SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION 2020
Photos, Notes and Attempts at Humor
The year 2020 started off innocently enough, but after the first 10 weeks,
things came off the rails.
We experienced a global pandemic as a result of an infectious disease that's a Coronavirus
Early in the year various events were being canceled and it was not clear
whether or not the San Francisco International Wine Competition would take
Organizers of European wine fairs such as ProWein and VinItaly said their events
would, indeed take place.
The German fair called ProWein indicated it had plans to safely hold its amazing three day
event, featuring thousands of wineries from around the world and tens of
thousands of visitors..
The Grands Jours de Bourgogne, slated for mid-March, was pushing forward, they
VinItaly, scheduled for early April, would take place as usual according to its
organizers. (It's Italian, remember.)
But a week before the Grand Jours event in France's Burgundy, participants were
informed that this week of tasting festivities would be, after all,
postponed until next year (hopefully). A day after they sent out the
cancellation notice, we received another missive saying they'd been surprised
to hear from so many registrants who decided they still were planning to
visit Burgundy (and they offered to set up appointments for visits at cellars
around the countryside).
We had planned to go with three local wine industry colleagues and retained our
airline and gite reservations.
ProWein's organizers finally decided to cancel their annual fair, while the
VinItaly organization kept claiming they were still planning on having tens of
thousands of people descending on Verona for their circus.
Alas, VinItaly postponed its fair, claiming they would host it in June or July,
before they finally realized even this would not be wise.
We wondered what the future would hold for the San Francisco International Wine
Typically judges from overseas fly to California and American judges from all
over the USA pack their bags to come spend a busy weekend of tastings.
Not this year!
Not with Covid-19!!
After much deliberation, Anthony Dias Blue and his Grand Crew made plans to
conduct the judging under different circumstances.
Instead of having 50 or 60 judges from hither and yon, a group of 18 judges from
San Francisco and environs was assembled to taste and evaluate wines over a two
And so a snapshot resembling this one did not take place this year!
Safety protocols were implemented and judges, upon arrival to the tasting venue
at San Francisco's One Market Restaurant, were obliged to fill out a health
report document which also included an on-the-spot temperature reading.
Judges wore face masks except when actually sniffing, sipping and spitting the
Instead of a panel of three (or 4) sitting at a table, each judge tasted
at their own table, safely distanced from others.
A Plexiglass shield was positioned in front of each table and the room in which
we tasted was open on one side allowing for great ventilation.
Hand sanitizer was readily available and each judge was required to take their
personal spit bucket outside to empty into a sink.
These were then sanitized again and each judge picked up a fresh spittoon on
their way back to the tasting table.
The crew of staffers taking care of clearing tables and opening, pouring and
transporting wines for judging was schooled in proper safety protocols.
As you can see, Executive Director Anthony (Andy) Dias Blue is quite adept at
the self-administered Covid-19 test.
There were signs around town trumpeting the wine judging.
The Giants' 2020 season had been completed weeks earlier, but the team still
welcomed the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
I would drive north from Burlingame each day and it was nice
of Andy and Managing Director Maddee McDowell to have special signs on the
freeway to guide me to the tasting venue!
My GPS was able to easily guide me to the tasting, despite the
street having been renamed this week!
Maddee was the Talk of the Town!
Maddee McDowell explained the various protocols of the wine judging to local and
national media outlets.
Local Souvenir Shops were hawking SFIWC shirts.
There was a building with the judging logo painted on a wall
not far from the tasting venue, One Market Restaurant.
And the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency was aware of the judging
as some judges rode in on BART.
Andy was in Southern California as the judging was taking place in San
Francisco, so he checked in remotely.
Having our directives it was time to start tasting!
The first day or two they had one panel of three judges so
everyone could get their feet wet.
Then they ramped it up to two panels of three judges!
Maddee went over the various protocols and soon we set about tasting.
My Panel started with Sparkling Rosés.
Dr. Valery Uhl
Sir Drake McCarthy
The other Panel that day:
Tonya Pitts, the famous Sommelier!
