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My panelmates (Laura Ness and Kerry Cook) and I, halfway through Day 1 of judging. Good thing this isn’t a close-up – my teeth are already purple!

Welcome back, my friends! I hope my last post got your taste buds primed for this year’s International Women’s Wine Competition.

As a quick recap, all of our judges are female wine professionals – educators, sommeliers, writers, winemakers and more – and although the wines we taste can be made by women or men, there is a special, highly coveted award given for the Best Woman Winemaker.

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This flight of Native American red varietals that I’m about to judge includes Noble, Norton and Concord. Earlier, we’d tasted Bordeaux-style red blends.

This year, we were divided into 8 panels of 3, with a coordinator (Hi Joe!) at each table to tabulate our scores.

On Day 1 of our 2-day competition (Day 2 is devoted to the final Sweepstakes Round – more tomorrow!), each panel tastes through a series of pre-assigned “flights” of wines in various categories.

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IWWC President and Founder Debra Del Fiorentino, who also directs several other competitions

We never know exactly what we’re going to get – but thanks to Debra Del Fiorentino, the IWWC’s founder and president, and her savvy team, it’s always an interesting mix of varietals and styles.

For example, not only did my panel get to judge several native American red varietals of the Vitis labrusca species (see photo); we also tasted a number of hybrids of V. labrusca and V. vinifera (traditional European grapes). The labrusca varietals and hybrids, by the way, thrive in the East and Midwest, where cold winters can damage or kill vinifera vines. My fave among them was an unlikely sounding, but deliciously Bordeaux-like blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Marechal Foch and Chancellor.

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Our 8 panels of 3. What a great group (see pic at bottom.) When I first started judging wine, I was one of only a handful (or less) of women in any given competition. Now we have one of our own!

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Winemakers Sherrie Holzer (Castoro Cellars) and Shauna Rosenblum (Rock Wall Wine Company) judge a flight of reds. Notice their spit cups at the ready…

Meanwhile, each of the panels is tasting through its own list of wines – about 150 per panel for our 6-hour day.

Yes, this sounds like a lot to handle (and it it is!), but we have plenty of ways – some obvious, others not so much – of keeping brain fog and palate fatigue at bay.

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Certified Sommelier Cory Lester sniffs a Chardonnay, getting to know its aromas (and getting a smart head start on judging it) before actually tasting the wine.

With that much alcohol slipping past our lips and sloshing around in our mouths, our most essential tool, I would argue, is the all-important SPIT CUP! (Check out the innocuous white paper cups in front of Sherrie and Shauna, and in Cory’s left hand.)

If we didn’t use our trusty spit cups faithfully after swishing all those sips around, we’d be horizontal before lunch! Another obvious line of defense is good ol’ H2O. Every competition provides buckets of bottled water for us – sometimes both plain and sparkling.

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Drinking lots of water while judging helps dilute the alcohol that gets into the bloodstream naturally through the membranes of our mouths. And the plates of “snacks” on our judging tables aren’t just for random noshing. The bread cubes help sop up any small amounts of alcohol that we swallow, and the slices of cheese and rare roast beef, with their high doses of protein and fat, help counter the gritty tannins in big reds such as Cabernet and Syrah.

2017 Women’s International Wine Competition – The Judges!

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Come on back tomorrow for the Sweepstakes Round, when I’ll reveal the big winners of this year’s Women’s International Wine Competition. We’ll also swing by tonight’s big party at DeLoach Vineyards for some sips and nibbles, at the alfresco Judge’s Dinner in the vineyards.

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Until then, my friends,
Cheers and happy tastings,
Rosina

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You can also email me at Rosina@DrinkWineWithDinner.com with comments or questions. I look forward to hearing from you!

Cheers once again,
Rosina