a few "new" judges.  Andy takes a few minutes to introduce them to the "family."



Tim McDonald adds a few words about the judging, too.

Tim is the Director of Judging.

Wilfred Wong typically has a half a dozen rolls of Kodachrome in his bag and he's taking nearly as many photos as I take snapshots.  He has a much higher batting average than do I, though.



At 9am, the opening bell sounds and we are off to the races.

This year we had 17 panels.

I was tabbed to "chair" Panel O.
I think it was the letter "O," but it could have been the numeral 0.


Jim speaks fluent Australian and he speaks Wine, too!
We understand when he speaks "Wine," but we're sometimes a bit lost when he's chatting in Australian.
For example: "This wine is as dry as a dead Dingo's donger."
"You're only giving that a silver medal?  Pig's arse!"
"Bronze medal for Wine G?  That's not worth a Zack!"
"Pick a medal already!  You're up and down like a dunny seat!"



Jim teaches classes at a couple of Universities and travels around the world judging wines.
He's written a book about Australian wines...its regions are well explained in this edition.
We also learn "rituals" and one of the most important according to Jim is that you swirl Northern Hemisphere wines in a clockwise manner, whilst Southern Hemisphere wines should be swirled counter-clockwise.

In any event, Jim is a major star in the wine world!


TV, Radio, Film, Internet...Jim does it all!



Dr. Liz Thach is a Professor of Wine at Sonoma State University.
She's got a list of achievements longer than your arm, including being the first female "Master of Wine" on the West Coast and the 7th American woman to earn this title.
She speaks English rather fluently for having spent so much time studying in Texas (Texas A&M and Texas Tech).


We understand the State of California issued a resolution noting her Master of Wine achievement.

By the way, have you seen the latest $100 bill?


She's famous!



Virginie Boone is a Contributing Editor and all-around-palate for The Wine Enthusiast and, you can see she is often Enthusiastic.  She's born in Europe and speaks fluent French (her Mom is from France) and she's got a good command of Wine-Speak.
Virginie has also written for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Sonoma Magazine, Zester and the Lonely Planet.




She's also a star!


And then I chaired Panel O.

Some people say I have a nose for wine.
They might be right.

I would pop out of my seat between rounds to take these snapshots of the judges...
Being The Fastest Glass in The West, I'd usually catch up quickly.


Grouchoneuf-du-Pape from the Ghrone Valley.


The photographer has a couple of snapshots developing...




Ziggy (The Wine Gal) Eschliman


You can hear Ziggy on the radio in Sonoma...

She's on The Krush Wednesday mornings between 7:30 and 8


That's our Ziggy!


Tim Teichgraeber is a globe-trotting wine writer who pays the bills by being an attorney specializing in the entertainment industry.

We're told he even has his own little rock band...


He's a big fan of Professional (or is it Unprofessional?) Wrestling.

After the judging this year, Tim immediately flew to Sardinia.
"I like sardines," he told us.

 


Bill Ward is a former sportswriter and, these days, he's the wine guru for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Bill speaks Minnesotan with a Tennessee accent.


Mr. Ward does mostly free-lance writing these days as well as maintaining his own "Decant This" web site.


Bill has an interesting advertising campaign, as it turns out.
It's called a "Bill Board."

 

 

 

CLICK HERE TO SEE A REMARKABLE VIDEO

Please!  Seriously!!  Click on the Link Above...


Germany's Angela Merkel at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg showing her favorite American wine aficionado.
"He's my pick because he has such a good nose.  Anthony Dias Blue. There is no Dis-Putin this. 
Our Ambassador to Mexico calls him "Buenos Dias Azul."


Gilian Handelman is one of the "rookie" judges at this year's event and, as such, she has to undergo the traditional
"hazing" ritual.  
This means she's on Andy's panel.

Gilian got her start in a New York restaurant while being bitten by the wine bug.
She soon landed in Washington State and worked a number of harvests for a several wineries before being hired by Kendall-Jackson.  After a few years there, she took a gig at a P-R agency and a couple of years later at Wine & Spirits Magazine.
In 2007 she was once again adopted by the Jackson Family and she is their Director of Wine Education.


Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has her on his cell phone "speed dial."
He routinely ends their phone conversations with "Hasta la vista, Baby."
She then is obliged to reply "I'll be back."

Also on Andy's Blue Panel is San Francisco's Tonya Pitts.

