June 19-21, 2009
A sure sign that Summer has arrived is annual wine
judging called the
San Francisco International Wine Competition.
The signs were all over town...
...city bus stops...
...the Westfield Mall...
(Keep in mind: in LA and New York, they hail taxis. In San Francisco,
we hail Cabs!)
...the Golden Gloves, where pugilists know there would be more than 4000
contestants duking it out for gold medals...
Some of the Double Gold Medal winners are,
...and since he's suspended from baseball for 50 games, even Manny, being
"It's time for Andy to be Andy."
And so he was...
Andy was suited up and ready to take on the challenge of tasting hundreds of
wines over the course of three days with 43 other esteemed wine judges from
around the planet.
More than 4200 wines, in fact!
This year the "schedule" was different, having
all the judges begin on Friday morning, tasting the wines through Saturday
afternoon with the "Best of Show" judging on Sunday morning.
I was especially impressed seeing Sun Worshipper
Valery Uhl even had the event logo tattooed on her arm!
One of the stalwart wine judges was missing and we spotted a "wanted"
poster on several lamp posts near Union Square.
So, on a sunny Friday morning, Panels A through M began the
arduous task of tasting. Sniffing, sipping and spitting was the order of
the daze and we made our way through an incredibly wide range of wines.
I was on Panel L with two terrific wine judges.
One was Bob Goldstein.
When he awards a second-tier medal to a wine,
he's Bob Silverstein.
When he finds 3rd tier wines,
he's Bob Bronzestein.
Our other panel member was
The Mad Hungarian,
poet, philosopher and wine-savvy enophile,
the one and only
There are numerous Misters of Wine,
Mistresses of Wine and
Masters of Wine...
...but there's only one HOSEMASTER OF WINE.
Ron Washam has been on the lam since leaving Los Angeles several years ago.
This week he's holed up someplace near Healdsburg where he posts incredibly
funny items on his blog.
TO HAVE A LOOK AT RON'S MUSINGS.
Panel M was "saved by the Bell."
The Charles Krug winery's Steve Bell is especially adept at finding wines with a
The third member of Panel M who routinely chimed in was the formerly
"crabby" Jeffery K. Stivers.
Jeffery appreciates gold medal wines and Ancient Age Bourbon
One outta two ain't bad.
The Bottle-Shocked Brian Baker spent the weekend on Panel I.
Brian doesn't like "half baked" wines and, these days, spends 40 hours
(and then some) a week at Chateau Montelena in Calistoga.
Ellen-on-Wine Landis appreciates the "blind-tasting" format, so her
eyes are closed as she has a sip of one of the glasses in the flight.
Globe Trotter Jim McMahon shows off his wedding ring, having been married in Las
Vegas just the day before.
As a result, Jim was tasting exclusively from special wine glasses.
Jim's either crazy or, apparently, Australian.
The Puckish Dana Farner anchors Panel I.
Dana tastes rigorously, looking for wines which make The Cut.
Ms. Farner likes to sing the praises of Riesling, Champagne and Nebbiolo.
She can, as it turns out, carry a tune as well as a case of wine.
The Golden State's Drake McCarthy taste with a couple of
East Coast goombas.
"Badda bing, badda boom, that's a gold medal wine!"
Michael Feil manages to come to San Francisco without his passport. He's
golfs' gift to the wine judging and sits in Tiger Woods' chair on Panel K.
The other goodfella on the panel is "Don" Charles Mara.
Always watch out for a guy who professes to carry his wine glasses or bottles in
a violin case.
The Capo di Tutti Capi on that panel...
Panel D featured Swirl-Meister Jerry Cooper.
Jerry is a Swirling Dervish during the tasting.
Ron Siragusa of Kuleto's Italian Restaurant in San Francisco accompanies Mr.
Cooper in arm wrestling with Wilfred Wong in awarding medals.
SF's WillieBoy in "action" during the judging.
Rosina Tinari Wilson adds a measure of dignity to the Rogue's Gallery that is
She's also a fan of seafood pasta.
Jancis Robinson's West Coast "nose" for news is journalist Linda
A former sports writer, Linda tackles the task of wine judging with enthusiasm
and admiration for vintners who take the harvest "one day at a time"
and who give "110 percent."
"Swing and miss," she said when tasting this particular wine,
"though we did taste one which was a home run!"