Steve Izzo of Dobbs Ferry Restaurant Fame.
Francisco Bazo, a San Francisco sommelier of note.
Typically the flights had perhaps 8 to 15 wines and there is
no requirement for a certain number of medals to be awarded.
Each wine is judged on its own merits, so it would be possible for all the wines
in a flight to earn a Gold Medal.
Highly unlikely, though, but possible were all the wines to be exceptional.
If a wine is deemed unacceptable in terms of quality, judges will vote to give
it "No Award."
A wine of sound quality would typically earn a Bronze Medal.
A more seriously fine wine would be deemed a Silver Medalist and if a wine is at
the top of its class, judges will opt to give it a Gold Medal.
Should all three Judges on a Panel give a wine a Gold Medal, that wine then
earns the vaunted "Double Gold Medal" status and we then deliberate on
sending it to the grand Sweepstakes tasting for possible selection as the best
of its class and perhaps the Best In Show Award.
On very rare occasions we'd encounter a wine we felt was perhaps from a flawed
bottle, noting it was musty and showing elements of being a "corked"
bottle. In that event, we can (and did) request a second bottle be opened
so we could more fairly evaluate the wine.
Over the course of the day a panel would judge approximately 150 wines.
Before you say "That's not possible," please remember the judges are
seasoned professionals and they do make use of a spittoon. Flights
of wines are configured so as to allow the judge's palates to remain fresh and
in good condition for the duration of the day.
((And you know, at tasting fairs such as ProWein and VinItaly which were
mentioned earlier, I routinely taste 230-300 wines in a day, all while keeping a
coherent tasting notebook.))
Once each judge on a panel has made their evaluations of each wine in a flight, a Panel Coordinator then records each Judge's Medal Review of the wines.
Should we have a Double Gold (or two) in a flight, we are asked whether or not
to send that wine to the Sweepstakes tasting.
Further, we come up with a numerical 100 point scale score for Double Golds, ranging anywhere
from 94 points to 100.
Once the results of the flight have been tabulated, the Panel Coordinator adds
her (or his) signature to the flight document and then has two panel members audit her
(or his) tabulations and sign the paper affirming the results.
Once we've finished a flight, we bring our spittoon outside the tasting room and
members of Maddee's Grand Crew collect the emptied glasses for sterilization and
more tasting flights.
Here we see the famous Amanda Blue collecting stemware.
Yes, she's a real firecracker!
I thought I had Kodachrome in my camera!
Some judges are more sensitive to what they are tasting and listen carefully to
what each wine tells them.
Wine Expert Steven Izzo described one wine as smelling a lot like hair spray...
I could not resist and asked "Steven...how the HELL would you know
After approximately 8 flights, we had a little break for
Chef Mark Dommen prepared Pan Seared Red Snapper with an amazing Corn Polenta,
Shiitake Mushrooms and a red wine reduction (not sure if he used a gold medal or
silver medal red)...
We brought a bottle of Posip from the Toreta winery on the island of Korcula in
It's a nicely stony dry white and was terrific with this dish.
Then it was back to judge another flight of wines...
The + and - signs indicate a measure of enthusiasm, or lack thereof, for the
rating we just made.
Sometimes those Silver Plus medals get nudged up to a Gold Medal and sometimes
those Bronze Minus bottles end up being moved down to No Award.
Each glass is marked with a letter and these are placed at the
Judge's Table in alphabetical order.
We had a good first day of tasting, evaluating a bit more than
We returned to The City on a Friday, ready to taste another round of wines!
Maddee's Grand Crew was busy preparing the first flights of wine as we started
at 9 in the morning.
Maddee gave us our marching orders first thing and then away we went!
Today my "Panel H" Mates included Ziggy Eschliman
and Jim Blumling.
First time I've been on a Panel with Ziggy The Wine
(A great honor and a pleasure!)
Jim Blumling and I tasted together at the 2019 San Francisco International Wine
Jim Blumling of Copper
Panel G was comprised of:
Steven Izzo of Dobb's Ferry restaurant fame.
Dr. Valery Uhl (who's just plain famous).
