PHOTOS, NOTES AND ATTEMPTS AT HUMOR
On a warm sunny morning in June of 2011, wine experts from
around the world gathered at San Francisco's Hotel Nikko for the San Francisco
International Wine Competition judging.
This was the 31st edition of this prestigious event and it's an honor to be
invited to rub elbows with such an esteemed panel of tasters.
We were all a bit surprised to see there was another major event coinciding with
our tasting at the same venue...
So while our various panels of medal-awarding judges were looking for a pot of
gold, the folks upstairs from us were merely looking for the pot.
Yes, our mission was to weed out the bronze medal wines from the silvers from
the golds and Double Golds...And there were numerous panels ready to hash out
In keeping with this theme, our fearless leader, Anthony Dias Blue, told the
judges that the number of wines entered was at "an all time high."
And the clip-board toting Chandler Moore told us that the entries "flooded
the joint" as they flowed in over the previous couple of weeks.
Everybody, it seems, is a comedian.
And so, with that, we gathered with our
various panel members to collectively sniff, sip and spit our way through
several hundred wines in search of medal-deserving wines.
You might say the search for Double Gold medal winners is a joint effort, as all
the judges on a panel must award a gold for a wine to be so honored. I'm certain long time readers of this "blog" (of sorts) have long
thought these photo essays were going to pot. This year, though, we have
My panel was comprised of a couple of Southern Hemisphere luminaries...
(As in "Get the 'L outta here!")
Jim and his wife Wendy run The Gates, a small resort featuring swimming, tennis,
hiking and, of course, food and wine.
Jim is a brilliant and skilled taster. His grandfather, father and brother
were all winemakers and Jim studied winemaking and grape-growing in Hawke's
Bay's Eastern Institute of Technology. He's involved in wine judgings
around the planet and has the wrists to prove it.
My other panel mate this year was the
esteemed Ronald Brown.
Ron is quite a Maverick...
Actually, he's not a gunslinger, but a wine slinger...
Ron is a co-proprietor and winemaker at Australia's Maverick Wines,
making him the Baron of Barossa.
He also has his name associated with The Japan Wine Challenge...
Gerald Weisl, student of wine.
The irrepressible Debbie Zachareas, who's
known to some as
THE FERRY GAWD (or "Oh My Gawd!") MOTHER,
assures that we have things covered from "A" as in Andy to
Jeffery Stivers, famous Los Angeles sommelier, had been briefly affiliated with
some big, fat Greek place. These days Stivers-san is demonstrating his
black belt-proficiency in wine pairings at the Los Angeles restaurant of chef
San Francisco wine
June Andy Blue's Judging
Double Gold Medal
Brian Baker hangs out in places where the locals speak Spanish...he was
sighted recently in Ensenada, Pamplona and, of course, in Calistoga,
Being a fan of gravity (and always obeying its law), Brian is an avid
That's Brian wearing the shower cap and his Depends underwear with a 'checked'
suitcase of Chateau Montelena Cabernet 'trailing' he and his son Trevor as they
head for home.
Brian's wife Linda has asked why they can't simply take the bus "like
Well, at least he brought his high-flying act to San Francisco!
Ron Washam is The Class Clown at this wine judging weekend. His IQ
usually mirrors the number on a price tag of bottles of reserve wines on Napa
Valley Cabernets before the downturn in the economy.
He's got more theories than Einstein...
Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended
into the finest Italian wines in order to make them understandable to
stupid American wine buyers. It almost never makes them better.
The best New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs can remove your
pet’s carpet accidents.
What are we looking for when we
taste a Chardonnay? Me, I’m looking for an excuse not to like it.
I’m Simon Cowell and every Chardonnay is a contestant on “American
Idol.” I’m a Republican and every Chardonnay is a National Health
Care plan. I’m Donald Trump and every Chardonnay is a hair stylist.
Everyone tries not to like Chardonnay, but it’s still wildly popular.
Like airport security.
Ron is aware of the UC Davis 20 Point Scoring system we're
told, but these days he can only count as high as 18.