Tonya is the wine director at San Francisco's famous ONE MARKET restaurant.
She was interested in art before discovering wine and today she features artistic wines on her wine list.

But she remains interested in art.

And speaking of One Market...Here's One Markert.

This would be the One (and Only Phil) Markert.
He's A-Phil-iated with Safeway, Vons and Pavilons grocery stores in Southern California.

We had seen a photo of Phil in The Clever Root magazine this month.

Phil also made the cover of UFOS magazine recently and this edition was hugely popular.

This may explain why Phil's wife Cheryl refers to him as a "Space Cadet."
Markert says "That's okay...better than being called a Mouton Cadet."


Panel C, as in Cunin.
John Cunin has been a regular at the San Francisco International Wine Competition for years.
If he hadn't shaved Friday morning, we'd say he is one of the numerous "gray beards" judging wine.
A veteran of the restaurant industry, Cunin works with a company called Agilysys, a maker of software for the hospitality industry.

We're told Cunin is a fan of The Big Bang Theory TV show.

Apparently Leonard and Sheldon took wine appreciation classes from John a few years ago.
Like Sheldon, Cunin has an eidetic memory for wine.

John was a waiter in his early days and was quite popular with certain customers.


Jessie Birschbach enjoyed her first time judging.
She's got a BS degree from San Diego State University, which means she's smarter than the average bear.
After working in restaurants such as Mastro's and Spago, these days she's employed by The Somm Journal, The Clever Root and The Tasting Panel magazines.

She's quite well known in wine circles these days.

It seems she was on quite a tour in Europe and her return was a bit uncertain as she fell in love with wines and the culture in Croatia, Austria and France.


JABS.


Professor Michael Franz chairs the faculty at Loyola University Maryland's Political Science department.
It's a wonder, given the goings on in nearby Washington, D.C., that Dr. Franz had time to break away and taste wine.
He's also the co-founder of winereviewonline.com.


His portrait hangs in the Musée du Vin somewhere in the Rhône Valley of France.


Dr. Franz is a frequent flyer and he is well-known to TSA Agents at airports around the country (and beyond).


Tony Soprano chaired Panel D.
(His Witness Protection Program name is Charles Mara, but don't tell anyone.)


Charles is a real rock star in the wine world.

We found a snapshot of Charles when he was just a kid.



Steve Izzo is the wine guy at San Francisco's Waterbar restaurant along the Embarcadero.
He's a big fan of seafood, noting "The world is my oyster.  And we sell them at a reduced price between 11:30 and 5:30!"

Steve's got an adoring fan club.


He's also a collector of hairpins.

It seems Steve's collection is larger than Charles Mara's.


Drake McCarthy is, literally, one of the greybeards at this event.
He worked for Phil Diamond at Diamond Wine Merchants throughout the 1990s and into 2005 before working for Villa Italia for 14 "dog years."
Then he worked for Europvin and Europvin's California company called The Golden State Wine Company where he sells some remarkable wines, especially those from Spain.
He's often on a panel with Charles Mara.
If Charles is Yin, Drake is Yang.
 

Some of the volunteers were asked for a "show of hands" for their favorite Competition Wine Judge...

Magically they said: "He's our Man-Drake!"


Adding a measure of luster to the rogue's gallery that's Panel D is Shelley Lindgren, a famous Bay Area restaurateur.
She's the owner of A-16, a famous purveyor of pizza and more in both The City and Oakland.
Shelley also has the upscale Italian restaurant called SPQR on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.


She's a big soccer fan and appreciates the grace, elegance and tenacity of the famous Ronaldo (who's named after President Ronald Reagan).  It seems he's a fan of spumante and Shelley Lindgren!

She is able to communicate using Italian hand-signals which are easily kapeeshed by her panel mates.

 

 


Jim Trezise has been the head of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation as well as heading the International Riesling Foundation.
He's the Foundation of Panel E this year in San Francisco.
He's also heads WineAmerica, a winery advocacy group.

Speaking of "heading," here's a snapshot from a White House confab in 2016.

Jim is an artist at subliminal advertising.

He's trying to make America Grape Again.


Another Riesling-Meister is on Panel E, Dr. Rowald Hepp.
He's the General Manager and Winemaker at Germany's Schloss Vollrads winery in the Rheingau.


Angela Merkel is, apparently, a big fan of Rowald's Rieslings.


