July 27, 2007
Hoosier Hospitality is Sweet

The second full day of judging at the Indy International Wine Competition just ended. Our panel tasted 132 wines today, starting with pinot grigio and ending with ports.

A couple of broad snap judgments about the wines, the competition and Indiana:

- People east of the Rockies like their wines sweet. This could be true of people west of the Rockies, too, but the Midwesterners and Easterners are more open about expressing their taste preferences. If they weren't, winemakers catering primarily to them wouldn't be making so many sweet wines, right? We tasted so many I'm fretting a bit about diabetic shock. But what they've shown is that even if a wine is sweet it can be distinctive, refreshing and complex. I tasted some traminettes, rkatsitelis and geisenheims today that I'm sure could become wildly popular in California, if only Californians would acknowledge their sweet tooth, and if only the wines weren't made in such small quantities that they don't get beyond New Jersey or Pennsylvania or New York or wherever they originate back here. (We only know the wines by numbers; their identities won't be revealed until after the sweepstakes voting Saturday.)

- Hoosiers sure are friendly, and they have a proud sense of humor. When our panel has a question about a wine, we wave a yellow flag. When we need attention immediately, we wave a red flag. When we're finished with a flight, we wave the checkered flag. Oh, and the attendants who set out our wines, clean up after us and so forth are known as the "Pit Cru." Clever.

- The judging is taking place on the grounds of the Indiana State Fair, which starts its 11-day run in early August. Think of Cal Expo as a Motel 6, then think of the Indiana fair grounds as a Ritz Carlton. The settings are that different. The monstrous exhibition halls here reflect the history and role that agriculture continues to play in Indiana. Agriculture is big in California, too, but we Californians just don't celebrate it as enthusiasticlaly. The biggest building I've seen is aptly named the Coliseum. They're all made of yellow or red brick; the true "Brickyard" here is the fairgrounds, not the better-known speedway also in Indianapolis. When the wine judges move out of the Blue Ribbon Pavilion, the sheep will move in. I'm tempted to hang around to see the show. Or I was until I asked a local if the Indiana State Fair includes a wine garden to recognize the growing role of wine as a significant Hoosier agricultural commodity (the state now has 35 wineries and 400 acres of grapes). Nope, the local explained, no alcoholic beverages are served on the fairgrounds during the fair. Since I can't picture having a corndog without a beer I haven't postponed Saturday's flight back to Sacramento.

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