And The Winner Is…

The 2019 US Wine Tasting Team: Californians Gwendolyn Alley and Sue Hill, and Texans Jacob Fergus and Taylor Robertson; photo taken by Sarah Fergus with my iPhone.

After 21 hours of travel, I returned from Paris to Los Angeles two days ago on Tuesday after two weeks in France where Sue and I competed along with two Texans for the US Wine Tasting Team in the World Wine Tasting Championship held at Chateau Chambord, one of the world’s most impressive castles, located in Loire, France.

Organized and sponsored in part by La Revue du vin de France, the challenge faced by 28 teams from around the world? To taste and identify six white wines and six red wines.

official photo from the organizers

We received points if we could identify what kind of grape was in the wine, where it came from in the world, which region, who made it, and what year. Three hundred points total were possible.

By winning a place on the team, we won a free trip to France and accommodations and meals at the Chateau as well as a tour hosted by Wine Acuity. Read more about the competition here and how we won.

Sue and I arrived a week before the competition and we stayed in Paris for two nights after while other teammates arrived later and stayed later.

Read more about our adventures in the vineyards, cellars and with producers in Champagne for four nights and threes days and in the Loire for four nights and four days here; we met with and interviewed over 10 biodynamic winemakers in one week!

official photo from the organizers

Now every one wants to know how well we did in the contest.

One spin would be that we did terribly, horribly, and to focus on why. To focus on the cheating of one team in particular who got in trouble for cheating before (want to know who? They’re in the top 12 and the name starts the same as cheating…) 

Another spin would be to focus on the positive– what we got out of the experience. And simply put, our trip to France was fabulous. We visited vineyards, explored cellars, tasted wine with the winemakers and so much more– and which I will be writing about here and for other outlets as well.

As I wrote in “What’s Your Spin? What’s Your Story?” on Art Predator, “our team was called up early, which meant a low score. Disappointed but not surprised, we went to the front to accept our prizes. Our team captain made a few statements, then I grabbed the mic and this is what I had to say more or less:

“We may have placed near the bottom, but we’re already winners, we already won. We won just by being here in this beautiful place with all of you. And you’re all winners too — winners of your own country. We are all winners to be here. Thank you!”

It was great to hear the applause from the more than 100 competitors and others who were there– but it felt great to share that message with everyone.”

The 2019 US Wine Tasting Team: Californians Gwendolyn Alley and Sue Hill, and Texans Jacob Fergus and Taylor Robertson

So who won?

First, here’s the 12 wines we tasted. Remember, there’s a possible 300 points if you got them all correct:

Wine N ° 1:
Grapes: XAREL LO 52% MACABEO 32% PARELLADA 16% h
Country: SPAIN
Appellation: CAVA
Year: 2010

Wine N ° 2:
Grape variety: RIESLING
Country: GERMANY
Appellation: MOSELLE
Producer: VAN VLOXEM (Wiltingen)
Vintage: 2016

Wine N ° 3:
Grape variety: CHENIN
Country: FRANCE
Producer: LA TAILLE AUX LOUPS (Remus plus)
Vintage: 2010

Wine N ° 4:
Grape variety: ASSYRTIKO
Country: GREECE
Appellation: SANTORIN
Producer: GAIA WINES
Vintage: 2018

Wine N ° 5:
Appellation: HUNTER VALLEY
Vintage: 2017

Wine N ° 6:
Country: LEBANON
Appellation: /
Vintage: 1999

Wine N ° 7:
Grape variety: SYRAH
Country: FRANCE
Appellation: COTE-ROTIE
Producer: J. Paul JAMET
Vintage: 2016

Wine N ° 8:
Grapes: SYRAH 75%, GRENACHE 25%
Country: FRANCE
Producer: DOMAINE SINGLA (Arrels)
Vintage: 2011

Wine N ° 9:
Appellation: CALIFORNIE
Vintage: 2012

Wine N ° 10:
Grape variety: SANGIOVESE
Country: ITALY
Appellation: TOSCANE
Producer: VILLA SALETTA (Saletta Riccardi)
Vintage: 2015

Wine N ° 11:
Varietal : MALBEC
Vintage: 2011

Wine N ° 12:
Country: FRANCE
Appellation: BARSAC
Vintage: 2009

As you can see from this list, some of these are surprising and unusual wines, and we hadn’t expected there to be four wines from France; we thought they would only have two. And I understand that all of the teams from around the world had trouble with the wine from Greece.

How do you think you would do tasting these wines blind– with only 8 minutes and 3 glasses?

No cell phones, no notes, no reference materials? They wouldn’t even let me have more scratch paper or use paper I brought with me!

Our team of four disagreed on many of the wines and we ended up with a score of only 30. At the US open, the Texans scored 101 points and Sue and I scored 92 points; these scores would have put us all in the top five. According to my notes about what we thought each wine was, If it had just been Sue and I, we would have scored around 70 which would have put us in the top 10. While there were several wines that stumped us, there were several that we were confident about but our opinions did not prevail. Hard to know how well the Texans would have done if it had just been the two of them.

