I Should Be Packing for Côtes du Rhône OR Who Is Competing on Team USA at #WWTC in CdP 10/2/21?

I should be packing for France.  For over a year now, I’ve been researching the Rhone Valley, and how best to get to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to compete or cover the World Wine Tasting Championship slated to be held there 10/2/21. Should I fly into Lyon? Marseille? Nice? Toulouse? Deals to fly in to Geneva, Porto, and Milan also caught my eye– cities all closer to the Southern Rhone destination than Paris. But in early July, life got a little complicated when it came to the contest. And I may or may not be part of a lawsuit related to this. It’s been quite the roller coaster with Team USA WINE. And if I’m not competing, like I did in 2019 in the Loire, I’d really like to be there covering the story. I just checked flights from LAX!

The contest is the subject of a new documentary, Blind Ambition, and I was interviewed for the Wine Enthusiast ARTICLE ABOUT THE FILM WHICH YOU CAN READ HERE.
 

Four Los Angeles area women — including me– have been working together for over a year to form a strong USA Wine Team made up of former Team USA members who have competed in France in the World Wine Tasting Championships where teammates taste blind and work together to determine in eight minutes of less, the grape, the country of origin, region, year, and producer with points awarded for each category. Find out more about the contest– check out this video which talks about the importance of team work and practices and see a cameo by Team USA member Kristen Schubert.
 

Team USA Wine: Gwendolyn Alley, Sue Hill, Kristen Schubert, Lisa Stoll

 
We feel that the best team is one that can spend time together tasting which we are committed to doing.
 
In 2019 we didn’t taste with our team mates and coach until we were competing in the contest and we know that contributed to our failure at the competition. 
We four women all live within an hour drive of each other. Here’s an analogy:

An Olympic relay team is put together with four incredibly talented athletes that train on their own and win their own races. In theory, they should make an amazing, winning team, right? The talent is there!
 
A relay race is not only about the speed of the athletes as they each take a leg and go around the track. Critical is that the baton flawlessly makes it to the next team member. This requires excellent communication as the hand-off of the baton is done in the blind.  Athletes must learn how to communicate and build team camaraderie to have a successful hand-off.
 
A team comprised of the fastest athletes, that only practices the hand-off with each other the day before the competition seems to have a predictable outcome. A dropped baton.
 
As the first all women’s team to compete in the contest, we also felt we could get publicity and sponsorships. We understand there has never been an all women team competing in the World Wine Tasting Championship although recently an all women’s team advanced to first in a regional event as reported by Le Revue and translated by google:
 
What a test! The French Cup of tasting clubs which took place on Saturday 9 November at Domaine Maire et Fils in Arbois will have had its share of suspense. 
 
After tasting 8 wines, the 100% female Belgian team, “Girl Power”, led by Nathalie Harhelier, finished on the first place on the podium. The fight was fierce between the teams, in particular between the Belgian competitors and the French club Culture et vins de France, the latter being managed by the always lively Norbert Puzenat. An arbitration error on wine n ° 11 would give the French the title, before a new correction officially crowned the Belgian “Girl Power”, to one point! This is a great first in the history of this competition.
 
In general, the World Wine Tasting Championship lacks diversity — not a lot of women or people of color. Last year and this year US competitors pay their own way. This can limit who can compete to who can afford to go do it– and who can get away from child care and work responsibilities, which are typically left up to women in the US. 

COVID certainly changed up the US Team in more ways than one. Sponsor Wine Acuity  didn’t have a competition in 2020 and they just chose the team;  same in 2021: no competition. 

But the Covid pandemic offered a unique opportunity for organizers in the US to select a very competitive and ground breaking all women’s team. The US Open Route which has not produced a competitive team, certainly not as competitive as the team that practiced together regularly — and came in third place in the world. 

By July 3, just a scant 90 days before the contest, we still hadn’t heard anything from John at Wine Acuity. Kristen Shubert reached out to organizer Philippe de Cantenac in France and she encouraged Lisa and I to do so also. 

I was getting ready to do that, and on July 4 decided to write this first to get my thoughts in order. In my research, I went onto the Wine Acuity site where a 2021 team was listed! 

I texted Lisa and Kristen, congratulating them. Kristen reached out to Wine Acuity to learn that John had not chosen a team. And yet, there was a team listed on the website!

