HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Observe. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Spit. Repeat as necessary.
It’s not the training regimen for an Olympic sport. But, Gold Medals are awarded and the competition stiff.
Instead, those are the steps a panel of eight judges repeated more times than they could count on Saturday during the 2016 Alabama Commercial Wine Competition.
The judging took place at 1892 East restaurant in Huntsville’s Five Points.
At one point, a series of glasses arranged in a rainbow array awaited their evaluation.
“We judged white wines, red wines, dry and sweet. Then we had some fruit wines. We had a mead, a couple of ciders and a sparkling wine. We really ran the gamut. All made right here in Alabama,” said Steve Young, the Wine Competition Director and Founder of Alabama Wine, Inc., the non-profit organization that runs the Alabama Commercial Wine Festival.
Young explained, “Really, what we’re looking for is a wine that has really nice balance. It has the fruit. It has some acidity and the sugar is balanced. And, we’re looking for something that has intensity. You can smell the fruit.”
“It’s not necessarily wines that we like personally. It’s what the wine is supposed to be that the winemaker was going for,” emphasized Young.
Over the course of four hours, four women and four men scrutinized the balance, length, intensity and complexity of each wine in a blind tasting.
“Oh man. There are some really good wines being made in the state,” proclaimed Scott Montgomery, one of the wine judges.
“What amazed me was the diversity. We had a dry, blush muscadine that was outstanding. We had dry reds. Peach wines. We had what I wanted to call fruit salad in a glass. It was an apple, pear, blueberry wine that was just tremendous. It was sweet. But, lovely,” Montgomery said.
In all, 50 wines from 13 wineries and two breweries vied for gold in the 2016 Alabama Commercial Wine Competition.
The smile on Young’s face wasn’t a wine buzz. He was pleased by a 50% increase in entries over the first year’s competition. “All but three of the state’s commercial wineries participated,” he proudly stated.
“I was surprised, frankly said, of the quality of wines and the diversity of wines being produced in the state of Alabama,” stated Elina Coneva, a wine judge with a unique perspective. Coneva works as an Extension Fruit Crop Specialist for the State of Alabama and an Associate Professor of Horticulture at Auburn University. Her research in conjunction with a grape breeder from the University of California-Davis has led to the introduction of disease-resistant European grape varieties that are now being successfully grown in Alabama. That advancement potentially means great things for the future of Alabama's wine industry.
Twenty-one wines received the gold medal distinction. The eight top gold medal-winning wineries will pour their gold medal wines at the Big Spring Crush wine festival in downtown Huntsville on September 24.
“A great example of a way to learn wines and to do wines is to go to the Big Spring Crush. Sit down and choose a wine that you like. Go and look at that the list that’s there and try to taste different varietals,” suggested Matt Mell, wine judge and owner of Church Street Wine Shoppe.
2016 Awards for “Best of Class,” “Winery of the Year,” and “Wine of the Year” will be announced at the Big Spring Crush wine festival.
Tickets for the event are still available and can be purchased here.
- Bryant Vineyard – Dixie Blush
- Bryant Vineyard – Autumn Blush
- Hidden Meadow Vineyard – Smith Ridge Red
- Hidden Meadow Vineyard – Meadow Rose
- Hidden Meadow Vineyard – Peach
- High Country Cellars – Skeeter Piss
- High Country Cellars – Blackberry
- Hodges Vineyards & Winery – Lenoir
- Hodges Vineyards & Winery – Southern Blend
- Hodges Vineyards & Winery – Sweet Peach
- Jules J. Berta Vineyards – High Tide
- Jules J. Berta Vineyards – Dog at Large
- Jules J. Berta Vineyards – Watermelon
- Jules J. Berta Vineyards – Born Dixie
- Maraella Winery & Vineyard – Riesling
- Ozan Winery – Peach
- Ozan Winery – Shelby Blanc
- Ozan Winery – Magenta
- Salty Nut Brewery – Vern’s Pomegranate Cider
- White Oak Vineyards – Scarlet
- White Oak Vineyards – Norton
- Bryant Vineyard – Dixie Gold
- Bryant Vineyard – Festive Red
- Hidden Meadow Vineyard – Blackberry
- High County Cellars – Black Currant
- Hodges Vineyards & Winery – Carlos Sweet
- Hodges Vineyards & Winery – Sunset Sweet
- Hodges Vineyards & Winery – Muscadine Blush
- Hodges Vineyards & Winery – Noble Sweet
- Jules J. Berta Vineyards – White Trash
- Jules J. Berta Vineyards – Mauvis Juju
- Lewis Lake Vineyards – Serene
- Mad County Winery – Blackberry
- Mad County Winery – Cranberry
- Maraella Winery & Vineyard – Cabernet Sauvignon
- Maraella Winery & Vineyard - Muscadine
- Ozan Winery – Blueberry
- Ozan Winery – Norton
- Perdido Vineyards – Blueberry
- Perdido Vineyards – Honey
- Red Clay Brewing – Lakeside Hard Cider
- Vizzini Farms Winery – Pinot Grigio
- Whipporwill Vineyards – Harvest Moon
- Whipporwill Vineyards – Cynthiana
- Whipporwill Vineyards – Lenoir
- Whipporwill Vineyards – Sunset
- White Oak Vineyards – Rosé Muscadine
- White Oak Vineyards – Southern Gold
- White Oak Vineyards – Sparkling
- White Oak Vineyards - Chardonel
Judges for the competition included:
- Steven Bunner, Chef/Owner of 1892 East Restaurant
- Elina Coneva, Associate Professor of Horticulture at Auburn University
- Marj Ducoté, American Wine Society Judge
- Kristen Lindelow, Chief Judge
- Matt Mell, Owner of Church Street Wine Shoppe
- Scott Montgomery, American Wine Society Judge
- Denise Vickers, VP of News for WHNT News 19 & Home Winemaker (Note: She is also the author of this story.)
- Jaime Zapata, American Wine Society Judge