When in Verona on the eve of April Fool's Day I remembered a line I wrote in my playwriting days, "I wasn't brought up with me in mind."
Why? There we were in the Crowne Plaza in Verona, 50+. This was the welcome for all wine judges for the Five-Star and Wine Without Wine Awards. We waited for dinner, but first the intros from all. When it was my turn, all I could think of was that people were hungry and the introductions could take an hour. So I took it upon myself to be brief, "I'm Alice Feiring and I'm a wine writer based in NYC."
Stevie Kim--the energetic Queen Bee (Managing Director) of Vinitaly International--who invited me to organize this new wine award, must have been aghast. She ran up to me, grabbed my arm and said, "Oh no, you can't get away with that." And then she went on to introduce me properly. The basics: who I am and why I was there.
I'll fix it next year.
In the end, while my introduction bombed, the experience of heading up the world's first natural wine award proved to be a beaut. The Wine Without Walls, as I conceived it was not based on a numerical score but by unquantifiable, completely subjective parameters. But to be eligible the wine had to be organic and have no additives or adjustments--except minimal So2.
Here's how it went down.
After staying up bonding with my judges over some great bottles--such as--
--we, the next morning on April 1st, sat down at a corner table in a room full of wine judging and commenced. At my table were.....
It was a love fest. Pascaline Lepeltier from Rouge Tomate, Diego Sorba from Tabarro, Pietro Vergano from Convivium and Mike Bennie--consultant, writer and resident punting (drinking from the punt) expert. Each one brought another part of the puzzle to what it is we experience and talk about when we drink wine. I wanted a range of palates and view points, I wanted a range of technical training and straight from the heart reactions.
The first wines were oops, not that great. It's often that way. But there were some gems as we went along. Later in the afternoon we hit the school of wine fish. We reeled them in. One of them, 10.5 alcohol, silvaner from Franken, was sharp as a razor and refreshing. The 2007 trebbiano made our eyes rolled to the heaven. I kept my mouth shut, I had a good suspicion what the wine was. And it was sublime.
The Five-Star judges took three days, but with 76 wines, Wine Without Walls took eight hours.
We bonded over wines in a way I'd never experienced. I'd been on judging panels before but this was different. We were protective about the wines, we were upset by the interlopers that squeaked through. Yes, some of the wines that we rejected were yeasted, over-oaked, fine tuned. They went into the bin. But there was enough in front of us to do what we came for, to discover, not to judge. There were times we got stuck. But it was them I urged my team to go back to the guidelines. Emotional impact?
Evolution in the glass?
Sense of place?
I admit that when I created those criteria, I hadn't understood how they would work so well. They proved to be excellent guideposts to keep us on tract--even if a judge was wavering.
In the end we gave out 17 awards. And all of them were truly worthy. And what's more, I think as far as award winning wines, this was the finest collection of trophy snaggers I've ever seen. I was really touched that these winemakers entrusted us with their wines.
2014 Carfagna Ansonaco (Tuscany, Italy)
2014 Cascina Tavijn Ruché (Piemonte, Italy)
2007 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano (Abruzzo, Italy)
2001 Emidio Pepe Multipulciano (Abruzzo, Italy)
2014 Podere Giardino Lambrusco Rosato (Emilia Romagna, Italy)
2014 Ca' da Noci Frizzante Le Rosé (Emilia Romagna, Italy)
2013 Ca' da Noci Notte di Luna (Emilia Romagna, Italy)
NV Champagne Lelarge Peugeot (Champagne, France)
2014 DeMartino Muscat Tinaja (Chile)
2014 Pheasants Tears Mtsvane (Georgia)
2014 Pheasants Tears Rkatsiteli (Georgia)
2013 Ramaz Nikoladze Tsolikouri (Georgia)
2014 Iago's Wine Chinuri (skin contact) (Georgia)
2014 2Naturkinder Heimat Silvaner (from the hands of Michael Voelker, Franken, Germany)
2013 Radikon Slatnik (Friuli-
2012 Čotar Vitovska Grganja (Karst, Slovenia)
2013 Čotar Malvazija (Karst, Slovenia)
We left on a high, ready to head out to Bar Stella to plumb their wine list.