Have you ever dreamt of being a judge in a wine competition? For a wine lover, it seemed germane to any bucket list. A lucky dozen of us got to live that dream and put a big check mark next to it on a Saturday morning last month. We were the fortunate few to be invited to the Private Press Judging of the American Fine Wine Competition (AFWC) held at the Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Laboratory at Florida International University (FIU) Chaplin School of Hospitality in Miami, Florida.
AFWC began in 2007 as a “by invitation only” wine competition, showcasing all-American wines grown and produced in the good ol’ USA. It was the brainchild of Shari Gherman, sommelier and wine industry veteran, along with dynamic wine media duo, Monty and Sara Preiser. Since the inception, the competition has flourished with annual entries of approximately 1,000 participating wines, all vying for a shot to medal Double Gold, Gold, Silver or Bronze. To properly opine and conclude the best of the best American wines, 32 judges were selected from a range of hospitality-related backgrounds, including chefs, sommeliers, wine educators, wine journalists and wine retailers. Following the competition, the award-winning wines are showcased and exposed at several AFWC events open to public throughout the year to benefit charity. Since inception over a decade ago, their events have raised a toast-worthy mil plus for one hundred charitable organizations.
AFWC appears to have broken the mold of traditional wine competitions, which typically judge participating wines, provide medals to winners and “that’s all folks” until next year. AFWC takes it to the next level of marketing and exposure by creating several events throughout the year to promote the award-winning wines to guests, students and wine trade. They also provide an excellent educational experience for the student volunteers, giving them the endearing title of Wine Angels, and tasking them to pour wines for seasoned oenophiles while learning about the characteristics of particular varietals and regions. Then there was the presentation to media guests through their private press judging, where select journalists, bloggers and influencers were given a behind the scenes sneak peek on how to judge a wine and determine a medal.
As one of the press judges, I’ll start by proclaiming this as a super innovative concept for engaging the media and then end by saying that scoring wine was not as easy as one might think. Wines were rated on a scale of 0-20 in categories such as Clarity, Color, Aroma, Taste, Finish and Overall. We tasted and scored three flights of four wines for a total of twelve in a mock scenario, while FIU “History of Wine” Professor Bill Hebrank shared some insights on how to properly judge a wine’s character based on the region. Once we finalized our individual scores for each, our table shared our findings and agreed upon an overall score and its corresponding medal. As someone who has produced wine and understands the blood, sweat and tears involved in yielding a premium juice, it was heartbreaking at times when the group could not in good conscience provide a medal. Truth is there were some stellar wines in our dozen, but also a few deflated grapes that just fell short of any award.
With that said, hats off to the judges, who had to get through a whopping “grand” of wines to find the gems deserving of medals. It can be quite exhausting to the palate to differentiate and score multiple varietals, so much empathy for sipping, savoring and swirling through a thousand pours. Also even more respect to that purple teeth society for wining and wining without whining. Closing cheers to AFWC for your original and creative collaboration with wine brands, partners, students, wine trade, media, wine lovers and charities to benefit everyone involved. All wines entered in 2020 have been scored. To taste through the winners and wine for a cause at their upcoming events, visit americanfinewinecompetition.org/events