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Dec 02

Judging the Wines of the South

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Kevin & I spent a weekend in Knoxville, TN, for the Wines of the South competition. There were 25 judges and 433 wines. Folks, that’s a lot of wine. Wineries in thirteen states
are invited to participate:
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia.

All wines are judged blind, served in a certified tasting glass at the appropriate temperature, and ranked with the industry standard 20-point scale.


The judges were split into groups of 5 and we each had to taste, in total, a little over 100 wines. The flights were anywhere from three wines on up to flights of 24 wines. Wine judging, while fun, is actually a pretty hard business. At the end of the day, everyone pretty much wants a beer. (Read about my first experience judging.) You do get palate fatigue and no, you don’t get drunk. There’s a lot of spitting going on. I used to think I’d never judge wine professionally, but I learn so much each time that I don’t ever want to stop.


Now, because these are the Wines of the South, we tasted more than vinifera. Vinifera is your standard cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, etc, that you can find in your local wine shop. We also got to taste domestic grapes (often French-American hybrids) and fruit wines.

My table got to taste over 60 muscadine wines, both white and red.
My takeaway? Muscadine is a strange grape. I have a hard time
describing the flavor profile for this grape, other than it tastes
foxy. I often say foxy when what I really want to say is "grapey."
That’s a little obvious though, as a wine is made from a grape. But
sometimes the actual grape flavors overpower anything else done to that
wine and we call that foxy. On the up side, muscadine wine is
exceedingly good for you, with more antioxidants than any other grape,
and a healthy serving of resveratrol, which has heart benefits.

Kevin’s table tasted a range of grapes, including white and red
Concord. He had a fun table, where they spent a lot of time joking
around, but Kevin’s conclusion? Well, it’s fairly easy to tell if a
Concord wine is done well. Does it taste like Smucker’s?  You get the


Both of our tables awarded several gold medals, but the concordance
golds, when all judges at a table were unanimous, were entered into
Best of Show. At the end of the day, all 25 judges were presented with
a flight of the concordance gold medals and we all picked Best White,
Best Red, Best Dessert, Best Fruit, and Best of Show. This was the only
part of the day with which I had some issues. Up until that point, our
flights had always been arranged by Residual Sugar, starting with dry
wines and working up to sweet wines. That’s perfect. In this final
flight, however, the wines were arranged by color. This tended to make
the sweet wines show better than the dry. Think about it – you try a
nice sweet white followed by a dry tannic red. That red is not going to
taste all that great after the sugar, no matter how many crackers or
cheese wedges you eat. It was a sweet white that won Best of Show, and
I do believe that was affected by the flight order.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience. We met a lot of nice people,
many in the wine industry, and as usual, we learned a lot. The
organization of the day was amazing. I’d participate in Wines of the
South again in a heartbeat.

View all our Knoxville photos on Flickr.

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Posted by Michelle at 10:09 am in Knowledge, Wine Competitions, Wine Judging | Permalink | Comments (4)

4 Responses to “Judging the Wines of the South”

  1. Hey Michelle
    do you remember what if any Virginia wines you tasted?
    I have never been a fan of muscadine wine. It is both foxy and grapeee and not too much else. But obviously people like it, people in the south do like their sweet wine. :)

  2. Eric Carlson says:

    Who were the winners?!

  3. Michelle says:

    John: We tasted the wines blind, and since there were over 400, I have no idea which ones we tasted. We did bring a tannat port home with us – Snort Port from The Winery at LaGrange in Haymarket, VA.
    I can’t say I came out of this a fan of muscadine, but at least I can say I’ve tried it!
    Eric: I’m not 100% sure on the winners (again, so many wines) although I have a general idea, but they are all announced in February in Nashville. Since I don’t know if the wineries are notified before then, I don’t want to announce the winners. :-) You can follow along at the web site at http://www.winesofthesouth.com.
    Thank you both for your comments!

  4. Michelle says:

    This is just a test of the new commenting system.

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