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Adrift in a sea of wine with a panel of masters

For 2 days early this month, six nationally renowned wine judges sniffed, sipped and spit the wines entered in the Oregon Wine Competition. While this may sound like a wine lover’s dream, this was a daunting task. Some statistics: 103 wineries entered 351 wines (up from 68 wineries and 218 wines last year). Entries included 210 reds, 106 whites, and 35 other (rosé, sparkling, and sweet). Of the 37 varieties entered in the competition, pinot noir had the most entries with 73, followed by chardonnay with 29.

The judging panel included three women and three men, and four Masters of Wine. There are only 356 Masters of Wine worldwide. Bree Boskov is the new education manager for the Oregon Wine Board and a native Australian. Eric Degerman is the president/CEO of GreatNorthwest.com. Tim McNally is one of the foremost professional wine judges in the U.S. Barbara Philip is the first and only female Master of Wine in Canada. D.C. Flynt is with Flynt Inc./ DC Flynt MW Selections. Tim Hanni is a professionally trained chef and one of the first two resident Americans to become a Master of Wine.

After all 351 bottles had been opened and sampled and secret ballots tallied, the judges conducted a Judges’ Forum to discuss their general impressions of the wines and Southern Oregon. The forum, moderated by Dr. Greg Jones, was well attended by winery and vineyard owners and winemakers.

The judges were particularly impressed with the hospitality they experienced in Southern Oregon. D.C. Flynt said Southern Oregon “is a great place to visit”, and that “people will forget about Napa once they get here.”

In response to questioning from the attendees, the judges all felt that the pinot noir entries were the most consistently good, followed by tempranillo. The judges were most (pleasantly) surprised by the malbec (“incredible”), sangiovese, and syrah (“terrific”).

The judges also offered some suggestions for what is in many ways still a fledgling industry here in Southern Oregon:

  • For many wine consumers outside of Oregon, Oregon wine begins at pinot noir and ends at chardonnay. But as the 37 entered varieties indicate, the Oregon wine industry is much more than that. The judges challenged the audience to help educate consumers about the breadth of wines made well here.
  • The judges encouraged winemakers to explore other winemaking regions of the world to broaden their understanding of how the varieties we make here are made in their home countries, thereby leading to making even better wines here at home.

In the end, the goal of every winemaker is to make the best wine that she or he can. D.C. Flynt put it succinctly: “If it’s not a three-glass wine, it’s not worth drinking.”

The results of the Wine Competition will be revealed at the Medal Celebration on Aug. 23. For tickets and information, go to TheOregonWineExperience.com.

— Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Contact him at rogue.enofiles@gmail.com.