June 15th marked the start of the remarkable wine judging
in San Francisco as a small group of judges began the "festivities"
with flights of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
It's not easy judging wines, though the average person might ask "How
difficult can this be?"
Ask any person who's a capable wine taster and they will tell you the sense of
smell is all important. With a well-trained proboscis, one can ascertain
much about the age or maturity of the wine, the grape variety or varieties it's
made from, the type of oak in which it was matured (if it was aged in wood) and
possibly where the wine came from.
You've probably heard the old bromide, "You can pick your friends and you
can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose."
But this isn't precisely true and organizers Anthony Dias Blue, Carol Seibert
and Chandler Moore DO pick the (noses of the select) worthy candidates for this wine
It's an honor to be "picked," actually.
Judges come from far and wide...
I don't know who the pilot was, but this aircraft landed safely at SFO on
This must have been Andy or Carol's car...
It's an intense weekend of wine-tasting!
Good thing I'd read the manual before the judging.
I joined a table of highly-esteemed tasters and immediately stuck my nose into a
set of Chardonnays.
Brian Baker is hoping to sniff out some good Pinot Noir.
George S-Kork-A is on the trail of Burgundian-styled Pinot.
New Yorker Charles Mara (a friend of Tony Soprano's, actually), mentioned
"Burgundian Pinot Noir is right under your nose. And mine, too!"
Sean Ludford's opinion was "These don't seem like they were made on Bali,
except for maybe Wine G."
Some of the best palates from around the world are invited to taste at this
event, so being able to participate with this crowd is a real honor.
Tim McDonald of "Wine Spoken Here" (yes, he had the Gallo tattoo
removed recently!) and our fearless leader, Andy Blue of "Wine Sung
Here" fame. I think Andy was singing "Peel Me A Grape."
Kate Radburnd...with a name like that, it shouldn't surprise you that she enjoys
good wines with 'toasty' oak.
Famous Eno-Podcaster Rosina Tinari Wilson verbalizes her tasting notes for her
adoring fans around the world.
Janet Dyer is a famous wine broker in the San Francisco Bay Area.
She certainly has a nose for wine.
Jane Rate sings "Alto" in "Andy's Blues Gang" when she's not
busy tasting wine and pulling corks.
Famed San Francisco Palate Rusty Albert galvanized his group's ratings of Pinot
Someone told Jeffery K. Stivers that this was a "blind-tasting."
He immediately shut his eyes.
Then he tasted Wine "D" and started laughing.
"This wine tastes funny!"
Tim McDonald whispered to "Don Charles" "I have to kiss Andy's
ass, but you I can kiss on the cheek."
Me? I'm just lucky to be here!
After tasting the Pinot Noirs, we took a break and then
adjourned for the Judge's Dinner.
We begin with all sorts of nibbles and some bubbly...
Shouldn't be surprised, should we, that someone named "Rosina" is
going for the pink bubbly!
The bubbly, from the La Tordera winery in the Veneto region of Italy, is made
from Merlot and a white grape called Incrocio Manzoni. It's their "Cuve
We also had the same producer's Prosecco, a Brut bubbly (most Prosecco's
imported to the US are "Extra Dry").
Andy is tempted by some of the canaps.
There's quite a guest list...
Sean Ludford shows off a bottle of some sort of anesthetic to Ron Brown and Meridith May.
Tim McGarr in the pink.
Meanwhile, George Skorka tries to teach some of us Hungarian Wine Drinking
"I'm a fan of the verbunko by the name of 'It's More Than Okay to
Drink Tokaji." George tells Meridith.
Tim McDonald speaks smartly about wine with the radiantly intelligent Valery Uhl.
Mr. & Mrs. Janet Dyer.
Andy was a focal point, certainly.
Greg Walter shares some tasting notes with Mr. & Mrs. Nick Ponomareff.
Patrick Comiskey and The Princess of P-R, Katie Calhoun.
Carol Seibert, the wine queen of the event and Brian Baker.
Nick Ponomareff was recounting the results of last Thursday's blind-tasting of
Californian French Colombards, but Greg Walter nodded off, apparently.
The Lady in Red and Michael Feil (whose golf score is similar to that of a
highly-rated wine in some wine journal).
The Famous Anne Littlefield.
Chandler Moore is Carol Seibert's partner-in-wine at this event.
