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Palate to the people: Wine competition lets the consumers rate their favorites

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Posted: Monday, March 21, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:50 am, Mon Mar 21, 2011.

Consumers from around California spent Saturday afternoon at Hutchins Street Square sampling wines from around the world and giving their frank assessment of what they tasted.

The Consumer Wine Awards at Lodi enables those who would purchase wines in a restaurant or grocery store to vote on it, said G.M. "Pooch" Pucilowski, head of judging and wine submissions for the event. Vintners are always looking to understand a consumer's taste preferences, and Saturday's event helps consumers and winemakers engage each other.

"Even though consumers can be more casual tasters, the winemakers are very interested in their feedback because they are the ones who pay money to buy the wines," he said.

While the Consumer Wine Awards is a series of tasting events that have been held for the past five years, 2011 marks the second year it has been held in Lodi. It is designed to refine and improve the consumer wine evaluation process. This year featured a noticeable increase in participation from wineries, Pucilowski said.

"We set a new record this year with almost 700 wines," he said. "Last year we had about 540."

To become an evaluator, consumers must take a survey on the Consumer Wine Awards website. The questions revolve around the individual's taste preferences and help determine what kinds of wine they will be tasting during the event, said Pucilowski.

"If you like sweet whites, you will be evaluating sweet whites," he said.

Each evaluator rates the wines on a scale of 0 to 7 and tastes about 30 during a two-hour shift. The glasses are given a four-digit code so the evaluators have no idea what company produced the wine or where its grapes are from.

"A 'seven' basically means an evaluator would leave right now to buy a bottle," Pucilowski said.

Davis resident Stacy Gagnon was tasting Zinfandels during his session as an evaluator. Gagnon was an evaluator last year and said the wines he sampled this time around didn't impress him as much overall.

"I'm looking for an overly peppery fruit bomb," he said. "But the stuff that tastes too much like cherry isn't for me."

Gagnon did give the highest marks possible to one wine he tasted and said he was looking forward to the event's after party so he could see which one it was.

Even though the event centered around tasting and grading wine, one exhibit focused on the individual consumer's sense of smell. Sensory Sciences, LLC, a Cincinnati-based medical research company, had a "Wine Aroma Identification" test available for evaluators. The test features 12 separate fragrances and asks the user to identify the smell and rate it on both its intensity and pleasantness.

"It helps them hone in on their taste preferences," said Bruce Johnson, president of Sensory Sciences, LLC. "It's just one piece of the puzzle."

The competition is a charitable event hosted by Diversity Wine Awards LLC, and the Lodi-Tokay Rotary Club. Proceeds from the event will be donated back the community. Tree Lodi and the Lodi Arts Commission are two groups the Lodi-Tokay Rotary Club donates to, said Rotarian Mark Hamilton.

Hamilton was one of about 100 volunteers for Saturday's event. The volunteers began setup up at 7 a.m. and would help calculate results, pour wine and attend to the needs of evaluators throughout the day. The official results will be available later this week, said Pucilowski. An award ceremony for the highest-rated wines will be held May 6 at Hutchins Street Square.

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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