And Wine.com's Tim Marson.
They were Panel G.
And, as mentioned earlier, you can see we are Socially-Distanced by the
equivalent of something like 6 Cases of Wine.
Each table has a Plexiglass shield on it, as you may be able to see.
Minori, shown above, is always on the run and was well-prepared for this
marathon of tasting flights.
I try to make a few cursory notes on the scoring sheet, so I can refer back to
it weeks after the judging when panel members receive a roster of the wines they
I'll make note of the color and clarity of the wines.
The glass above, letter "M," as you can see is darker in color than
the other wines and we were told the bottle did not have a vintage date on it.
It was a sweet Riesling and quite an unusual wine, to say the least.
I was not enthralled with it initially, as the wine had a fair bit of
oxidation, viewed typically as a flaw unless we're tasting Sherry or Vernaccia
di Oristano. Thinking of oxidized wines I've tasted I was able to put
the wine in a better light wondering if, curiously, someone in Italy was making
a Vin Santo or Passito (a wine made of grapes which are dried or purposely
dehydrated to make a sweet wine) using Riesling.
It ended up getting a Bronze Medal.
The sun always shines brightly on Jim Blumling!
After more than 90 wines, it was time for a much-needed lunch break!
For today's One Market Burger we opened a bottle of Marotti Campi's 2017 Lacrima
di Morro d'Alba.
They make this special bottling called Orgiolo and it's a medium-full bodied red
with beautifully aromatic fragrances...a touch floral and a hint of wood.
The grape comes from Italy's Marche region.
We used a lot of stemware for three judge panels to taste
several hundred wines each day.
These two fellows deserve a shout-out to say THANKS!
They spent two full weeks polishing wine glasses for us!
And their efforts were much-appreciated.
That's Jim Blumling and Valery Uhl posing for an artistic photo...
HERE TO SEE A MEDAL BEING AWARDED
after seeing that!
And so we wrapped up another day of tasting flights!
Meanwhile, out on Market Street near the tasting venue...
We returned to The City the following Tuesday morning for another day of
On Tuesday of the second week of judging we were on Panel Q with Tim McDonald
and Drake McCarthy, two (other) Old-Timers.
Panel P was comprised of Jim Blumling, Traci "TD" Dutton and Tim
"Timmy Skyscraper" Teichgraeber.
probably heard of Two-Buck Chuck?
Tim burns the singles in favor of the two dollar bills!
Teichgraeber...he also writes a rather nice wine blog.
Drake is an astute taster and has a great depth of knowledge.
He manages the Golden
State Wine Company, a distribution firm with a terrific portfolio of
Oh! He heard me!!
Jim Blumling is
Joe Wagner's right hand man (as you can see by him holding the glass
in his right hand).
Teichgraeber has been writing about wines for many years, but in
"real life" he's an attorney.
Tim McDonald is a wine marketing and public relations guru in real life, but
he's a fixture at many wine judgings in California.
Traci Dutton has been the Wine Director at Napa Valley's Culinary
Institute of America.
We've enjoyed conversing with her at the San Francisco International Wine
Competition where she has been a judge for many years.
We kept these fellows busy once again!
The irrepressible Tim McDonald wearing his MADA chapeau.
Tim has a lot of theories about Gold Medals...
Jim Blumling showed off his special Covid Drinking Mask.
A flight of White Zinfandels and Varietal Blush Wines.
And then some Sangiovese wines followed by some Barbera.
We were between flights and Andy checked in to see if we had found any good
wines for him to taste.
Once back at the tasting table, Drake said "I found one!"
are some people who have achieved the status known as an M-W or Master of Wine.
There are some who are an M-S or Master Sommelier.
And then there's Tim McDonald, who we refer to as an MS or Master Spitter:
a while it was time for a lunch break...
This was One Market's Roasted Chicken Breast with Mashed Potatoes, Broccolini,
Cherry Tomatoes and a Thyme Jus.
I brought a bottle of Gaba do Xil, a terrific Spanish dry white made of the
This comes from Galicia.