Much to everyone's surprise, these two started dancing, waltzing around the room
without spilling a drop of bubbly.
It turns out, this gal is a dancer and Ron is light on his feet, too.
I think she led, though.
Steve Pitcher explains to Wine & Spirits' senior editor Patrick Comiskey why
he needs to write feature articles on Petite Sirah and German Riesling.
"Don't you like Riesling?" Steve asked.
"I don't know. I've never Riesled." responded Patrick.
Jim McMahon enjoys a sip of bubbly.
Andy shares a chuckle with a guy wearing the "Anthony Dias Blue" name
Kate Radburnd of New Zealand wine fame.
Her name-tag is right-side-up if you're from Chile
or Argentina where Lisa's company imports its wines.
We then made our way to the dinner table and began the
victuals portion of the evening.
The wines were provided by the Fess Parker winery which had won the "Best
White Wine" of the show last year with a Grenache Blanc.
Parker's "Epiphany" label Grenache Ros was quite nice with this
tasty little shrimp dish.
Ashley Parker-Snyder told us a bit about Santa Barbara viticultural history and
how to differentiate between Syrah & MourvŔdre and Davy Crockett &
The Fess Parker wines were a Revelation.
After dinner Andy got up to introduce the various judges (while people are still
When His Highness arrived at "Panel H," I quickly got up and stuck my
nose into Andy's comedic routine, explaining how judges are challenged to smell
so many wines and evaluate them with accuracy.
So, I presented Andy with a new set of noses in case anybody ran into trouble.
Andy Blue: His Nose
The Nose Knows
A few of my Panel H co-Horts
also tried out a nose "for size."
Patrick "The Nose" Comiskey
Katie Ballou-Calhoun, who also has an award-winning nose for public relations.
Meanwhile, Sean Ludford shows off proper nose-picking technique.
Apparently the tasting was highly publicized...
Shortly after this, some of the Los Angeles contingent started to serenade us
with a tune, but they couldn't remember all the words.
And soon it was time to adjourn until tomorrow morning...
And so on Saturday morning we all assembled to continue the weekend of wine
tasting...more than 4000 wines, the largest judging of wines in North America.
They kindly offer juice, coffee, croissants, fruit, etc., as the judges assemble
to begin their enological excursion...
Carol and Chandler even offered a special breakfast cereal.
(They had to explain the shriveled gold bits were raisins as some tasters
were concerned about the appearance of this stuff.)
We start our day with a bit of advice about judging the wines...
Now that we're clear on the judging business, we begin our arduous task of
tasting, rating and awarding medals...
American Wine Ambassa-d'or Jim Trezise, who's also Mister New York.
Gary Blackwell, of Blackwell's (imagine that!) in San Francisco.
You can find Gary in the Richmond District on Gary's Boulevard (or something
Lisa Weeks, famous for her appearance on the TV show "Dancing With
Wines" (she choreographs wine info for the TGIC Importers), sniffs out a
Ron Siragusa of San Francisco's Kuleto's restaurant.
"Gold medal? Fuggedaboutit!"
One of the few times Anne Littlefield is quiet is when she's tasting wines!
Rosina Tinari Wilson was our "play-by-play" person for the weekend.
She's podcasting up a storm.
"I also do 'color'
commentary," she explained.
"I comment on the reds, the whites and the pink wines..."
Swirl-meister Jerry Cooper spends time in The Castro when he's not prowling
One of Jerry's customers wears the official Swirl jacket.
Master Sommelier Kevin Vogt wished the winemaker of this wine had "kicked
it up a notch" (this is some sort of common expression at Emeril's
Delmonico Steak House in Lost Wages, apparently).
"It's no Mouton-Rothschild." said Vogt who sheepishly admits he
knows Mouton-Rothschild when he tastes it.
This caused one of Kevin's wine-judging colleagues to remark, "Kevin, for
one thing, Mouton is a red wine."
That would be The Confucius of Cabernet, the inimitable Wilfred Wong.
Kevin, on the other hand, calls him "Wilfred Wrong."
Apparently in assessing the wines, they don't see eye to eye.
Wine Impressionist Rusty "Don't-Call-Me-Robert" Albert.
Personal Sommelier Ralph Hersom is a speed taster and able to evaluate a quartet
of Chardonnays in seconds. This is some sort of Ringling Brothers/Barnum
& Bailey skill he learned while working in The French Circus.
