How to Compete in a Blind Tasting Competition: US Open in Ventura TODAY July 14– wish us luck!

This was from a large group tasting of older reds, mostly Pinot Noir and Syrah, from Ojai Vineyards, I think we tasted about 30 wines that night…

“I am writing to you regarding the upcoming Wine Tasting US Open on July 14, 2019 at the historic Pierpont Inn in Ventura, CA. The Wine Tasting US Open is an annual blind wine tasting event, with teams of two each tasting 12 wines (6 white and 6 red) from around the world.”

Very interesting! The Pierpont Inn is only a block away from my house! The US Open Wine Tasting Competition is practically coming to me this Sunday July 14 from 1-4pm!

The pitch explained that for each wine each team works together to figure out in a timed contest

  • varietal
  • country
  • region
  • producer
  • vintage

Each correct answer earns the team points; points aren’t taken away for incorrect answers, and points are awarded by the following criteria:

  1. Identification of the predominant grape varietal will be awarded one point for each 10 percent that the main varietal comprises the wine.
    > For example, a wine that consists of seventy percent of a grape varietal will receive seven points for a correct identification.
    > No points will be awarded for identification of lesser varietals in a wine.
    > No points will be awarded if two wine varietals are provided.
  2. Five points will be awarded for identification of the country of origin of the grapes.
  3. Five points will be awarded for identification of the main wine region where the grapes originated.
    > For example, Bourdeaux. In the case where a team enters a specific sub-region, such as Margaux, rather than the main region, full points will be awarded if the sub-region is correct.
    > However, no points will be awarded for incorrect sub-region identification, even if the incorrect sub-region is within the correct main region.
    > It is safer to identify the main wine region rather than a sub-region.
  4. Correct identification of the vintage, the year that the grapes were harvested, scores 3 points if the country of origin was also correct. Only 1 point will be awarded for a correct year but with a wrong country of origin identified.
  5. Identification of the wine producer is awarded 2 points.
  6. In cases where spelling is incorrect or writing is not legible, the judges have sole discretion whether to award or not award points, if the intent of the answer is not clear to them. There will be no attempt to gain clarification from the contestants once the scoring process has begun.

The two top scoring teams then represent the US at the World Wine Tasting Championships (WWTC), held in October in France. Here’s the part that really got my attention:

“Wine Acuity, the organizing body of the US Open, pays for the airfare and accommodations for TEAM USA to go to the event in France” which takes place on October 12, 2019 in Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley.

Via the US Wine Tasting Open, Wine Acuity identifies the winners who will go to France represent the US. Wine Acuity CEO John Vilja served as team captain for TEAM USA in the 2016 WWTC leading the team to third-place.

According to Vilija, blind wine tasting is difficult to master. But he’s quick to add that “It isn’t about being a wine expert.” Instead he says it’s about “being passionate for wine, having a desire to represent the US in a world event, and most importantly, it is about having fun.”

While most of the contestants are Californian, there’s at least one team coming from out of state.

For a fee, YOU TOO can taste 12 wines along with the competitors.

Last year they tasted:

  1. NV JJ Vincent, Chardonnay, from France, Burgundy region
  2. 2016 Siefried, Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand, Nelson region
  3. 2013 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Gewurtztraminer, from France, Alsace region
  4. 2010 E. Guigal Saint-Joseph, 70 percent Marsanne, from France, Rhone region
  5. 2005 Barth, Riesling, from Germany, Rheingau region
  6. 2014 Beringer Reserve, Chardonnay, from USA, California Northern Coast (Napa) region
  7. 2015 Notre Dame des Pallieres, 80 percent Grenache, from France, Rhone region
  8. 2014 Marques de Murrieta, 80 percent Tempranillo, from Spain, Rioja region
  9. 2012 Melville, Pinot Noir, from USA, California Central Coast region
  10. 2016 Colome, Malbec, from Argentina, Salta region
  11. 2005 Castello di Fonterutoli, 90 percent Sangiovese, from Italy, Tuscany region
  12. 2014 M. Chapoutier Banyuls, 90 percent Grenache, from France, Languedoc-Rousillion region

You can also download a Wine Acuity iOS or Android app to enter your own answers to see how you’d do, but competitors can’t use phones or any printed or other materials during the competition.

