Several of you have been asking for my thoughts on the results from the 2007 New York Food & Wine Classic in Napa a couple weeks ago. And I've taken quite a bit of time to ponder them and try to come up with some commentary. Some will probably surprise you. Some won't.
First, as commenter Jeff Houck pointed out in my previous post about the results, the full results have been posted online, just not where they were supposed to be. My frustration with newyorkwines.org is almost constant, but it is what it is.
On to the results themselves:
I haven't tasted all of the wines, so I can't say anything about this wine getting X medals versus that wine getting Y. Some wineries put wines in the competition before they are even released in the tasting room or to the press. But even if I had tasted them all, it doesn't make any sense to argue with the medals or even awards for 'best in class.'
Why? Well, as you've heard me say plenty of times, we all have different palates, and they had a group of well-respected judges taste the wines blind. In that set up, which is pretty standard, it's hard--if not impossible--to argue with their findings. Sure, I have my doubts about this style of tasting. Palate fatigue, tasting order, etc. all have an effect on any judges tongue, but, again, this is a fairly standard practice and it doesn't make any sense for me to argue with their findings.
That doesn't mean that we need to, or will, feel the same way about certain wines. And I doubt that most educated consumers will say "Oooh, this (insert varietal here) was the best in the state this year, I'll buy it without tasting it."
Next, let's talk about why it was in Napa rather than in New York, and how that may have affected things.
Like it or not, Napa is the center of American winemaking. It's the region that everyone thinks of and everyone knows. So from a promotion and publicity standpoint, I don't have any problem with the fact that the Classic was hosted there. In fact, I wish I could have gone...as a judge or not!
Where it gets a little ponderous for me is the selection of judges, which were predominantly Californians. I don't know any of the California judges personally, but it seems to me that California judges may (and I stress may, because this is a theory without any evidence) prefer California-style wines. I know that as a New York wine critic, I prefer cooler climate wines with balance, elegance and good acid. Those are the wines that taste best to me and they are the ones that I'd probably score higher. They may tend to enjoy well-extracted, lush, fruit-forward wines with big tannins (for reds), and fuller-bodied, fat whites.
One example that I can speak to is the wine that was named "Best Merlot," Bedell Cellars 2005 Reserve Merlot. This wine, particularly for Long Island, is huge, with big flavors, plenty of tannins and loads of fruit. I'm not surprised at all that this wine was well recieved. But at this point in it's development (it's still VERY young) it isn't yet displaying the secondary flavors and characteristics that make LI merlot stand out. I think it will, but right now they are hidden behind all that fruit. I love this wine because of what I think it will be, and like it for what it is.
But, this isn't meant as a diatribe against the judges in any way shape or form. They taste what they taste. They have the palates they have. No one can argue with that.
I wonder why the New York Wine and Grape Foundation chose to build a Californian-heavy panel though. Some suspect that the Foundation favors the Finger Lakes region over Long Island (that's where it's headquartered) but that, to me, makes it even more ponderous. Why would a region that shines with racy aromatic whites rely on California? How many CA rieslings have you had an enjoyed? I know that I've found very few, and that's okay. It's not what they do best.
For riesling, from a promotional standpoint, wouldn't it make more sense to have judges who know top flight riesling best? Maybe a panel of judges from Germany, Alsace and other top regions? Maybe for merlot a mix of Bordeaux and California? I'm starting to rant a bit here, but if the point of the Classic is to identify the best wines--in the context of the world market--this seems to make a lot more sense to me.
One last thing--wineries who complain about the results. I think that what I've said already makes it easy to guess what I'd say to wineries who are displeased with the medals and results for their wines, but I'll say it anyway.
You can blame the process, but you can't blame the judges. If you don't like how the whole thing is done, tell the Foundation. If you aren't happy with their response, don't send your wines next year. There are plenty of wineries who do not participate. Local wineries who didn't send wines include Lenz, Shinn and Raphael. Those are three of Long Island's best producers.
And in case you're wondering, no I don't agree with all of the 'best of' or the medals. But, that's just my opinion.
Note: I have edited this post since its initial publication, removing an overstatement that I should not have presented as undeniable fact. You can read about it in the comments.