Sommelier-judge Guillermo Goméz of Miami’s Zuma Restaurant and his colleagues
get to work with the day’s first flight of white wines
The Somm Posse was hard at work last weekend, and that means we wine lovers have a very good time ahead. BIG is our acronym for the Best In Glass Wine Challenge, a very unusual wine competition that has a wonderful outcome for wine lovers throughout South Florida.
The concept of the wine challenge is both simple and unique – it’s a wine competition, one of hundreds in the US, but unlike every other competition with which I’m acquainted, this one is judged only by working sommeliers, the people on the front line of getting wine to our dinner table when we dine out. The 20 sommeliers who volunteered their time as judges at this wine challenge were BIG time wine gurus and they brought to the judging insights that were wonderful fodder for eavesdroppers like me. There will be some great benefits coming up, and I’ll get to those in a moment, but first, a word about why the Best in Glass challenge is so unusual.
All the other wine competitions I know have a broad base of judges – an often unfocused mix (I am tempted to say “blend” in this context) of wine journalists, restaurateurs, publicists, retailers and wine makers. When I was a judge at such a competition in Seattle a decade ago, the organizers described this group to me as “the five estates” of the wine business. I was present as a wine journalist and found the entire process enlightening – each group approached the judging process from a different (sometimes radically different) perspective.
The retailers were very well informed about what their customers wanted and what would sell – they were always looking for a value; similarly, restaurateurs knew what customers would buy when dining out but tended to shy away from anything that wasn’t guaranteed success – they weren’t keen on blazing new trails but took a safe road of giving consumers what they already wanted rather than following a riskier path of trying to figure out what they might like. We journalists approach wine from the opposite direction – we get wrapped up in the possibility of a wine’s success totally separate from the financial reality of having to actually sell it. We get to taste so many wines, we always want to embrace the next new thing, sometimes without analyzing whether there are the resources to establish a wine in the market.
Wine makers are in their own universe – some have market savvy but what they all have is a keen awareness of the technical attributes of a wine. For some, that means having very rigid criteria, wrapped up in concern about technical details and sometimes missing the heart and passion of a wine that isn’t perfect but has great personality. Publicists love a good story and many are very good at reading what the public not only wants but could be persuaded to try but they often don’t have the power to affect the change they would like to see.
With this diverse group and multitude of perspectives, you can imagine that the scores for wines in a blind tasting are all over the place. And that’s what I love about Best in Glass – it has one perspective and one mission: extremely qualified sommeliers combining the attributes of restaurateur, publicist and wine maker bring a great deal of focus to a series of blind tastings with the aim of choosing bottles to feature on the wine lists of their restaurant. Unlike many competitions, the sommelier-judges know the price category of the wine because price is part of their decision making in the real world. Beyond price and a general outline of whether the wine is Old World or New World and the basic category (Red Blend, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and so on) the judges evaluate the wine based on their sense of how well it goes with food, how appropriate it is for a restaurant and how good a value it presents.
This sense of value and food-ability is what makes the results of this competition useful, to me at least. I’ve seen many wines get impressive ratings only to find that so little was made it is nearly impossible to find and that it will be priced beyond my reach if I ever do find it. In other words, I find the results of Best in Glass practical – useful to me in my daily quest for a nice glass of wine.
We hosted some of the best sommeliers in South Florida – talented wine experts with a grasp of reality and, in every case, really nice people. And here’s the good news – the wines they selected will be available to you at many of your favorite restaurants in March. Each of the sommeliers pledges to feature at least two Gold Medal wines by the glass in his or her restaurant during the month leading up to the Miami Wine & Food Festival. That means from March 15 through April you’ll find the wines that most impressed the sommeliers at some of the top restaurants in South Florida. We will post the full list of gold medal wines here on the Festival website, and in a few days time I will post my own selection of Gold Medal wines that I think are particularly worth seeking out. They are all good, but there’s a Romanian rosé, a red from Washington state with an Italian accent, a vibrant white from Italy and a few others that you might not think to see out without that gold medal hanging around the bottle’s neck.
It was such a great experience watching and hearing the sommeliers at work – these men and women are dedicated professionals with a social conscience who gave up two precious days off in order to put their palates to work for United Way of Miami-Dade. Thanks to our festival staff, there was plenty of beer for them after the judging was completed. As a winemaker friend once told me, it takes a lot of beer to make a great wine, and clearly, it takes a lot of beer to recuperate after tasting more than 200 wines in two days. A tip of the tastevin to our wonderful somms, and lucky us, we will be toasting them soon with Gold Medal wines!
The last somms standing – some of the judges who stuck around after the BIG Wine
Challenge for a relaxing glass with their colleagues and Festival Staff. Front Row:
Eric Larkee (Michael’s Genuine), Guillermo Goméz (Zuma), Ervin Machado
(La Gloutonnerie), Laura Romano (Hollywood Prime), Don Derocher (The
Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach), Bora Stankovik (St. Regis Bal Harbour); Back Row: Kirsta
Grauberger (Market 17), Brian Grandison (Michael’s Genuine), Tim Bubar (Timo),
Sylvie Gervais (Mizner Country Club) and Christopher Lindemann (dbBistro Moderne)
© 2013 Lyn Farmer