Now, here’s the Top 12 Teams and their scores out of 300 possible:

1. France, 112 points
Christian Colin
Emmenuel Olive
Chritophe Boyet
Francois Breteau
Jacky Camus

2. China, 103 points
Jia Shiyang Gu
Sen Sen
Feng Chiyi

3. Taiwan, 95 points
Shihn-Yuarn Chen
Dong-Song Tso Wang
Chen-Hao Wu

4. Belgium, 94 points
Olivier Rotiers
Philippe Berger Henri
Henri Rossignol
Coach: Nathalie Harhelier

5. Denmark, 90 points
Lasse Sterup
Terkel Tolstrup
Rasmus Vejbaek-Zeer
Michael Nissen

6. Poland, 85 points
Lukasz Glowacki
Dominik Wesierski
Pyotr Metkowski
Pyotr Garus
Didier Frayssouski

6. Luxembourg, 85 points
Zaiah Amann
Herve Amann
Valentin Niro
Boss Bosseler
Coach: Daniel Poos

8. Sweden, 77 points
Mats Burnert –
Ylva Narwing Coach
Bernt Gustavsson
Björn Lang
Ola Flygt

9. The Netherlands, 75 points
Anton Silletti
Jarno de Graaf
Rik Boom
Martin Fennema
Coach: Arend Jaap van der Lely

10. Belarus, 68 points
Jury Lukjanau
Saroka Saroka
Norbert Puzenat
Kiryl Bahdanovic

11. Romania, 67 points
Iulia Scavo
Valentin Ceafalau
Horia Hasnas
Zoltan Szabo
Coach: Radu Rizescu

12. South Africa, 66 points
Anton Swarts
Anita Streicher-Nel
Heidi Kritzinger
Cyril Meidinger
Coach: Jean-Vincent Ridon

Here’s SIX other BESTS —

Best Dressed:

Best Towel (see photo collage above):

Best Team Spirit:
South Africa

Best Logo– TIE:
France (see photo collage above)

Best Winemaker on a team:
Jonatan Garcia Lima
(okay I don’t actually remember if there were any other winemakers on any of the teams — but I did taste and enjoy his wine– he and his wine are pictured above!)

Best Ambassador for French Wine:
Michel Blanc of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Top 12 Best Experiences:

  1. Location of the contest: Chateau Chambord
  2. Location of the community dinner along the river
  3. Sharing wine at the community dinner
  4. Meeting wine enthusiasts from around the world
  5. Tasting wines at the community dinner from all over the world
  6. Spiegelau wine glasses at the competition
  7. Food and camaraderie at the community dinner
  8. Food and camaraderie at the Gala dinner
  9. Staying at the Relais du Chambord and touring Chambord
  10. The competition (testing our knowledge and tasting the sauterne!)
  11. The weather and the full moon rising over the castle
  12. Being in FRANCE!!

because I rearranged the furniture in my room, I was able to lie in bed at Relais de Chambord and enjoy this sunrise on Oct 13, 2019

Three Worst Experiences

  1. Distractions from seeing a team cheating, seeing nothing done about it, then seeing them on the winning podium; rules should be clearly posted and followed.
  2. Wine glasses at the gala dinner
  3. No break during the competition and confusion on time

each year the event goes to a different region in France, so where will it be next year?

Organizers say: Château Smith Haut Lafitte on October 9 and 10, 2020. And rumor has it we will be in Chateneuf-du-Pape in 2021!

Overall, it was an amazing experience and Sue and I are very grateful that we had this opportunity.

Because we won the trip to France to compete, we were able to visit Champagne and taste biodynamic wines with winemakers

  • Cyril Collard of Gaston Collard (and visit the cellar and taste there too!)
  • Vincent Charlot (and visit vineyards!)
  • Philipe Lancelot (and visit the vineyard and the cellar to taste!)

and then in Loire we visited vineyards and wineries during harvest and tasted wine with biodynamic and organic winemakers at

  • Tete Rouge (tasting and winery visit!)
  • Chateau Yvonne (winery, cellar, and vineyard visits and tastings!)
  • Domaine Amirault (winery, cellar, and vineyard visits and tastings!)
  • Tue-Bouef (winery, cellar, and vineyard visits and tastings!)

We are so fortunate and grateful! I came home with so many great stories to share! This is truly winning!  

Tomorrow is Champagne Day! We will be celebrating by sharing the story of our visit with Vincent Charlot! Stay tuned! Subscribe!

Vincent Charlot shows off his healthy soil in his biodynamic vineyards in Champagne.



5 thoughts on “And The Winner Is…

  1. So who cheated….. I’m confused, and how did they manage. Thanks for voting for us being the Team with the Best Team Spirit – that how we roll….. Hope to see you next year again…. a lot of wine needs to flow before Team SA 2020 will be on stage to participate. One thing is that we will keep trying and tasting wine. There are still a few vineyards left that we can devour, and enjoy the nectar of the gods.


  2. Imagine what a little wine will win you a beautiful castle experience in France cheers to yall! I am so proud of you – Annie Day


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