Wendy Stanford works at wine.com  as the senior wine buyer and she was able to coach Mr. Trezise and Herr Hepp in tasting these "foreign" entries: red wines!

She's originally from Georgia, but taking the wrong turn off the freeway by Atlanna landed her in San Francisco.
Wendy speaks wine with only the slightest "peach-tree" accent, bless her heart.

"We're living in high cotton," she said describing her tasting panel.  "Everything went smoothly...nothing cattywampus, for example, all y'all."


Jim Carrey is but one Wendy Stanford fan.

 

 


Eduardo Dingler is the wine & sake meister for Morimoto restaurants around the world.

His panel-mates mentioned tasting with Eduardo is like a day at the beach.



 

 


Brian Baker is a "big-wig" (that's a technical term) at Chateau Montelena in the northern Napa Valley town of Calistoga.

He's also involved in the tourism industry and has a side gig called Cultivar Marketing.
And he's involved with the US Chamber of Commerce' "Institute for Organization Management," which means he's one organized fellow.
Ever hear of the "Dine About Town" program?  These days it's called SF Restaurant Week and Brian was instrumental in the creation of this bit of marketing genius.



Monsieur Baker gets around, apparently


This is a snapshot of the chauffeur waiting to meet Monsieur et Madame Baker at the airport in Paris in their search for a croissant flakier than some of the more eccentric members of the SF International tasting panel.

 


We are all raising our glass to toast Jeffrey Stivers.  He had a rough year with some health issues but was able to make it to the 2017 tasting.
He's the Sommelier/Sake Guru at the restaurant called n/naka in Los Angeles. pairing wines and sake with the culinary magic of Chef Niki Nakayama.

Stivers has got a large collection of Duct Tape at home, by the way.

In fact, he credits duct tape for his return to good health.


His doctor even wrote out a prescription for some bottles of Riesling and Pinot Noir.



Ian Blackburn is the Beekeeper of Panel F.
He's the main man at the LAW School (Learn About Wine School) in Dodgertown.
His Beekeeper Zinfandels have garnered good critical reviews.

These cost a few bucks, so bring cash!


Ian is always working in a beehive of activity.

 


Managing Panel G was Michael Feil, the famous Floridian.
He's the Chief Cook & Bottle Washer at The Jupiter Island Club, a golfing refuge for the rich and famous.

In his spare time he's got some TV program.


Michael, it seems, likes to rub elbows with celebrities.

 


Jim Blumling is a first-timer at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
After working for Pepsi, Kellog's and Niman Ranch, Jim has been affiliated with Safeway and Albertson's, these days specializing in wines, etc.

And then this happened:

The Dude.
As in 1WineDude.
Joe Roberts, the Grand Poobah of 1WineDude, is a man of few words.
He writes twitter-like tasting notes that are described as "serious wine talk for the not-so-serious wine drinker."



Joe's latest passions are for Madeira and Furmint.
You have to be a real Wine Dude to have those at the top of your list of favorite wines.
Roberts routinely tastes a bunch-o-wine each week.

 


The Legend, Wilfred Wong.
Wilfred's parents started the Ashbury Market back in the 1950s.
Wilfred got his start there, turning the place into an enological Mecca of sorts.
He is today the Chief Storyteller at wine.com and delves into the history and minutiae of wines.
He is a supreme wine geek and has volumes of tasting note books.


Wilfred's mug was on the wall at the Powell Street BART station the week of the wine judging.

Speaking of "mugs,":
You might find him hanging out in downtown San Francisco coffee shops, ordering a Grande, Quad, Nonfat, One-Pump, No-Whip, Mocha...or a simple "128 ounce Caffè Americano" which San Francisco baristas know as The Grande Wongster.

He sometimes shares these with his Darling Alice (Mrs. Wong, aka Saint Alice).


Australia's noted wine Maverick Ronald Brown joined Panel H.
He's been quoted as saying a Maverick is someone "who does everything wrong, just as everyone is expecting."

We discovered that Charlize Theron is now sporting a Ron Brown tattoo.
 

Ron is one of the most interesting men in the world.



Adding even more color to this panel is the polychromatic Sarah Blau.
She's currently the colorful GM of a Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant called ASTER.

Sarah is a real museum piece as you can see in this snapshot, taken at the DeYoung, I think.

Who needs a Riedel glass for Chave Hermitage Blanc?


Sarah's Blau.



