For some, the mention of wine can evoke a slight tinge of intimidation. For the average person who sticks to drinking what's available, what's affordable or what the waiter recommends, understanding wine can be battle that's better not fought.
Often, wine appears to exist on its own level — a level for the "experts," the stereotypical hoity-toity connoisseur whose face puckers when he or she hears the words "Two Buck Chuck" or "I'll just take a glass of whatever that white one is."
Usually, it is those wine experts who decide which wine is best, which is better and which wines are really top notch.
But the times are changing. There's a new way to taste wine — and it's starting in Lodi.
The Consumer Wine Awards being held this weekend in Lodi is putting traditional wine judging to the side and letting more than 100 wine-loving consumers be the judge of almost 600 international wines. Unlike any award show of its kind, the wine evaluators have little and no background in wine. However, they know what they like to drink.
The evaluators will not be looking for flavors of wood or cherry or sniffing deep into the class for the exact fraction of a second. They are judging based on what their taste buds tell them. What they like is what they drink.
This is the third year this event has been held in Lodi, but it is the first time wine has been judged like this. The method is based on Master of Wine Tim Hanni's taste sensitivity research on different people's palettes and taste preferences. It focuses on the number of taste buds on one person's tongue compared to another, and whether someone tastes the saltier or sweeter side of foods. Hanni helped create the wine awards with Lodi Tokay Rotary and Pooch Puchilowski to recognize and celebrate the fact that every person has unique physiological and sensory differences that affect wine and food preferences.
"A lot of wine experts and critics think consumers are too stupid to know for themselves whether they like the wine or not," Hanni said.
Evaluators from Lodi and around the country were chosen by submitting an online survey about their likes and dislikes, things that were markers as to how sensitive they are or are not to certain flavors.
About 1,500 people signed up to be a consumer wine evaluator, and 100 were selected to be a wine evaluator at Sunday's event.
"There's virtually no training," Hanni said. "Pick up one glass. Taste it. Spit it out. Put (your mark) on a rating strip."
Greg Larson, of Lodi, was chosen to be an evaluator after he filled out an online survey. Like the other selected judges, his wine experience is minimal. He worked for Robert Mondavi in the early '80s, but he's spent most of his adult career working in the banking industry. The extent of his wine knowledge comes from wine tasting around the area. With a passion for red wines, it is likely he will be a judge for a variety of red wines. But he knows a rhubarb wine took second place at last year's event, so he's ready for anything.
"I come with an open mind," Larson said. "Anything's game."
For each type of wine, there will be a panel of five evaluators, who will judge 25 to 30 international wines. What wine they will judge is the type of wine they enjoy most. If someone typically enjoys Zinfandel, they will judge 25 to 35 Zinfandels. Same goes for those who enjoy wines from Cabernet to Sauvignon Blanc. The rating system is simple. Evaluators will say to themselves: I don't like this, I would drink it if someone was serving it, or I'd buy a lot of this wine.
Though the method gives the opinion of the average wine drinker, Hanni's method is not expected to discount traditional wine judging.
Mark Chandler, executive director of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, believes there's room in the wine world to enjoy both types of evaluation.
"Coming from a professional wine judging side, professional wine judging is not going to go away," said Chandler, who also believes it's a great event to bring to Lodi. "Tim has always been a pioneer … and one of the things Lodi is known for is innovation."
Wine-pairing event tonight at Wine and RosesThe Lodi Woodbridge-Winegrape Commission will be hosting Pairing Perfection, a Culinary Arts meets Lodi Winemakers dinner this evening. Student chefs from the Art Institute of California in Sacramento will join Lodi wineries to create a cuisine paired with handcrafted Lodi wines.
Each student chef and winery team will offer guests samples of their pairing, not only will they be judged by professionalsbut you too will have the chance to vote for the People's Choice award.
The top four student chef winners will be awarded scholarships and prizes at an award ceremony directly following the event.
Time: Food and wine pairing from 5-8 p.m., award ceremony from 8-8:30 p.m.
Where: Wine & Roses Grand Ballroom, 2505 W. Turner Road.
Taste competing wines at Sunday's after partyTired of stuffy, pedantic wine and food events? The International Wine Awards is the opposite wine event. At the after party, sponsored by Lodi Tokay Rotary, sample hundreds of wines entered and enjoy a meal by Walter Ng and Napa Seasoning Company. Also learn how individual taste sensitivity quotient shapes your personal wine preferences.
When: Sunday from 6-9 p.m.
Where: Hutchins Street Square, 125 S. Hutchins St.
Cost: $25 in advance, $30 at the door.