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Riesling judged top wine at Mesa County Fair

By Dave Buchanan

Stoney Mesa Vineyards of Cedaredge and Reeder Mesa Vineyards swept the gold medals at the first Mesa County Fair Commercial Wine Competition, the results of which were announced last week.

The Stoney Mesa 2008 Riesling was judged the top white wine and also won “The Commissioner’s Cup” as Best of Show.

Reeder Mesa’s 2008 Cabernet Franc was judged the best red wine and the Reeder Mesa 2007 Land’s End Red, a blend of 44 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 28 percent each of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, also won a gold.

There were 46 entries from 11 wineries with 40 medals awarded. The only qualifier being the wines had to be at least 85 percent Mesa County grapes.

Judging was supervised by state enologist Steve Menke of the Colorado State University Orchard Mesa Research Center.

“I was pretty pleased to get 46 entries, I thought it was an excellent turnout,” Menke said, noting how wine competitions usually take several years to become established.

Menke said the quality of the wines overall was “pretty good.”

“There weren’t too many I thought were wonderful, but there were a few,” he said.

Complete results are available here.

Wine competitions are viewed in many different lights.

Some winemakers take competitions as the opportunity to evaluate where their own winemaking might be at a given time while other winemakers use competitions as a marketing tool.

Bret Neal, winemaker for Stoney Mesa Winery, takes both views.

“It makes me feel pretty good about the wines we’re making and it solidifies to our customers that we consistently make good quality wines,” he said.

Menke surmised that most winemakers use competitions as a strong marketing tool.

“I think most winemakers realize that competitions are a public-relations exercise,” he said.

Judging a wine’s quality is so subjective.

Which is why many winemakers scratch their heads when seeing the result of competitions.

Why, they ask, aren’t I winning the same medals with the same wines in different competitions?

Whether you’re tasting a bottle or two at home with friends or taking part in some highly regarded international competition with thousands of wines, “it’s a snapshot in time,” as Menke put it.

“Technically, it’s very demanding,” he said. “Wine is such a diverse product, even the same vineyard can taste different in different years and under different wine-tasting conditions.”

A gold medal wine at the Eastern International Wine Competition might finish out of the medals at the Colorado State Fair.

“It’s hard to judge the quality of your wine” during the brief period of a competition, he said.

He equated it to a stranger coming into your home and in a few minutes telling you which of your children are going to be rich and famous.

Whether it means figuring out stylistic preferences and regional taste buds or simply knowing what the judges are looking for, it’s common for winemakers to return to competitions where they’ve done well in the past.

“Judging (in different competitions) is not at all that consistent,” he said. “Competitions try to select the best judges they can, but like at the Indy International Wine Competition, to get the 60 to 90 judges they need they might ask several hundred.”

Still, bringing home a medal or two, no matter where it’s from, is a vital part of wine sales, Menke said.

“It has definite validity for selling wines to the consumers, and getting them to wines they will like,” he said.

Perhaps that’s particularly true in a wine industry such as Colorado’s, where a large percent of the wine sales are done in the winery’s tasting room.

Seeing several medals and ribbons hanging around the neck of a wine bottle certainly can’t hurt a wine’s chances of attracting someone’s eye and wallet.

Without having a personal history of that particular wine, the bling might be only a hint — other than that small sip from a tasting glass on the counter — that the wine inside will attract that customer’s palate, as well.

We’ll talk more about wine judging and what Menke calls “descriptive analysis training.”

In spite of its unwieldy name, it can lead you to better wine drinking.

And, perhaps, drinking better wine.

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