The highly-respected Traci Dutton is a CIA operative.
But she doesn't work for a spy agency.
She's been affiliated with the Culinary Institute of America for nearly 20 years.
Traci has been their manager of Public Wine and Beverage Studies and routinely tells students "You can't come all the way to the Napa Valley without having some Cabernet Sauvignon."

She's quite well-known, as you can see from this recent front page of the New York Times.












Dr. Valery Uhl's day job is treating cancer patients and yet she finds time to participate in numerous wine competition events around the U.S.
She's the director of the North of the Gate wine judging.
Valery and her family have a small vineyard in Sonoma's Green Valley.

She was recently on the cover of Elle Magazine.

There was an interesting photo posted of a San Francisco skyscraper...

 


Tim McNally comes all the way from N'Awlins to judge in San Francisco.
He's on the airwaves in The Crescent City all week long.
Weekday afternoons Tim chats about wining and dining on WGSO Radio.

On Thursday's you can find him on New Orleans TV.


We noticed this poster for his WGSO gig displayed on Bourbon Street.

We saw this image on the internet (and now, so have you).



George Skorka, The Man, The Myth, The Legend.
He's been a rep for the Kimberly Jones portfolio.
But he also works with the wines of the Graziano winery, Trombetta Family Winery, Grey Stack Cellars and Kalin Cellars.
Yes, he's got his hands full!

 


George's mug is on a coffee cup.
(And that isn't decaf, by the way!)

 

George is accompanied by his Partner in Wine, Hugo Chandler...

Hugo has a fine nose for wine, as you can see here.


Dana Farner is Panel I's Wonder Woman...as real Trouper!

 
Dana is the Western Regional Director at SevenFifty.
She had been at Wolfgang Puck's CUT restaurant but these days spends her days
at the computer or a tasting room.

Dana attended Concordia College in Minnesota, so she's a "Cobber."

Who knew?  Minnesota's corn production is valued at about 15% of California's wine production.
So we suspect we know Dana's favorite California winery.


 


Master Somm Fred Dame.
He's been described as "The Leonard Bernstein of Sommeliers," but we are not sure he plays the piano quite as capably as did Bernstein.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO FEATURING FRED "THE GREAT" DAME

Fred is often seen around town tasting wine.

Fred is a Vice-President with American Wine & Spirits and is in charge of Prestige Accounts.
He's a real wine industry icon and a star in the Constellation.


 
After stints at Safeway and then the big distributor called Southern Wine & Spirits, Ted Carmon has been a big-wig with Bevmo.
He had been "merely" a Category Manager, but for an additional 5-cents in pay, they now have him as their GMM-Wine director.  We think GMM stands for "Good Mover of Merchandise" or "General Macaroni Manager."

He was recently seen adorning the side of the Bevmo offices and they gave him a parking place near the front door.




Heidi Peterson Barrett is a Napa Valley luminary...


She's made wine for Dalla Valle, Screaming Eagle, Kenzo, Paradigm and others.
Needless to say, she brings a brilliant perspective to the judging.


We believe Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were on the same wine judging panel in the late 1700s.
It's likely Heidi's father, Dr. Richard Peterson, was the panel chairman.  
(Yes, he's an old-timer and quite a revolutionary in the wine world and Dick Peterson has been known to tell more than one guy to "go fly a kite.")

 


Ron Washam is THE HoseMaster of Wine.
He's not a Master of Wine like some people, he's the HoseMaster of Wine™.
Ron has written wonderful clever satire and parody, shining a spotlight on various corners of the wine world.
If you've not read his work, please go check him out.
Many of his postings are worthy of a Double Gold.



Many people say Ron is completely nuts.

Some squirrels have said the same thing.


The HoseMaster parodies many famous (and infamous) wine writers.
Alice Feiring has periodically been "hosed" by the HoseMaster.
She's made a name for herself as a proponent of "natural" wines, so she's (naturally) been in the crosshairs.


Stacie Hunt is a Rocket-Scientist (she's got some sort of NASA certification...but in this case it's the North American Sommelier Association) and co-owner of Point Media.
She's been a writer for My L.A. Lifestyle as well as contributing to KCRW, a radio station associated with Santa Monica College.


She appeared on some TV Program speaking about the history of wine lists and how they've gone from stone tablets to computerized tablets.

 


Another star on Panel K (as in KQED-TV) is Leslie Sbrocco, the host of the wildly popular TV show, CHECK PLEASE BAY AREA.