I knew a little bit about the competition because I know one of the winners from last year, sommelier Lisa Stoll. She teamed with Kristen Shubert, former owner of Vintura in downtown Ventura. Along with Prem Sundaram from Venice and Byanca Godwin from Studio City, Team USA earned 14th place out of 24 countries competing.   Lisa posted lots of training photos from last year and this, and several people encouraged me to connect with Lisa and Kristen about competing, or at least joining them in their pursuit!

With mid-July prime travel time, with my teen out of school, and with plenty of wine to sample and write about ALREADY, I wasn’t sure when I could commit to practicing with the team or even attend the event.

But when the VCR editor asked if I could cover it, well, I figured I might as well — and compete while I was at it providing a first person perspective from the hot seat.

A blind sauvignon blanc tasting we did: we knew the kind of wine so we were looking for country and other descriptors; it was HOT in Ojai so we wrapped the bottles in foil! We had 7 wines from 7 countries and from 5 continents!

Granted, as you may have noticed from my blog posts, we don’t do blind tastings very often, but when we do, they’re a lot of fun. I also have to admit that when I took the blind tasting part of the Italian Wine Ambassador exam, I choked, and drew a blank on two wines that I should have known. However, if I’d been tasting with Sue, I am sure we would have gotten it! All that being said, I likely taste thousands of wines every year, and, along with Sue, taste, describe, and write about hundreds.

But what we do is entirely different than blind tasting. We are challenging ourselves to determine how to describe the wines, how to pair them, and to learn about the region where they came from and about their sustainable vineyard practices.

Regardless, we are giving it a go!

And after looking over the list of the wines they tasted last year, I do think we have a good chance of being a finalist! Since I have less than 24 hours to study, I’m keeping mind some tips I’ve picked up today. From the Wine Acuity site, ten helpful competition tasting tips from 2016 WINE TEAM USA captain, John Vilja:

  1. Be consistent in your evaluation technique, look for visual clues on grape identification and age, smell for characteristics such as grape, location, or age, and finally taste to create holistic opinion of the wine.
  2. Take multiple tastes, some tastes develop more slowly in your mouth so second and third sips reveal important clues.
  3. Spitting out sips is vital in retaining your judgement until the final wines.
  4. Take notes judiciously. Use them to go through your personal process but don’t simply list all the flavors and scents you pick up since you will not have time to process too much data.
  5. Manage your time, devote the first few minutes with each wine to silent evaluation, at least half your total time to discussion with team members, then the final few minutes to reaching a consensus conclusion.
  6. During discussion, listen to your teammates and actively contribute towards a decision and be keenly aware of your personal blind spots.
  7. Don’t second guess answers after you’ve completed tasting them. Once consensus is reached beware the power of suggestion to change your answers based on a faulty recollection. Only change answers based on additional physical evaluation.
  8. Manage your glasses. Each member gets 3 glasses to taste 12 wines so it’s important to save samples of prior wines so that you can revisit if you’re uncertain.
  9. If you’ve narrowed a choice down to 2 options, consider splitting your answers to assure you pick up points on some factors such as putting a country and region that aren’t compatible so that you can guarantee some points for the wine.
  10. Remember to sit back and enjoy the tasting. Placing too much pressure on yourself reduces your sensory acuity.

And on twitter, I heard from Dr Neel Burton, author of The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting: who chimed in on this thread on twitter yesterday:

This tweet includes a link to a page on his blog that has lots of great tips on Blind Tasting for Performance. As I read over his tips, I can see a strategy that we could have used… if we’d had more time.

While it is too late to register to compete, you can register as a spectator or learn more about the app or the event by checking out the World Wine Tasting Championship on the Wine Acuity website:

Wish us luck!

9 thoughts on “How to Compete in a Blind Tasting Competition: US Open in Ventura TODAY July 14– wish us luck!

  1. This is really so cool! I wish you guys all the best! I think I’d be horrible at this though! And only 3 points for correct vintage! Damn! That deserves more points in my opinion!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You two rocked it BIG TIME! You took second place and are off to France in October. I knew you had it in ya to represent the US. I am beyond happy for you both. So glad you followed up on entering 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

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