Confusing and exhausting!
 
Then on July 5 I received an email with the team identified as:
  1. Taylor Robertson (1st Place 2019, 101 points)
  2. Jacob Fergus (1st Place 2019, 101 points)
  3. Lisa Stoll (1st Place 2018 124 points, 3rd Place 2019 59 points)
  4. (Lisa Stoll Partner pick of either 2018 partner Kristen Shubert or 2019 Elan Glasser)
  5. Kristen Shubert (1st Place 2018 124 points, 6th Place 2019)
  6. (Kristen Shubert partner Darcey Lucas Howard 2019)
  7. Gwendolyn Alley (2nd Place 2019, 92 points)
  8. Sue Hill (2nd Place 2019, 92 points)
  9. Gina Cook (2nd Place 2018)
  10. Christine Tanaka (2nd Place 2018)

Not surprisingly, Lisa chose Kristen. 

And then it all took a dramatic turn. 


Sue, Kristen, and I accepted our selection to be on the team — with caveats that expressed our concerns about the lack of practices and the impact of that on producing a winning team. Wine Acuity made unfounded and unkind accusations, illegally attempting to kick us off the team. My response has yet to be answered; Sue got an apology and a retraction. Lawsuits are being drawn up and filed.  
 
With COVID, there was an opportunity to compose a team of women who have all competed in France and who live near each other and have the desire to practice together. 
  • Kristen Shubert, WSET 3 with merit
    Los Angeles County, CA (Chatsworth near Ventura County)
    2016 Team USA: 3rd place with 100 points at World Challenge (with Ulf Palmnas)
    2018 Team USA:  14th of 23 teams at World Challenge (with Lisa Stoll)
    2018 US Open: 1st with 124 points (partner Lisa Stoll)
    2019 US Open: 4th place
  • Lisa Stoll, WSET 3 
    Ventura County, CA (Camarillo)
    2018 Team USA: 14th of 23 teams at World Challenge
    2018 US Open: 1st with 124 points (partner Kristen Schubert)
    2019 US Open: 3rd place with 59 points
  • Sue Hill, tasting room manager, Cantara Cellars 
    Ventura County (Meiners Oaks)
    2019 Team USA
    2019 US Open second place (92 points)
  • Gwendolyn Alley, Slow Wine Guide Field Coordinator 
    Ventura County (Ventura)
    2019 Team USA
    2019 US Open second place (92 points)
Even with COVID, contests were held around the world. Why didn’t we have one in the US? SIGH.

So who is competing???? 

Why do we want to do this anyway?

 
When we have to pay our own way why not go on vacation?  Becasue it’s an amazing opportunity to travel and taste in another part of the world where you can meet wine enthusiasts from around the world. I also love the idea of developing a team and meeting other teams, and like any other competition it’s an excuse to test your skills against others and get to know others.
 
On to taste some wine from the Rhone with this great group of world class tasters! (Missing” Kristen Schubert who was in Lodi getting Graciano — yes she’s a winemaker as well!)
 

World Class Tasters: Lisa Stoll, Gretel Compton, Gwendolyn Alley, Sue Hill

Tasters:

  • Gwendolyn Alley, USA Wine Tasting Team 2019-2021
  • Carrie Roberts, wine enthusiast 
  • Gretel Compton, Clos des Amis co-owner and co-winemaker 
  • Sue Hill, USA Wine Tasting Team 2019-2021
  • Lisa Stoll, USA Wine Tasting Team 2018, 2020, 2021
  • John Walsh, wine enthusiast 

Instant Pot Chicken Cassoulet

Rhône Inspired Menu

Cassoulet is a peasant dish that takes three days to make, and with expensive ingredients like duck and rabbit, it can be quite expensive as well. But we developed a quick and affordable instant pot recipe that uses chicken drumsticks (recipe below). 

