I'm currently in Calgary, acting as a judge for Wine Access' International Value Wine Awards. The goal is to find the best wines under $25 from around the world; this is done by tasting hundreds of wines blind (ie. we don't know what wines they are when they come out - all we know is the grape variety/blend). I'm lucky that this time around I'm joined by another Winnipegger, Banville & Jones senior instructor and buyer Gary Hewitt. There are other ex-Winnipeggers here too, but I'll save that for another instalment.
The tastings take place at the University of Calgary's Macewan Hall, and we're conveniently staying on campus at the very new Hotel Alma . The not-so-convenient part of the stay so far has been the extensive construction on campus, which has resulted in my getting ridiculously lost/turned around twice.
Today was the first day of tasting - the first few days are preliminary rounds to help weed out the wines that won't be winning awards. Judges are split up into groups of three or four, and each tastes different groups (or flights) of wines. Included in my group were Gurvinder Bhatia of Edmonton and John Szabo of Toronto (Canada's only Master Sommelier - that's sort of a big deal).
The day consisted of seven flights of 10 wines - the glasses are numbered, and we make notes on each before assigning a score. In order, our group did Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, red blends, oaked Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, ate lunch, another round of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah/Shiraz. There were some gems in every flight, but some real duds as well. That disparity made it easier to weed out the bad ones, score the good ones higher and leave a few in the middle that may or may not make the cut.
Of course, we couldn't resist firing up a laptop and streaming this afternoon's Italy/Paraguay World Cup match, but managed to stay focused long enough to get our tasting done and make our exit. Tonight we're heading to Teatro for dinner, which boasts one of Calgary's best wine lists (last night we had a great meal at Earls Tin Palace with George Piper, Earls' Director of Wine Experience, and Leroy [Bus] Fuller, one of the founders of Earls).
I'll be popping back to this space daily (hopefully) with updates on the judging, etc., and am updating my Twitter account regularly as well. In fact, there are a whole bunch of judges tweeting - to find us all, visit search.twitter.com and search "#IVWA " - that's the hashtag we'll be using. Alo, Wine Access has a blog up and running during the fest - check the link at the top of this story to check out some behind-the-scenes action.