I spent the weekend in Haymarket, Va., as one of 20 judges at the 8th annual Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition. Overall, we evaluated 495 wines produced in 17 states along the U.S Atlantic seaboard. The results will be announced in a few days (I know a few, including Best of Show, but those are under embargo until the winners are notified), but here are some impressions I jotted down during the tastings.
- Wine quality, while predictably uneven, shows continued improvement. Much of wine judging involves finding faults rather than actually enjoying wine. While my panel of five judges noticed some imbalances in acidity or sweetness, and some wines were thrown off kilter by volatile acidity, there were very few that we rejected outright. Those we did tended to be clumsily sulfured. By this I mean the wines were so horrible we didn’t want to taste them, not that they received no medal. Many other wines were correct but simple. One thing I noticed was the lack of green, underripe flavors among reds, even from 2011.
- What a difference a year makes. The sweepstakes round this afternoon included 20 wines, and nearly all (especially the reds) were from the very ripe 2010 vintage. Some of these were superb. There were some 2010s that didn’t earn gold medals because they were clumsy and even overripe and alcoholic. The rainy 2011 vintage tended to live down to expectations, with a few exceptions. Even the whites – Rieslings, Viogniers and especially Chardonnays – tended to be lackluster, and the reds dilute. Keep in mind that most of the better 2011 reds have not been released.)
- There were very few corked wines. On Saturday, when more than 300 wines were tasted, judges asked for only four to be repoured. Sunday was similar, though my panel had two corked wines in late flights. I’m not sure whether to attribute this to more use of screwcaps and other alternative closures or to better corks. Probably all of the above. In any event, the lack of corked wines was notable.
- My panel tasted a flight of four Nortons, and we gave gold medals to two of them. This was noteworthy for me because I have traditionally been a Norton skeptic. These two, however, were elegant and delicious.
I will have more impressions and some of my favorite wines once the results are announced and I have a chance to match my notes with the list of wines.
This competition is run by the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association and is designed to promote and help market wines produced in the Eastern United States. Kudos to ASWA President Carl Brandhorst and his crew for another well-run competition.