Two weeks ago we had our third annual wine competition for the Portland Indie Wine Festival. We received 138 wines from Oregon’s cadre of limited-production wineries, had an A-list line up of judges and all went smoothly.
But -- since this is the golden age of confession -- I’ll get one off my chest. I have never had more compassion for a 750 ml bottle of fermented juice in my life.
Not because the wines weren’t good this year, in fact, I’d say the quality of the wines we tasted was twice as good (if that’s measurable) than the 04s we tasted through last year.
The wines this time weren’t as tight, the winemaking seems to be more and more transparent, and the courage to break out of the Pinot population and do interesting dessert wines, whites (including Chardonnay and Riesling) and blends from warmer climates in Southern Oregon left me feeling incredibly excited about all that’s happening here.
However, it was the level of brutality that struck me about the judging experience. We organize the tasting so each panel of four has different perspectives. One winemaker, one retailer, one sommelier and one critic. We love how this fuels analysis and discussion and helps temper biases.
But, as each flight got swirled, sipped and evaluated, I couldn’t but help want to champion each and every little guy that came up for scrutiny. I kept wanting to shout – these are not grand cru burgundies from the 90s, these are wines which have just been bottled, represent a challenging vintage (2005 has some classic Oregon Pinot characteristics but if you didn’t pick at the right time, good luck) and are for the most part made by folks who are doing this for the artistry not the commercial value of these wines. Sure, analyze away but keep it in context, people.
I know this presents a paradox.
I created the event in the format I did because I wanted to show off Oregon’s best emerging winemakers and in order to do that, we need judges so we can show quality wines not just all wines submitted.
And when you judge, you bring all that you know to the table and want to critically evaluate each wine for typicity. So, I know I can’t have it both ways. And maybe, it all boils down to semantics and how honest the judges were during the tasting.
But I left that day feeling like we had taken Rex Reed to a short film by a 5 year old and he wrote a scathing review. It just seemed harsh.
It made me want to put a cork in my tendency to be super picky about what I drink, and celebrate the guts it takes to put your self out there and try to make something drinkable, let alone memorable. Which, I guess when you think about it, is what the indie wine festival is all about.