Also on Panel M is the Mara-thong Man, Charles Mara.
Mr. Mara heads up The Mara Wine Group.
We believe he's a fan of various sports teams in The Empire State.
Drake McCarthy was also on this illustrious panel.
Our Man Drake traded in his diamonds a few years ago for gold...
This may explain why Mr. Mara is often heard exclaiming "You da Man,
Drake!" as the panel racks up another double gold.
Today Drake works with an especially impressive line-up of
Spanish wines, though he dabbles in French, Italian and others...but he doesn't
often toot his own horn...
...or does he?
Michael Hantman is the president of "Wine Phone."
Mr. Hantman asked Andy "What if the Hokey Pokey really is what
it's all about?"
Mr. Blue replied "Actually, this weekend it's all about the medals."
Piedmont's Dr. Bill McNabb is well known for spreading the enological gospel.
He doesn't merely write "tasting notes..." They're more like
Bill wondered if some of the vintners were truly ordained as winemakers.
Leading the panel was Dr. Valery Uhl.
She's probably the wine judge who's most "in demand." Valery has
tasted at the Japan Wine Challenge, the California State Fair, the Amador County
Fair, the Central Coast Wine Competition, the El Dorado County Fair Wine
Competition, the West Coast Wine Competition and immediately following this
weekend's events, she's off to The Badger State for the Wisconsin State Fair
Professional Wine Competition...this taking place where the official state
beverage is milk and the official state dance is the polka.
Here's a photo of Hokey-Polka-wine tasters....
...Dr. Valery and Michael Hantman.
There are many Parkers in the world of wine.
Here's the best...
Deborah Parker Wong.
She's been quoted as saying
"To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach. To judge wine,
Jim McMahon is a globe-trotting Australian wine judge who's been a fixture at
the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
He knows all of Australia's wine regions (and their rituals!) and he wrote the
Captain Nick Ponomareff of the California Grapevine chaired this esteemed panel.
Nick's wine letter, the California Grapevine, is a treasure trove of wine
tasting results. It's been around forever, making Cap'n Ponomareff
officially an "old timer."
By the way, I snuck a peek at Mr. McMahon's "Wine
Critic's Took Box..."
Ann Littlefield was in fine form, as usual.
These days Ann works as a free lance marketing consultant.
Her Mom routinely checks for Ann Littlefield sightings on the internet, so
Another sunny member of this panel is Rosina Tinari Wilson.
Rosina also has a nice little wine judging video
(which didn't escape notice)
Jerry Cooper is a Swirl-Master.
Leading this panel is Jim Trezise...
Jim is Mister Riesling and Mister New York...
Meanwhile, the Cha-Chas were all a Twitter...
Mendel Kohn is a proponent of the locally-popular "Fear The Beard"
He also plays hardball when tasting wines...
Another Mendel Kohn...
Mendel's All Star panel included the West Coast Wine Tasting Veteran Jane
Steve Bell works for the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena.
Steve often chimed in with his review of the various wines, giving gold medal
notations to those most appealing.
Katie Ballou Calhoun managed Panel F. Katie is a great communicator and spends her days getting the word out.
Bill William Bloxsome-Carter was amused by one of the
funnier-tasting wines. Bill William is the executive chef at the Playboy Mansion in
Southern California, making him "Hef's Chef."
William keeps a pin-up calendar in the kitchen...
Yes...this month you won't find Miss June, but another of Mr. Hefner's
Also tasting with Katie is Double T...
Timmy "Skyscraper" Teichgraeber is a legal-beagle most of the week, but unleashes his passion
for wine on a regular basis. Tim is also a Modern Wine blogger...
I'm certain I heard someone say "Ellen Landis Shore
has a good palate."
Ellen has an interesting blog, illustrating she's a major league wine geek...
She and her husband run a spiffy Bed & Breakfast in Half Moon Bay out
on the coast...
Meanwhile, I was not the only one attempting to take some snapshots during
Wilfred even had color film in the camera this time!
