November 10, 2007
101 Cabernets In The Hall

IMGP1969_edited.jpgThey tell me that fall is the best time of the year in Houston. Among those telling me that are these four Houstonians. From the left, they are John Saladino, a wine broker; Robert Gilroy, the Texas sales manager for California's Kendall-Jackson Vineyards & Winery; Guy Stout, a Master Sommelier and director of beverage education for Glazer's, a chain of wine, spirits and malt stores; and Rich Ogle, a retired environmental consultant who now teaches technical writing at the University of Houston.

The five of us just spent eight hours judging wine for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. That whole time we were in these curtained quarters inside the massive Reliant Center, next door to the even more massive Reliant Standium, home of the Houston Texans. Fourteen other panels were similarly sequestered. I know the weather outside is wonderful only because the temperature gauges in the vehicles shuttling us from hotel to judging have been telling us that the highs have been fluctuating between the upper 70s and low 80s.

Our panel judged 134 wines today, 101 of which were a single class of cabernet sauvignons priced $15 or less. This is an important class, given the popularity of cabernet sauvignon and the appeal of inexpensive wines. As a group, they were pretty impressive, offering a generally bright drinkability if not a whole lot of weight and complexity. We won't get the results until Friday, but I suspect we gave an unusually high proportion of silver and bronze medals. While we didn't award a whole lot of gold medals, I look forward to seeing the winners, knowing that we were patient and focused in our deliberations. There was little unanimity in our group, but our differences were more narrow than wide. The characteristic that stood out among the wines was their virtual flawlessness, which speaks to the technological advancements that have been made in grape growing and winemaking over the past three decades or so.

Amazingly, not a single wine we had today was "corked," which is to say spoiled by a bad cork. When I remarked on my surprise at the end of the day, another judge said that could be because the competition has someone smell each wine before it is sent out to the judges to make sure it isn't tainted. I haven't confirmed that, but if that's the case I haven't heard of another wine competition on the planet going to that extreme.

Much to my surprise, none of these Houstonians was wearing cowboy boots. One even wore sandals. The only judge I've seen with a pair of boots on is from...Bordeaux.

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