Leslie has become a regular on NBC's Today Show.

 


Tim McDonald brings MS experience to the tasting table.  
In this instance, MS is not "Master Sommelier," but "Master Spitter."

Here's an old image of one of Tim's ancestors at the Luxor Wine Challenge in Egypt a few years ago.
Maybe more than a few.

That was a Double Gold, too, by the way.

Tim speaks fluent "Wine" and the City of San Francisco had his image posted around town this weekend.

This snapshot was taken along the Embarcadero.

Some people may not know Tim moonlights from his P-R, Wine Spoken Here, gig.
Someone mentioned Tim was an actor.  We thought he was merely acting up.

Fortunately Tim remains a youngster.

Tim's Facebook page had something about various facts about Tim...


But then thanks to some help from some Russian Hackers, we found this:

And apparently the thing about Tim's PEZ Collection is accurate.


The purple package of PEZ is "Napa Cabernet Flavor."


Tim has been the Director of Judging for a number of years and it's an honor to receive his invitation to participate in this event.

 


Kevin Vogt is a Master Sommelier and he can spit with the best.

He used to work as The Wine Guy in Las Vegas for Emeril Lagasse.  But he saddled up the horses and circled the wagons, making tracks for the Napa Valley.  Kevin already had his own little Cabernet production, Mastery.
But now he's up to his eyeball in the world of retail wine.
Wine Country Connection.

 

He's been on the cover of all sorts of magazines.

 


Along the lines of Star Wars, Kevin might tell you that more people have traveled to Outer Space (something like 530+ as of July 2017) than have earned the title of Master Sommelier (236 as of July 2017).

 

Also on Tim's Panel of esteemed judges was Jim Caudill.

Jim works for Treasury Wine Estates where he's the Director of Marketing Communications.
He's had his own wine marketing company and has been with The Hess Collection, Brown Forman and the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates.
So these days he's known as "The Treasurer" and is learning to Speak Australian.

We recently visited one of the Treasury-owned wineries in California and they had just posted a photo of their top "Communicator" outside the cellar.

A couple of tourists were enthralled by this signage, having attended what they described as a "Caudillicious wine presentation."


Jim has long been called a visionary.


Kristina Kessler is the "Senior" Wine Buyer for Cost Plus World Market.
This is curious, as we know she is still routinely asked for her ID to prove she's old enough to drink.

She's a sportswoman, not only being an Iron Woman in the world of wine tasting, but she irons competitively!

It's a sport called "Extreme Ironing" and people go to great lengths to find a remote spot and then they iron wrinkled clothing.

Some do this on mountain-tops, others beneath the sea,.
Kristina, it turns out, likes to iron in the forest and in vineyards.
She was recently helped by a couple of friends and Kristina ironed a shirt while sky-diving.

Someone claimed the sky-diver on the right is Tim McDonald.

Apparently the ironing board thing is an issue for the Kessler family.

 


Chris Sawyer is a man of many hats...he's a Sommelier to the Stars.  He's a Wine Educator.
He organizes tastings, wine & food events and he's invited to judge at numerous wine competitions.

We've heard that photos taken of oneself with a smart-phone are called "Sawyers."
They used to be called "selfies."

The Famous Hollywood Star Angelina Jolie showed off her new tattoo.

Yes, that's Chris Sawyer!

He's an internet star...CLICK HERE to see a Chris Sawyer Somm Video.

 

 


Mike Tadich is a former mechanical engineer-turned-wine guru.
He's the Italian Wine Specialist at Breakthru Beverage Nevada.
Mike frequently travels to his new native homeland, Italy.


We heard rumors that Bruce Willis is planning to make a new
DieHard film.  He goes to Italy for a little wine-tasting tour
and runs into Mike Tadich.  The story takes its usual
nasty turn when some terrorists are planning to send some
cases of Italian wine containing explosives to Las Vegas.
They try to blackmail the import company, demanding money and
the recipe for Maple-Glazed Bacon Doughnuts from a
popular Nevada-based bakery.
Mike ends up discovering the explosive cases and, using his engineering
skills, helps Willis defuse the situation.

 

 

 

 


Lars Leicht is the Director of Communications for Banfi.

We're told he's got two siblings, one named Bud, the other named Coors.

 

We've see Lars light up our TV, too.