Rosina was using Black & White.
Mark Bowery chaired Panel C, The Bowery Boys.
Steve Izzo of Waterbar was also on the panel.
Mark and Steve were lucky to have The Mad Hungarian on their panel...
The inimitable George Skorka.
What panel other than Panel B (as in BLUE) has
their own license plate?
ANTHONY DIAS BLUE,
Someone asked Andy about his finest hour...and we found
this timeless masterpiece...
Ziggly Eschliman was on Andy's panel...
Ziggy can be heard on Sonoma radio...
She's a rock-star-of-a-wine-guru!
Famous New Zealand wine pioneer Kate Radburnd from The Wine Institute of New
Zealand, the Eastern Institute of Technology and the Institute of CJ Pask.
Kate is truly a living legend in the New Zealand wine world
and she recently won the prestigious Sir George Fistonich Medal.
Also on this All-Star Panel is Tim McDonald...
Another year with a spitting image of Old McDonald.
Master Sommelier Kevin Vogt always hopes to find wines with a sense of place.
His favorite would be "first place" and the not-so-hot entry would be
Kevin was able to easily terroirize his fellow panel members.
One of those who's not easily terroirized is Ron Siragusa...
Ron is the wine director at Kuleto's in San Francisco and the Bar Norcini next
After many years of Berlitz classes, Ron has lost his New York accent.
Janet Dyer is a mainstay at the San Francisco International judging.
The hardest working woman in the wine business lives in The City and she
managed to keep her three other panel members under control.
Wilfred raised a glass in honor of his beloved San Francisco Giants.
Despite the team batting average under .240, Wilfred still gives them a 90+
rating, noting their subtle start in the first few innings and their strong
finish in the 8th and 9th.
The clean-shaven Wong does "fear the beard."
He's a big fan of MadBum, Pat The Bat, The Freak and Huff
The Giants refer to him as "Wil The Thril."
The Vine Guy, Scott Greenberg, is one of the swifter judges at this wine event.
Scott is one of the w-TOP tasters and his presence on Panel A was, according to
Anthony Dias Blue, "Insurance."
Greg Walter is the editor and taster of The Pinot Report, a newsletter for Pinot
fanatics. Greg is a west coast guy, having grown up in San Mateo, attended San Diego
State University and now resides in Sonoma...
Gary Blackwell is the Dharma Warrior of the tasting's judges.
John Cunin is a fan of good wine as well as the noted wine connoisseur,
President Teddy Roosevelt (who said “It is not the critic who
counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the
doer of deeds could have done them better." -- was Roosevelt,
we wonder, referring to some of today's wine critics?).
John is with the Patina Restaurant Group and works as their Service
Captain Cunin chaired Panel A.
The famed Epicurean Traveling Wine Palate, Scott Clemens, joined the fun this
Scott is an avid reader and appreciates the words of
another Clemens, Samuel, who wrote "Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne
is just right."
Michael Feil, famous wine caddy at the Westchester Country Club in New York.
Here he's clearly in the pink...
He showed off some new golf balls they're using on the links in Rye...
Mr. Feil has especially good wine-tasting fore-sight and is adept at picking out
the aces and eliminating the bogeys.
Kimberly Charles (K-C-Brulee to her friends) is fluent in French, Italian and
(What would one expect from a communicator?) She also has earned a degree in Single Malt Scotch as well as having a Black
Belt in Wine Tasting.
Rebecca Chapa is the judging's top singer (her guitar is under the table).
She manages Tannin...
Jeff Anderson opens lots of bottles for thirsty patrons at the Gary Danko
restaurant in The City.
Not too many people know Jeff is a comedian...
Here's an example of his hilarity...
Also on this panel is Katherine Cole.
Katherine writes for Portland's newspaper...
Her wine columns are thoroughly professional and she's well worth reading...
Here's a book she's written concerning biodynamic wine growers...
Anchoring Panel G was Robert Silverstein.
Bob is quite capable of multi-tasking, as we noticed here.
"...let's see: a four letter word for a top medal winning