Jim Trezise, director of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, gives as concise and cogent a rationale for wine competitions as I've heard: "Professional wine competitions provide an opportunity to assess the levels of quality in a wide range of wines. Because taste is a totally subjective sense, tasting wines is by nature a subjective experience. Having a panel of four different judges - with different tastes, professional backgrounds, and geographical origins - taste the wines 'blind' (without knowing their origin) adds an element of objectivity to the process."
Trezise's comments are in his list of directives to 24 judges who have gathered in Napa for the 2007 New York Wine & Food Classic, a competition that has drawn a record high 790 wines. All are from New York. Why in the world has Trezise gone to all the logistical trouble of packing up several bottles of each entry, along with a crew of 18 staff members and volunteers, and brought them cross country to stage the judging in the nation's highest profile wine region? What's more, this is the second time in five years that he's done it.
As before, Trezise wants to see how New York wines will fare in a far-flung market when they are judged mostly by judges from outside the Empire State (just six of the judges are from New York). By holding the competition in Napa Valley, he also hopes to raise the stature of New York wines through the publicity the judging likely will attract.
Trezise does something else unusual with the competition. He will sprinkle through the classes some 30 "ringer" wines. These will be "high-quality, well-known, higher priced wines" from other states and countries. He does this to see how New York wines are measuring up against benchmark wines from elsewhere.
Californians are the luckiest wine enthusiasts in the nation. We have a vast array of wines in an almost equally vast range of prices right in our backyard. Californians aren't provincial about this treasure - witness the rising popularity here of wines from other countries - but we're largely oblivious to the wines being made in other states, unless we stumble across them while traveling. Most of the New York wines we'll taste today will never get out here, they sell so briskly back home. The availability of direct shipment from winery to consumer, however, has made them more accessible to Californians in recent years.
By judging at past New York wine competitions, I've discovered several wineries from which I haven't hesitated to order wine - Hermann J. Wiemer, Ravines Wine Cellars and Swedish Hill Vineyards, among others. I'm looking forward to more such revelations today.