About a month ago, I was contacted by Beltway Bacchus, a blogger here in Northern Virginia, about a project he had worked on last year called the Virginia Wine Bracket Challenge. I had read about it last year when it occurred and I was quite interested in the concept but hadn’t really thought much about it until approached by Beltway Bacchus. You see, he was looking for a place to host the event and some ideas on how to make it better.
So I spoke to Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars and got him to agree to host the event. Then as we started to break down last year’s event, we realized that one of the most troubling aspects of that tournament was the fact that there was a lot of comparing of apples to wagyu beef. So to level the playing field, we thought that it would be best to limit the field to only Cabernet Franc wines. I then spoke to the Diminutive One who suggested that not only should it just be Cab Francs, but it should be limited further to just 2010 vintage Cabernet Francs that won medals in this year’s Virginia Governor’s cup. And so, our field was set.
The next step was to come up with judging rules by which wines would be advanced through the tournament. On the surface, the idea is simple. Just compare two wines and decide which one is liked better. However, for one or two people to do all the judging could turn into a messy ordeal. So we needed a way to have each judge not have to taste too many wines yet to get their opinion on as many wines as possible. What was decided upon was to have sixteen judges judge two wines during each round of the competition for a total of eight wines tasted for each judge.
In each round, each judge would taste two wines and give one of the wines a point in each of the following categories: appearance, nose, taste, technical and drinkability. This was either/or scoring, only one of the wines could get a point in any category and a perfect score from a judge would equal five points with the other wine getting zero. In the first round each wine was to be judged by two judges and the scores from the two judges were then totaled to see which wine advanced into the next round. In round two the wines were to be judged by four judges, in round three the wines would be judged by eight judges and in the final round the wines would be judged by all 16 judges.
The categories themselves were just a touch arbitrary, relying on personal opinion as much as anything. The design of this challenge is much more akin to a beauty contest than scientific scrutiny. The appearance, nose and taste categories were all about sensory perception. Simply put, which wine looked, smelled or tasted better. The technical category was the scientific one, looking for how well crafted the wine is. Too much acid, alcohol, tannins? Does it show typicity or traditional varietal character? Finally, the drinkability category was all about which of the two wines you would like to sit down and have a glass of.
That being said, the judges invited were all members of the wine community either as a blogger or as an industry professional with one notable exception. Ms Cocktail’s cousin’s husband was invited to judge as he is a wine enthusiast and would provide an excellent control point to make sure we hadn’t all lost our minds. In the next article, we’ll talk about the specifics of who was there, both as judges and as contestants.