Jim Blumling brought a bottle of Belle Glos "Balade" Pinot Noir, a
2019 vintage from the Santa Rita Hills.
Jim Blumling explains the concept of the Belle Glos Balade to Drake...
The wine speaks for itself, though.
At lunch, as you can see, each judge is behind Plexiglass.
then it was back to the tasting tables...
...and we finished the day with Cabernets, Non-Bordeaux Red Blends, Shiraz/Syrah
and then some Sweet Red Wines.
My next day of
tasting was on Friday, ending the second week of the judging. I parked a
few blocks away from the Embarcadero and hoofed it to One Market Restaurant to
begin that morning's flights.
We had the usual temperature check and Covid-19 Questionnaire before starting,
as the judges gathered for the 9am start.
Tim Marson, Dr. Valery Uhl and I comprised Panel O, while Panel P was made up of
Kimberly Charles, Ziggy Eschliman and the legendary Wilfred Wong.
Semi-Sparkling, Varietal Sparkling, Red Sparkling and Fruit Sparklers made up
the first flight of wines, followed by Pinot Noir, Barbera, Chardonnay and
We then ran through a flight of Non-Bordeaux Blends, Merlot, White Rhone
Varietals, Malbec, Chenin Blanc and Other White Blends, Syrah/Shiraz and
How about a hazy, cloudy Sparkling wine made of Prieto Picudo?
That was a bit curious...
Across the room:
The delightful Kimberly Charles.
Communications, a major wine industry public relations agency.
The Legendary Wilfred Wong, a super serious wine taster!
He's the Chief Story Teller at Wine.com.
And, of course, Ziggy Eschliman.
Ziggy and Kimberly tag-teamed and had a blast tasting with Wilfred.
Wilfred always has a camera, or two, at the ready since he's an
intrepid photographer and has long been judging wines and participating (if not
organizing) this sort of event.
We had a nice flight of Barbera wines...
Two of them were Gold Medalists, but no Double Golds...
Tim Marson, Master of Wine
As you can, not every wine is a medal winner!
Valery commented that one wine had a fragrance reminiscent of the sun-tan lotion
"Well, of course," I piped up, "it likely then deserves a
Kimberly Charles...she can hear a medal in that glass!
Ziggy The Wine Gal...Double the pleasure!
Wilfred Wong...the masked man!
After several more flights we had a lunch break.
Plexiglass and Socially Distant.
I brought a 2012 Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Gran Reserva which I brought having
been a fan of past vintages...this wine was of good quality, but not as showy as
wines made by Murrieta a decade, or so, ago.
Maddee brought a box of cookies...
These were worthy of a Double Gold!
Back to taste...
Valery Uhl and Wilfred Wong
Andy checked in with us from Southern California...
Minori and Mark tabulated the results of another flight of
Chris Mellor...Mark Bourbon (son of Mister wizard, Paul Bourbon) and Minori
Most of the judges for the final day of tastings.
Maddee (on the right), Chloe (kneeling on the right and the rest of the SFIWC
"Grand Crew" for the last day of tastings in San Francisco.
Oh wait! All the judges for the final day!!
L to R: Kimberly Charles, Tim Marson, Dr. Valery Uhl, Gerald Weisl, Ziggy
Eschliman and Wilfred Wong
Judges from another day of tastings:
Elsie Wolff, Tim Teichgraeber, Tim McDonald, Kimberly Charles and Drake McCarthy
And Wilfred Wong took this snapshot of Eduardo Dingler:
And here's one Wilfred Wong took of Elsie Wolf:
Toshio Ueno judged early the first week...
I missed tasting with Sarah Blaufränkisch this year!
Francisco Bazo, Sarah Blau and Tim McDonald
And has been traditional (for my panel, anyway), we opened bottles of
celebratory beer to wrap up the judging.
Brasserie Lebbe beer comes to us from the Southwest of France near the area
where Madiran wines are produced.
Lebbe is a tiny, artisan beer-maker, producing maybe 6,000 bottles annually.
And a "cheers" to Chef Mark Dommen!
And with that we concluded our days of searching for medal
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