I had the good fortune last week, as a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), to take part in a portion of the 74th annual Los Angeles International Wine Competition. Each member of our small group had the privilege of joining a table of wine judges to taste alongside them. Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser was our table’s chair and he was joined by Jon McPherson, master winemaker at South Coast Winery as well as Rebecca Chapa and Laely Heron. Let’s get this straight. I thought I knew a little about wine. I now realize just how little I know. Watching this talented group sniff, taste, spit and evaluate these wines in lightning fast fashion was humbling.There were the references you might expect regarding nose and palate, but the technical terminology left me in awe. Although this is very serious business, there was a refreshing lightheartedness at our table. Rebecca threw out the term “tastes like lady bugs” more than once. Who knew? I was pleased, however, that more often than not, my scores were in line with the judges. In the morning session we tasted 15 non vintage Pinot Grigios, 15 2011 Sauvignon Blancs priced at $15 and up, 43 2010 Cabernet Sauvignons priced at $15 – $29.99, 11 Syrah/Shirazes from 2009 and five Syrah/Shirazes from 2008 and earlier. A few were no brainers. The group came to an immediate agreement on the best of class Cabernet. A few wines didn’t pass the sniff test and weren’t even tasted. In a few instances, one of the judges noticed an inconsistency on the nose and requested that a new bottle be opened. It was an experience I won’t forget. I hope to sit at one of those tables as a judge someday. Results will be announced June 3rd.
We joined the judges for lunch outside at the Sheraton Fairplex beneath yellow umbrellas on a sun drenched afternoon. The Sheraton was the host hotel for the competition. Executive Chef David Teig presented a lovely buffet highlighted by Atlantic Char, lamb, salads and a wonderful cheese table. After a bit of quiet time, we boarded a trolley car for the short ride to McKinley’s Farm. Located on the Fairplex grounds, the farm sits on a third of an acre and everywhere you turn you see lush produce growing, ripe for the picking. Chef Teig did a lot of picking and served it to us on bountiful plates. We were greeted with tray passed Hors d’oeurves, Sobi Nori roll, Hamachi sashimi, sunny side up quail egg on an uni cone with white soy Ponzu. We enjoyed a wide assortment of wines, previous best of class recipients, while we savored grilled Pacific octopus with early farm peaches and Anaheim chiles (I would have been satisfied with just that), spring farm tomatoes, charred jumbo San Joaquin Delta asparagus with Morel mushrooms and aged Pecorino, grilled ostrich and stuffed Jidori chicken with a black pepper lovage glaze. And there there was the dessert station, offering a licorice/sassafras custard with saffron honey and dessert wine snow cones, an absolutely perfect finishing touch to a most memorable day.