Wine Competition Evaluation

Behind the Taste NW Wine Awards

Have you ever wondered about behind the scenes details at wine awards programs? On Saturday and Sunday, April 13-14, the Taste NW Wine & Cider Awards took place at the historic Swedish Club in Seattle, Washington. Advanced Sommelier and Taste NW Executive Director, Christopher Chan, extended an invitation to be a member of the Tasting Panel. Extremely honored, I accepted, of course. The following is some insight gained as to what goes into a program of this scale.

Wine Competition Setup

The Taste NW Wine & Cider Awards encompass the Seattle Wine Awards, Oregon Wine Awards, and Idaho Wine Awards. Celebrating its twelfth anniversary this year, it is lauded as the premier Pacific Northwest wine and cider evaluation and awards program. Each entry is evaluated for aroma, flavor, typicity, balance, complexity, and overall impression. In the end, the top expressions earn Double Gold, Gold, Silver, and Bronze Grand Awards of Excellence.

Wine Professionals
2019 Wine Awards Tasting Panel (Image Courtesy of Seattle Wine Awards)

The Scene

As part of the tasting panel, I arrive suited up. The spacious room where the evaluation takes place is filled with tables covered in white cloths. Light bounces off rows and rows of glasses atop each table. In an adjacent room, the sommelier team stains their hands uncorking 600 bottles for evaluation that day. Additional glasses line the hallway. In the kitchen,  palate cleansing snacks (glory be, I smell bacon!) are plated. Meanwhile, those of us on the panel receive instructions and scoring sheets. Then, the tasting begins. Very innocently at first, mind you, with sparkling wine one day and rosé the next. The fuller bodied wines come later.

bacon nuts crackers hummus jerky
Palate Cleansing Snacks Save the Day

A prestigious wine evaluation program of this magnitude takes a lot of people, vast space, and carefully executed planning and coordination. It is truly an impressive feat! Here is a look at it by the numbers.

Wine Evaluation Shelly Fitzgerald Roy Hersh

2,400 Pieces of Stemware

The number of Riedel glasses is astonishing! Can you imagine washing all that crystal?

1,200 Entries

The 2019 Taste NW Wine & Cider Awards cover over 1,200 Pacific Northwest wines, mead, fruit wine, and North American cider and Perry submitted for evaluation. Entries are tasted single blind. In other words, panelists know the variety being tasted in each flight.

120 Glasses Per Day

Each panelist evaluates approximately 120 glass pours per day. Consequently, spitting is absolutely necessary.

24 Panelists

The 2019 Seattle Wine Awards boasts a Tasting Panel of 24 local, national and international industry professionals. The accomplished group includes Sommeliers running highly acclaimed restaurant wine programs, wine buyers for major retailers, winery founders, winemakers, and wine educators. Being in the same room with such well respected people in the industry is very humbling.

12+ Sommeliers

Executing the evaluation is no small feat. A daily team of 12+ sommeliers and volunteers pop, proof, and pour all the beverages being evaluated.

2 Days

Evaluation of entries takes place over 2 days.

1 Week Recovery

There is an unspoken side effect to tasting upwards of 100 wines a day. Sure, purple teeth and tongue are predictable. It was surprising how sensitive my teeth and gums were after the tasting evaluation, however. Careful brushing with special tooth paste and avoidance of sweet foods ensued the following week until things returned to normal.

2019 Taste NW Winners

Highlights of the experience include exceptional flights of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux blends. Of course, thank goodness for the palate refreshing Rieslings and Rosés! Follow along on Instagram and Twitter as I reveal some of the Double Gold winners and pleasant surprises in the days ahead. Share your favorites and #LetsTalkAboutWine!