Sean Ludford was the chairman of Panel N.
He has a strong Chicago accent when he speaks, so when we asked if they found any gold medals, he replied:
"Me and my Grabowskis, we found a cuppa two tree."
This is Chicago-Speak for "A few" as in "A couple, two or three..."
Apparently everyone in The Second City goes by the name Grabowski, an old football player for Da Bears.

Speaking of Chicago Football, here's a snapshot of a half-time ceremony at Soldier Field last year.

They had a banner with Sean on it...tasting wine in San Francisco, naturally as da Bears were playing
the 49ers.

Sean is a major star in Chicago and was recently on the cover of some Windy City magazine.

 

 


Cassandra Brown is the Director of Wine for the Hakkasan Group, a restaurant company with dining spots called Hakkasan, as well as Searsucker and Herringbone restaurants.

We understand she drives race cars in her spare time.

And when she's not motoring around the track at high speeds, she's jumping out of airplanes!






Cassandra lights up the night!

 

 


The legendary Dan Berger.
Dan writes a syndicated column and he has his own little newsletter, Vintage Experiences, for folks in-the-know.


Only a few people know Dan is an excellent swordsman, able to saber the hell out of Champagne bottles, for example.
He also runs Dan Berger's Wine & Cider Competitions.

Dan appreciates classic, traditionally-made wines.


Dan still has a wind-up clock and an old rotary dial, landline telephone!

 

 


Nick Ponomareff publishes The California Grapevine newsletter.
He's been doing this for about a hundred years, conducting numerous blind-tastings each month and writing up the results in his remarkable wine-letter.

Nick comes from San Diego, so naturally he's a surfer when he's not tasting wine.


We found the dossier on Nick Ponomareff, finally.
He tries to keep a low profile, working a night shift at the La Jolla 7-11 to cover his tracks as his main gig is as a Program Manager for BAE Systems, a British Defence, Security and Aerospace company.
Apparently his code name is "Q" and designs gizmos for secret agents such as 007.

 

 


Tim Marson is a Master of Wine and is a senior wine buyer at Wine.com.

He comes to California from the UK, having worked at Oddbins, Lea & Sandeman, Bibendum before moving to California in 2011.


Tim was featured on a billboard at the London Underground just prior to the San Francisco International Wine Competition.

He was a bit concerned to see the White Zinfandel was a darker shade of color than normal.


And we thought Wilfred wrote a lot of tasting notes...



Kimberly Charles is one of the Wine World's Great Communicators.
Her Charles Communications Associates is noted for creating, revealing and evolving.

Kimberly often tells people her life "is like an open book."

Not many people know she's quite a singer.  Apart from singing the praises of her clients, she can also carry a tune.

Cracklin' Rosie, Champagne Supernova, Summer Wine, 
Days of Wine & Rosés and more!
Plus a duet with Rebecca Chapa singing "The Dregs."
I didn't catch Kimberly on this rendition of the tune, though.


Kimberly has good taste in wine.

 

 

 


Mark Bowery of Mark Bowery Consulting Services in Mendocino.

Mark offers wine list building, tastings services, private tastings, cellar management and more.

We thought we saw his likeness on a recent trip to Paris.


We noticed some kiosks around the town of Lyon with Mark on them.
He's apparently highly-regarded in France where wine-tasting is a sort of sport.
Mark is a champion taster, having won a number of competitive tastings in California.


Mark is eager to offer advice and education regarding wine tasting.



Rachel Van Til is the new Somm at Pappas Brothers Steakhouse in Dallas, Texas.
Rachel is a weight-lifter as the wine list is about 150 pages and offers more than 3000 wines!
She's originally from Michigan and was the wine director at a place just outside of Detroit called "mabel gray."

Apparently Michiganders are disappointed by Rachel's departure to The Lone Star State.

We had no idea she was a Jedi, but she showed remarkable skills in sabering bottles of Champagne.

 

Rachel had a top-flight mentor to guide her through the judging.

Obi-Ron-Kenobi.


Michael Cervin is a jack-of-all-trades.
He writes about water and wine.  He writes about travel.
He writes about California's Central Coast.
He writes about wine and spirits.
And he's a freelance writer, too.
He's the wine buyer at Santa Barbara's Garden Market.
Michael is one busy fellow.

His suitcase is always packed and ready to go.

It was reported he was lost on one of his excursions and the city placed posters of him around town in hopes he'd be found.


Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the work never ends.

Nicolette and Janine...

 

 


Tim and Andy, ages ago? (They must have dropped their wine glasses.)


The official photographer thought this was a good snapshot, so she stepped right up and clickety-click-click...

After a rigorous day of tasting, the judges take a break.  Some go for a nap.  Others head out to do some City Shopping.
Some go for a beer at nearby Foley's or Bartlett Hall.

At 6:30 we gather upstairs at the Nikko and have a little aperitif before dinner.


Rosie Huntington and Jason Statham (he performs his own stunts and tastes his own wines!)


Clark Kent and Lois Lane

 


Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie


Q & Bond, James Bond



TnT, the dynamic duo of Trezise and Tadich


Peter, Paul and Mary, not necessarily in that order.

 


Sloane, Ferris and Cameron

It could just as easily been this...


Simon & Garfunkel


The Captain & Tenille

 


Hall & Oates

 


Sting, Stewart Copeland & Andy Summers = The Police


Debbie Harry and two of her Blondie Band Members


The Pet Shop Boys


Red Hot Chili Peppers


Gábor Presser


Carmen McRae and Frank Sinatra


The Fifth Dimension


Earth, Wind & Fire


Laverne & Shirley


Joe Friday and Bill Gannon


Abbott without Costello


Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell


Laurel & Hardy

 


The Judds

 


Hootie and the Blowfish


Justin Timberlake


Sonny & Cher


The Blues Brothers


Lennon & McCartney

 


Depeche Mode

 

 


The Dixie Chicks

 


Kimberly Charles and Clint Black, Killin' Time.

Fashionably late to the party is "The Man."

Anthony Dias Blue

And soon some adoring fans were rubbing elbows...

Charlie and a couple of his Angels.

 


The Supremes

 

 


Three Dog Night

 


Johnny & June Carter Cash

 

Here's the hard-working, behind-the-scenes crew that makes this well-oiled machine run so smoothly:

Here's another snapshot of those gorgeous gals:

 


The tables were set and everyone was staking out their place for dinner.

Andy then took the floor and gave one of his famous sermons.

We then opened our little wine bag full of tricks...

Soalheiro 2013 Alvarinho in magnum...this was showing handsomely.


The chef did a bit of Origami in the kitchen and presented this lovely starter of Sea Bass with Truffle Butter.


Phil Markert seems to have found a Double Gold on the table...

Guigal 2011 Hermitage Blanc.
Yes...that's a serious bottle of wine.


Notice how The Somm deftly pours that White Burgundy...

...with Obi-Ron-Kenobi.

 


Damn, that was a good one, too!
Ripe white fruits, melon, apples and some toasty notes from oak and lees contact.


Rowald Hepp...


"It's not Riesling, but it's not bad..."


Salad was the next course...

 

My panel-mate Liz Thach stopped by for a schluck of our next wine...

A 2015 Schloss Vollrads Riesling Kabinett.
This was a stellar bottle...very fruity and with crisp, zingy acidity...


Liz Thach and Rachel Van Til...and Schloss Vollrads.
A couple of Kabinett Ministers!!

 

At first Rachel thought a wine called "Grey Wackie" must be the work of Ron Washam, our resident comedian.

But it's Greywacke and it's a stellar Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

 

The Filet Mignon then was presented.

And we brought out another red for that...this time a Tempranillo from a small estate in Spain's Rioja.

Then we heard a lot of glasses clinking...

 

Not sure what this was all about.

Another bottle hopped out of my cellar bag...

This is a wonderful wine.  It's Bordeaux-Meets-Trento, being a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Lagrein.


It got the "thumbs up," sort of.


Apparently the wines of Guigal, once the darling of those in-the-know 20 years ago have fallen out of favor.
This is difficult to explain.  The wine is young and sturdy, built-to-last but it's so delicious now.
We find it to have good dark fruit with a touch of cedary oak.



"I can count the number of killer Northern Rhones I've enjoyed on the fingers of one hand," said Ron Washbag.

Soon a nice little dessert presentation hit the table.


There are some "dead soldiers."

At this stage many judges strolled around the room to have a sip with old friends and new.

Dana Farner.


Brian Baker and Dana Farner...



And with that, some of the revelers went out on the town for some more partying, while others of us made tracks for a good snooze.




CLICK HERE TO SEE THE SECOND PAGE OF THE JUDGING