Wine Impressionist Rusty Albert is part of the triple play combo with Linda
Murphy and Lisa Weeks comprising Panel F.
"It's definitely crunch time and I'd say this winemaker seems to have lost
a step or two..."
Linda Murphy was relieved when she discovered she was tasting with Rusty Albert
and not Marv Albert.
Wine Diva Girl Lisa Weeks appreciates premium wines of quality and
passion. Though she appears perfectly normal, Lisa has a "smush
nose" which allows her to appreciate the aroma and bouquet of the wines
"Woof!" she said. "This one is a little
Nick Ponomareff has begun his second quarter-of-a-century in publishing the
California Grapevine wine letter. A gentleman and a scholar, Nick is a
veteran wine taster (his hair was much darker in color when he began publishing
the wine letter!).
He's on Panel G (as in "grape vine") this year.
New Zealander Jim Harre is a globe-trotting Wine Guru.
He's affiliated with Air New Zealand and is the proprietor of The Gates Country
Lodge in New Zealand's south island.
We routinely notice Jim swirls his wine glass in a counter-clockwise
fashion. He claims Kiwis can detect more fragrances this way than if they
swirl in a clockwise manner.
The Globally Vintuitive Tim McGarr is a communicator of the art and science of
Ann Littlefield is the fourth member of the Panel G quartet.
Ann logs thousands of frequent flyer miles as she judges wines at competitions
all over the US of A.
She's on a first name basis with baggage handlers at SFO and other airports.
Her Mom spends hours "googling" Ann Littlefield in an effort to
keep track of her baby.
HELLO TO ANN'S MOM FROM ALL THE JUDGES AND ORGANIZERS OF
THE SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION!
Panel E was known this year as the
That would be Chapa & Charles.
Anyone who knows the incomparable Rebecca Chapa recognizes this as a mighty rare
So, for all those who are disappointed, we present a more "normal"
image of Becky Chapstick.
When her tongue ain't waggin', it's busy tastin' wine.
Rebecca's partner in (wine and) crime is the inimitable Kimberly Charles.
K-C is a Dame d'Escoffier who appreciates the beauty of the cuisine at
Taylor's Refresher in St. Helena.
She's a public relations and marketing wizard.
Attorney Tim Teichgraeber attempts to "lay down the law" to The Cha-Cha's,
but finds the task daunting.
For some reason the Cha-Cha's refer to T-T as "Timmy
Perhaps because he's able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?
Panel J (as in Jane and Janet) had three persnickety
Janet Dyer is a native Californian and, these days, is in a "jam."
Janet is an independent wine broker and, despite her youthful
appearance, has been around the Bay Area wine scene for decades. She can,
for example, correctly spell "Tchelistcheff," a name with which few
'youngsters' are even familiar. Come to think of it, many of the 'kids'
have difficulty spelling BV.
Beverage Guru Sean Ludford is sandwiched in between the two J's. Sean is a
"craic" meister and always has a story or two up his short sleeve...
OF SEAN'S STORIES
Pat was lying on his deathbed, moaning and carrying on.
"Mick," he says, "I know I'm a goner."
"Oh, Paddy, have faith, ye still have years ahead uv yuh."
"No, Mick, I'm finished an' you've been such a great friend,
there's one thing I'd like yuh to do when I'm gone."
"Ahh, Paddy, I'll do anything you ask, I swear it to the Saints and
the Holy Mother."
"Well, dear friend, I have been saving a bottle of Double Gold
Medal Pinot Noir that my cousin, Andy Blue don'tcha know, sent me
from California some three years ago after the San Francisco judging,
and I would like you to pour it on me grave when I'm buried."
Mick sits silently for a long time and Pat asks again,
"Will you do that for yer oldest friend, Mick?"
Mick draws a deep breath and says, "Ye know I will Pat, but would
ye mind if I filter it through me kidneys first?'
An Irish priest is driving down to San
Francisco and gets stopped for speeding in Napa. The Highway Patrol
officer smells alcohol on the priest's breath and then sees an empty
Zinfandel bottle on the floor of the car. He says,
"Sir, have you been drinking?"
"Just water," says the priest.
The cop asks, "Then why do I smell wine?"
The priest looks at the bottle and says,
"Good Lord! He's done it again!"