Rhône Wines 

  • 2019 Kirkland “Signature” Chateauneuf du Pape 
    purchased at Costco $22
  • 2013 Cave de Tain “Grand Classique” Hermitage AOP
    purchased at the winery in France 
  • 2016 Les Collines “Specially Selected” Chateauneuf-du-Pape
    purchased at Grocery Outlet $15

2019 Kirkland Signature Châteauneuf-du-Pape
ABV 15.5%
SRP $22
Blend: 70% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Cinsault

Lisa purchased this at Costco to use as a practice wine for the 2021 World Wine Tasting Championship scheduled for Oct 2 in Chateauneuf du Pape. She used her Coravin to provide samples for us to taste. We were all very impressed at how much this wine delivered for the price — that’s what a monster retailer like Costco can do. Some how I didn’t get a photo of this wine — and Lisa took it with her so she could keep practicing with it. 

Color: Ruby, garnet rim, medium density

Aroma: Lots of perfume, rich, heady, rose petals, potpourri, jam and fruit, garrigue, Herbs de Provence. 

Palate: Very smooth, nothing is overly grippy for such a youthful wine. Fruit and florals exemplify the typical GSM from the Rhone in France. There is a velvety quality to this wine. We would love to lie this wine down and revisit in a few years– and at this price you could buy a case!

Pairing: With the soufflé’s that was on the sweet side it held up nicely with the wine. Sue had a bite of mushroom brie on bread and it “knocked her socks off.” We all agreed it went really nicely with the cassoulet. However that being said, it was not my favorite wine with the meal. Gretel didn’t think the wine worked very well with the greens.

 

2013 Cave de Tain “Grand Classique” Hermitage AOP
ABV 13%
SRP ?


Lisa purchased this in 2018 from the winery when she visited during the World Wine Tasting Championship. She used her Coravin to siphon out samples for us to taste.

Color: Ruby, high density, rhubarb on the rim. It is a very dense wine.

Aroma: Dark fruit, interesting concentrated umami, balsamic, pomegranate, earthen, peppery, sarsaparilla, vanilla. 

Palate: Acidity, bacon, pepper, very dry and tannic. 

Pairing: Lisa loved the cassoulet with the wine which craves the richness in foods to tame the tannic beast with the tannins cutting the richness. It is also perfect with pate and triple cream brie. The richness with the Syrah works so well. The squash and soufflé’s and wine tastes like Thanksgiving. The bacon in the salad and greens works so nicely also with the wine.

2016 Les Collines “Special Selected” Chateauneuf-du-Pape
ABV 14.5%
SRP ?
purchased at Grocery Outlet $15
Blend: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault

Two days before we gathered to taste a hillside of Cotes du Rhone (which you can read about here),  

I opened this wine to go with a test run of the cassoulet. Oh my what a delicious wine and pairing! I carefully corked the bottle and put it back in the wine fridge, confident that it would still be tasting well on Thursday. 

And it wasn’t! I missed out on getting tasting notes from the crew because the wine just didn’t taste that great so we decided to give it a pass. I’ll try and add some notes later because I bought another bottle — which I will enjoy in one sitting! 

Or perhaps we will open it Wednesday night when Sue and I get together for our weekly tasting and pairing and toast the gathering of World Wine Tasting Championship competitors as they begin gathering.

And of course wear my CdP vest as much as possible.

Read the story of how I acquired this vest near the close of a WILD NIGHT in Paris! 

Swirl Sniff Sip Smile Sigh So?

2 thoughts on “I Should Be Packing for Côtes du Rhône OR Who Is Competing on Team USA at #WWTC in CdP 10/2/21?

  1. Truly a sh@! show at WIne Acuity. Kristen, Lisa, Sue and Gwendolyn are PAYING customers of this competition! Fees of $250 per team going to WIne Acuity. And this is how we have been treated! The organizer, John Vilja sending us unprofessional emails and kicking us off the team…..when he has no right to do so. He does not follow the rules set forth on the WIne Acuity website. In reality, only twelve people really care about this contest-and at any moment-Mr. Vilja may decide he has a personal issue with you(a PAYING entrant). At that point, he will “uninvite” you from the team. He tried to remove Lisa Stoll last year, in favor of Byancha(a third-place finisher at US Open). This year, three middle-aged and well-qualified ladies are listed as possible candidates in open emails, but in private emails-are told they are not eligible to compete. The team chosen(which was never announced publicly) is made up of men who placed next to last in the WWTC in 2019, and another man who finished with only 59 points in a US Open. (Kristen and Lisa had DOUBLE that score in the 2018 US Open competition.) The goal of WIne Acuity is to put forth the best team possible? Epic fail for 2021!

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