Some insight into judging wines

    I am happy to announce that a Southern Oregon winery, Spangler Vineyards of Roseburg, won the Best of Show award for its 2010 Grenache at the 2013 Newport Seafood and Wine Festival.

    This festival is the longest running, and arguably the most prestigious, wine festival in the Pacific Northwest. This superb red wine, from one of the finest winemakers in the United States, was the flat-out choice for Best of Show among a very tight field of gold medal contenders.

    I have been a judge at this festival for more than 25 years and do not remember a wine so clearly deserving of the highest award that we could give. Grenache, when well made, is driven by dark spice, rich palate grip, almost plum-cake aromas and undulating, layered flavors of dark fruit throughout the palate. As for all wines, grenache needs to be well balanced with spice, wood, bouquet, palate weight, and good fruit and acidity to be considered for a medal.

    Spangler's was mind-blowing in every respect and stood out for its excellence. I do not know when Pat and Loree Spangler are going to release this wine to the public, nor do I know what price they will be selling it for, but it's easy to contact them — either on the Web at or by heading north on Interstate 5 and taking exit 199 to Highway 42. On the left side of the road you will see Winery Lane. Zip down the long driveway and you will run into the well-appointed tasting room. It is well worth the trip.

    Professional commercial wine judging has been part of my life for well over three decades. I have participated in many events, but find Newport to be especially rewarding — not only for the level of judges but for the incredible care given to wine entrants and the professionalism of the support staff who make the judging go so smoothly.

    Joseph Swafford, the founding and current director of the judging, has done a marvelous job in all aspects: hiring the support staff, receiving the wine entrants, feeding and housing the judges and seeing that discussion and awards are done in a timely and professional manner. Believe me, these duties are not easy, and I think Joseph deserves much respect from the Oregon winery folks for his attentiveness in making sure that every wine submitted receives superb treatment before, during and after the competition.

    Commercial judging follows a strict code of behavior that has been honed from countless events over the years. Let's look at judging methodology:

    1. Judges are of an odd number to lessen the chance of a "tie" vote. At Newport there are five judges: one woman and four men. We all bring a different palate to the competition, but follow one cardinal rule: We allow for stylistic variances in every flight of wines judged. For example, even though a judge might prefer a steely, dry chardonnay, he would give the more buttery entrants the same level of respect.

    2. All judges, at all times, respect the director, the staff, the wines entered (regardless of how "bad" the wine appears) and each other.

    3. No discussion is allowed while wines are being evaluated. Discussion commences after every judge puts his or her pencil down and is ready to discuss the wines.

    4. No single judge begins a discussion of medal merit. The director chooses at his discretion who will begin every new medal discussion. No one judge dominates the competition.

    More on commercial wine judging next week.

    Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there parttime. Reach him at

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