More than 50 judges and 200 volunteers gathered over wine last weekend in downtown Rochester for the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
The 19-year-old competition, along with a related wine auction later this year, raises money for Camp Good Days, a camp and related programs for children with cancer and other health conditions. Wines are judged to fall in the bronze, silver, gold or double gold categories and a case of each gold or double-gold is made available for auction at the later event.
Last year the paired events raised close to $350,000 for the camp.
The judges, served wine in blind tastings by the volunteers, sampled a total of more than 2,850 wines at the two-day competition at the Holiday Inn Rochester Downtown. Results will be announced in a week or two, said Kira Smelser, a representative of Camp Good Days.
Smelser noted that this year’s event attracted a record 370 entries from wineries in the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Wines also were submitted for judging from the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Hungary.
Of the 52 judges who attended, 10 were from countries other than the United States, Smelser said. The judges work at wineries, elsewhere in the wine industry, and places such as colleges that have hospitality or viticulture programs.
Volunteers come from many walks, including people with loved ones who had cancer, survivors of cancer who attended the camp as children, and others.
At one table on Saturday afternoon, a tasting panel comprised Doris Miculan Bradley, a professor and academic coordinator of the hospitality and tourism school at George Brown College in Toronto; Paul Brady, New York brand ambassador of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation; and Cheryl Pitti, wine and spirits consultant from East Syracuse. While Bradley had judged this competition 15 times and Pitti had been there a few times, it was Brady’s first experience at this particular competition.
Volunteers brought them seven different merlots, distinguished only by numbers and, in one case, a year the grapes were harvested. And in a separate tasting, they all tried eight cabernet francs.
Each swirled the wine in the glasses, took in their aroma, slurped up the reddish-purple liquids, and took a large sip. Brady could be heard swooshing the liquid around in his mouth. They quietly spit the wines into a red cup and then made notes on yellow scoring sheets as they went along. When each varietal in a grouping had been tasted, they compared notes as a first step in reaching a single grade for each wine. Then Bradley marked down their agreed-upon grades on a green sheet that was handed in each time a round of glasses was collected.
Before the end of the day, the trio was to sample 60 wines. And somehow, they could still taste differences after hours of doing that.
“It’s just in making sure you spit everything,” Pitti said. She and Bradley agreed that tasting bitter or salty foods, such as raw broccoli or olives, helped cleanse their palates.
“You’ve got to keep it professional,” said Bradley, the head judge for her table.
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