Please The Palate Pick of the Week: 2020 Central Coast Wine Competition

For the 3rd consecutive year, I was invited to be a judge at the Central Coast Wine Competition in Paso Robles. While the competition typically takes place in June, due to Covid they had to postpone it and finally rescheduled it for October. I was honored to be invited back but this would be the first trip I would be taking since March. Not only was the selection of wines overall very good, the safety measures implemented made the 2020 Central Coast Wine Competition the Please The Palate pick of the week.

The Central Coast consists of Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Each of these regions is producing wine and the quality and diversity of the wine produced is really good. And at the annual Central Coast Wine Competition, hosted by the California Mid-State Fair, we get to taste many of these wines and select the best!

There were approximately 500 entrees this year. There are 15 judges and per usual we are divided into teams of three. Each team usually sits at a large round table and again we did it this year, except this time there were plastic dividers set up between us.

Another change was that there were two sections in the large hall. Instead of us sitting at the table while volunteers would come and clear and then replace wine glasses, each team would alternate between two tables. While we were tasting at one table, the volunteers were setting up the other table for the next flight. It was very efficient and likely a format that will be implemented in a future post-Covid world.

The back area, which judges cannot go into, is where all the wine is lined up and the volunteers work. This was also organized in a systematic spaced out manner so that the volunteers could easily pour each flight.

The competition took place over two days.

On Day 1, each team was assigned a series of flights. My panel had a total of 93 wines, 66 red and 27 white. We tasted Bordeaux Blends, Cabernet Blends, Rhone Blends, Zinfandel, Primitivo, Canned Wine, Sparkling Wine, Albarino, Rose Wine, White Wines, Riesling, and Dessert Wines. As we taste each wine, we award is a Gold, Silver, Bronze or No Award. If our panel unanimously give a wine a Gold, that wine receives a Double Gold. By the end of day one, my teeth and lips were a dark purple.

On Day 2, it was Sweepstakes. In Sweepstakes, the Double Gold wines from each panel on Day 1 are poured for every single judge. From there, we start tasting, selecting one winning wine per category. This winning wine wins “Best In Category”.

In the end, we tasted all the “Best in Category” White Wines and voted for the “Best White Wine” and we did that for sparkling wines, rose wines, red wines, and dessert wines.

Finally we were down to the final five wines and from there, we all tasted and voted for the “Best in Show”.

Judging wine is challenging and definitely demands a lot on the palate. But, overall, the wines were quite good and it felt great to see friends in a “normal” atmosphere except everyone wore masks and we had plexiglass dividers.

I want to compliment the organizers and all of the volunteers for making my first outing in seven months such a wonderful experience and the Please The Palate pick of the week.