Jane Rate has been a sommelier on both coasts and is currently opening bottles
A former member of Charlie's Angels, Jane has been in Oregon for a short
while. She reports there's a lot of precipitation there and so she
questioned a little kid "When's it going to stop raining here?" and
the little fellow replied, "Lady, I'm only six. How am I supposed to
The "A Team" featured Riesling-Meister Steve Pitcher whom I found with
some unusually dark-colored wines.
Steve is far more "intense" than most of the wines in the competition.
He's known in some circles as "Dr. Pitcher" and were he to hail from
the Mosel, he'd probably be the Bernkasteler Doctor Pitcher.
Carl Grubbs hangs out on Rincon Hill in The City where he selects wines to go
with the grub at the Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant.
We noticed a faded tattoo on his left wrist, which read:
Mark Bowery is an old-time wine taster and is a veteran of the California Wine
Tasting Championships (with hardware, too!).
When I mentioned my panel had just finished tasting a flight of wines claiming
to be made of Merlots and we were charged with tasting White Zins, Mark offered
us some "hazard pay."
Steve, Carl and mark were joined on Saturday by...
Debbie Zachareas is known as the Ferry Godmother in some circles.
Here we see Debbie Vicarious
demonstrating a "horizontal" tasting.
William Bloxsom Carter is the chef at a place populated by buxom
bunnies...He's Hugh Hefner's chef at the Playboy Mansion in L.A. and has been
cooking for Hef for nearly a quarter of a century!
William claims he subscribes to The Wine Spectator "for the pictures and
not the articles." In between flights of wines, we noticed he was
looking at a Decanter magazine centerfold!
Geary Boulevard's Geary Blackwell.
Gary Blackwell, a fellow who appreciates fun wines, prefers his gold medal wines
to have some "pizzazz."
Vinifera's Mendel Kohn has been on both sides of the counter in the wine biz,
having worked both retail and wholesale.
He's the drummer in a rock band, Mercaptan & Tennille, which performs in
wine bars around the Bay Area.
"I wish I could drum up a few more double golds." he told us.
Katie Ballou-Calhoun is an avid runner, so the wine-judging "marathon"
of this tasting proved an easy task. She's a (San Francisco) Giant in the
world of wine & spirits' public relations.
Katie (pronounced Kahhhh-tee) adds a measure of elegance to the Rogue's
Gallery that is Panel H.
Ski Bunny and World-Traveling Wine Judge, Dr. Valery Uhl, has her bags packed
and is heading for a Japanese wine tasting.
Tokyo, apparently, is leady.
Valery will be asking the question "If white wine pairs well with fish, do
Chardonnay grapes go with sashimi?"
Greg Walter is not merely an "enophile," he's a Pinot-phile!
He operates the Carneros Press, which squeezes out words, not wine.
Here's a photo of Greg trying to squeeze out some medals.
Along with Greg and Valery, Michael Hantman looks for harmonious wines of note.
"It's Just Us," he explained as the trio searched for a Double
Gold Medal candidate.
Michael retired from a band called "The Grapes of Wrath."
Apparently they played in a car park and were the original garagistes.
That's where his musical career stalled.
Panel C is captained by our Fearless Leader, The Ayatollah Andy.
"If Barbara Boxer needs to be called 'Senator,' I think I ought to be
addressed as Pasha."
Australia's Alison Eisermann is a rocket scientist, microbiologist,
enologist, viticulturist, wine educator, wine judge, airplane pilot, ship's
captain and escape artist.
She survived several days of tasting on the same panel as the Pasha and the
Pasha's side-kick, Tim-We-Speak-Wine-McDonald.
Kate Radburnd has good instincts for gold medals, one of the reasons she's on
The Pasha's Panel.
Born in Australia, Kate crossed the ditch and is affiliated with the New Zealand
She enjoys going "OE" and coming to San Francisco.
"Wow! I had a squiz of Wine G...Does this stuff have some
pong! Someone ought to rattle their dags and rark up the winemaker of this
Kate, does indeed, speak Kiwi.
Also on The Pasha's Panel is Tim McDonald, Andy's
That's a "spitting image" if you've ever seen a spitting image.
Tim is also a master of canopy management and is a believer of the notion that
"every wine tells a story."
He'll also admit that "some are more eloquent than others."
Tim's part of a marketing group offering wines such as
and if that's not your cup of tea or red wine, how about
and then there's
(a highly allocated Napa Cabernet of which they made a handful of bottles) and
sell for $5,000 per 750ml.
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