Appetizers
May 29, 2008
Chardonnays, Cabernets and Now Roses

Aside from the magnitude of the undertaking - about 3,500 wines, 510 olive oils and 126 spirits - the 2008 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition got under way yesterday without major incident or development.

Everything is judged blind, and awards won't be revealed until June 14, so there's not much news to report at this time. The four-person panel I'm on judged 105 wines yesterday, including 45 barrel-fermented 2006 chardonnays priced $12 to $23 and 56 2005 cabernet sauvignons priced up to $15.

We agreed on five gold medals for the chardonnays, seven for the cabernets. While the chardonnays were enjoyable largely because winemakers seem to be lightening their use of oak, the cabernets were a much more exciting class, primarily because the wines were more focused. They had more to say, and they said it with surprising clarity at that price. "I'm surprised. They're pretty damn nice," said Jon McPherson at the end of the cabernet judging. He's the chair of our panel, and when he isn't doing that he's winemaker for South Coast Winery in Temecula. "They have depth of character, the oak is integrated, and tannins are in balance. They offer good value," he added.

The other panelists are Patty Held, an owner of Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Mo., and Coke Roth of Richland, Wash., an attorney developing a vineyard in Washington's Red Mountain district. When we resume in a couple of hours we'll first face 61 roses, to be followed by 35 syrahs. Not a bad way to spend a Thursday

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