Valery looks for wines "y'uhl" like.
"This wine's going south," she explains, "but I'm north
of the Gate."
Katherine Claiborne Cole hails from Portland and added an Oregonian's
perspective to the judging.
Greg Walter hangs out of the Wine Frontier and explores the world of Pinot Noir.
Greg's company, the Carneros Press, does not squeeze grapes, but prints
books. Greg also has a large collection of baseball cards as well as
"Winemaker Trading Cards." He especially prizes his Andre
Tchelistcheff "rookie" card.
Leslie Sbrocco (who's name, coincidentally appears towards the bottom row of an eye
doctor's visual acuity chart)...
Leslie says she found a number of gold medal wines.
"They're 20/20." she explains.
Ms. Sbrocco hosts the popular TV show "Check, Please!" and is rumored
to be replacing Bob Barker on "The Price is Right."
Meanwhile, Eno-Wizard Mendel Kohn was drooling over the prospect of discovering
some "Double Gold Medal" wines.
Out in the hallway we found Sean Ludford
"filtering" some of the wines.
In the absence of Rebecca Chapstick, Mister Chicago assumed the role of
providing "comic relief."
He was certainly relieved after this...
"I'm rather sure some of the wines we just tasted were 'unfiltered,' so I
thought I'd filter them myself."
Shortly afterwards we noticed Debbie Zachareas phoning out for pizza.
"And send up some margaritas..."
Tabulator and Calculator P.J. (Mister Wizard) Bourbin transcribes (and
translates) Wilfred's ratings of the wines.
"I have a large collection of radios," says P.J., "So I
get good reception from the judges, even Wilfred."
Meanwhile, Janet had developed quite a purple palate.
"I think it was the Burgundy from Duc du Magenta." she claimed.
Steve Bell always chimes in with his scoring results.
Grading the wines on a "Bell" curve, it's no surprise the
preponderance of medals are "Bronze."
Steve Izzo is the wine director at San Francisco's "One Market"
restaurant and he's happy to taste hundreds of wines "looking for the
San Francisco's baseball team has many capable pitchers, Cain being quite able,
but this judging has it's own "hall of fame"-caliber Pitcher...
Steve Pitcher, fan of Riesling and Petite Sirah.
Mr. California Grapevine, Nick Ponomareff.
Nick's tasting notes are a great read and his publication is
Even if he is a fan of the San Diego Padres.
Jane Rates and ranks 'em as she sees fit.
Since last year this "survivor" managed to vote herself off an
island near the East Coast and now resides in The Big Apple where she pulls corks
at the Alto restaurant, after a few minutes on West 54th. She's between 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue and
has well more than a thousand selections up her sleeve...
Dan Kosta of the famous "Kosta Lot" winery in Sonoma.
Okay...it's actually "Kosta Browne" and Dan's the marketing genius.
When he heard the Westchester Country Club had hosted the "Thunderbird
Classic," golfing wine geek Michael Feil packed his clubs & bag and moved to Rye,
Only after arriving, we understand, did they explain this was an automobile, not
the famous wine. The country club has (and had) many celebrity members, including
Howard Hughes, Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. We understand they still
have a number of members who are actually still alive and able to pay the
While Andy Blue may be the "Dean" of the weekend's events, New York
wine merchant and vintner Charles Mara is the "Don" of the
Charles is listed a couple of times in the Guinness Book of World Records for
having paid $28,000 for a single bottle of wine (this was back in 1978 when wine
was less costly than it is today!) You'd think he coulda got it wholesale...
I think his other claim to fame in
the book is for calling a wine "Syrage."
The Globally Intuitive, globe-trotting Tim McGarr.
Tim, a British ex-patriot, was heard saying something about "God save the
Queen and maybe a bottle of wine "C" as this stuff is double gold
Legal beagle Robert Silverstein sniffs out some good wines, unleashing some
commentary on a few of the samples.
"Who let the dogs out?"
Bob, when the panel is deadlocked, often brings up the "Chip Smith
Charge" in an effort to launch his gold medal wines into the
MORE PHOTOS ON THE NEXT PAGE...
After tasting more than a hundred wines, we stopped for a coffee...
Even the baristas were into the theme of the weekend!