At 7 a.m., the wine bar Vino Volo in Terminal A of Sacramento International Airport isn't open. No matter. Soon enough I'll have plenty of wine early enough. I'm en route to Rodeo Uncorked!, the commercial wine competition of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. For the next two days I'll be sequestered with other judges at Reliant Center to appraise an anticipated 2,000 or so wines.
Whenever I tell someone I'm going to Texas to judge wine, the reaction almost invariably is smarmy. Texan wines? Do they even know what wine is in Texas? In fact, Texas is one of the nation's major wine markets, and while there will be Texan wines in the judging, this is an international competition, so we can anticipate releases from Latin America, Australia and Europe as well as the United States.
Rodeo Uncorked! has been good to California wines. In each of the four years the competition has been held, a California wine has won the judging's top honor, Grand Champion Best of Show. Last year it was the Clos du Bois 2003 Alexander Valley Marlstone, a blend of black grape varieties common to Bordeaux.
They do a couple of things different to set apart the Houston competition from other judgings. The major winners get saddles, chaps and buckles in addition to the usual medals and ribbons. Also, each spring, when the livestock show and rodeo is held, they'll have an auction of oversized bottles of the major award winners. Earlier this year, a 9-liter bottle of the Clos du Bois Marlstone sold at the auction for $125,000. Despite skyrocketing fuel prices, the oil economy of Texas must be hurting. The year before, a 9-liter bottle of the Grand Champion wine - a cabernet sauvignon from Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley - sold at the auction for $200,000.