Monday, March 01, 2010

Missouri Winemaking Society annual competition

Wineglasses - Missouri Winemaking Society 2010 competition, at DeSmet High School, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA

Yesterday, I was a judge for the Missouri Winemaking Society's annual competition, held at DeSmet High School in Saint Louis County. Here is a series of Norton wines, which I and the other judges were selecting for the best of category. The judging is blind, and they try to include tasters who do not belong to the society; the scoring is on a scale of 20 points and includes objective and subjective factors.

The Missouri wine industry, before prohibition, was the largest in the nation.  Native Missouri grape varieties can make decent wine, and grape growing started here in the colonial era, primarily for making sacramental wine.  The Missouri River valley had an early wine industry founded by Germans who thought the region resembled the Rhine, whereas Italians started grape and wine production a bit further south in the Ozarks. The current wine industry was re-started in the 1960s, and continues to have double-digit annual growth in production.

As the Missouri climate is excessively hot and dry in the summer, and cold in the winter, many of the classic grape varieties of California and France do not grow here well. Chardonnay does grow here with some difficulty, but far hardier is a cross between Chardonnay and Seyval, called Chardonel. The latter two can produce excellent wines here, but the examples entered this year did not stand out.  The king grape of Missouri is Norton, and it produces superb wines, including several of those we judged.

We joked about the Catawba grape category, saying that their exemplar wine would be ‘Mad Dog 20/20’, but one was actually quite outstanding. A mysterious experimental grape variety seems to have a good future, and we sampled a fine apple wine.  Each year that I've judged the competition it seems quality has increased, although this year there were more experimental wines and many of them did not turn out very well.

My personal favorite was a fortified Norton; slightly sweet, and very rich in flavor, it would be perfect for a late-night fireside discussion of theology, philosophy, and politics.

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