This year, I had the honor of being the Captain of the Champagne Squad at the California State Fair wine Competition. This is perhaps the most prestigious of the wine competitions in California. To enter, the wines must come from California. This year there were over 2600 wines entered from almost 600 wineries. The prize? The coveted “Double Gold” (where every judge on the panel rates the wine a gold), the “Gold” medal, the “Silver” medal and the “Bronze” medal. Judges come from all over the wine spectrum; from wine makers, to winery owners, to writers, to restaurant owners, etc. All judges must demonstrate the sensitive taste palate necessary to discern the subtle characteristics of the wine maker’s efforts. Judges are subjected to intense tasting over a three day period starting around 9:00 every morning and finishing in the early afternoon. This is quite an undertaking with around three volunteers for every judge. I was particularly impressed with the dynamic nature of the volunteer team. Although they only work together this one time every year, they come together to make a seamless event. There are volunteers that can claim to have been involved with this event for over twenty years. Makes me feel young with only three years under my belt. I have made many friends over these three years and have reacquainted with old friends. One of the judges was one of my college professors at UC Davis in the late seventies, one I work with every year at the ZAP conference in San Francisco and two were friends from the Society of Wine Educators. It’s amazing how small our world really is. In any case, this year I was able to direct the Champagne Squad, with the responsibility to pour the right Sparkling Wine ( as is now referred) at the right time and the right way to show the beverage at it’s finest. This is the only squad to perform “live pours” for the judges. A live pour is where the wine is poured directly in front of the judge. All other wines are poured in a separate room from the judges and then delivered. Champagne is different because the carbonation and cooler serving temperatures are critical to the flavor profiles. All in all, a great experience. Not only to be involved in such a great event, but to be associated with such a highly talented volunteer team. Life is just a great place to be!
The Greeks were one of the first to commerically export wines around the civilized world. However, history was not kind to the Greek wine makers with occupations from civilizations not favorable to the art of wine making. It was not until the 1960’s that the art returned to this ancient country. Embracing the uniqueness of the land and weather, this new generation has reacquainted with the historic Greek vines such as Moschofilero, Roditis, Asyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Kotsifali and Mandilaria as well as adding more internationally recognized vines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and even Semillon. On Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend a food and wine pairng of Greek wines by Tom Martin. Tom gives an excellent history and accounting of these historic wines and brings you up-to-date with some excellent wines. If you can find one of his seminars, it is worth attending. Greek wines are characteristically high acid and low fruit making them excellent for food pairing. Initially, white wines dominated with 65% of the production but now there is a rough 50/50 split with the reds. My own personal favorite? I have discovered Agiorgitiko. This is perhaps the Beaujolais of the Greek red wines. Mild, low fruit, easy to drink, mild tannin, just a great wine to drink with mild to low intensity foods. If you have not experienced Greek wines due to their rightly deserved history, then now is the time to give them a new chance. You will be surprised. They have come that far and are worthy of sharing a meal with you…OPAH!