Quick Sips — 02 April 2016
Sip and Tell: What it’s like to be a wine judge

Editor’s note: Peg San Felippo was one of 24 judges at South Florida’s home-grown American Fine Wine Competition, judged in January at FIU’s North Miami campus. She is a certified sommelier and a past chapter chair of The American Institute of Wine and Food. Judging a wine competition may sound easy, but it’s a lot of work – with its own set of occupational hazards. We asked her to fill us in.

City & Shore: Is there anything special about the way you dress before judging a wine competition?

Peg San Felippo: It really depends on how good of a wine spitter you are. At this year’s competition, each judge averaged 175 different wine glasses with more than half of those wines being red. If you are feeling lucky or own chlorine bleach stock you might wear white. But most of us believe in occasional wine-aim failure and wear black or dark colors.

C&S: So many wines. How do judges keep from getting tipsy?

PSF: As I mentioned earlier, spitting is imperative. Also, there is always bread, shaved meats and water on the judging tables. That said, especially the last day when we were doing the Best of Show reds, the wines were so good I just couldn’t spit them out. Don’t tell anyone, though.

C&S: Aside from those Best of Show wines, there were a record number of Double Gold and Gold medalists (online at cityandshore.com/departments/top-u-s-wines-named-in-2016-competition). How would you rate the wines overall this year?

PSF: They were exceptional. The organizers of [the AWFC] truly only seek out the best of the best. Not to be confused with some other large competitions I have judged that have had ‘potato,’ ‘tomatillo-jalapeño’ or ‘avocado’ wine judging categories. Avocado wine, by the way, has all the characteristics of lemon Pledge.

C&S: Is being a wine judge glamorous?

PSF: While it is an honor I wouldn’t use the word ‘glamorous.’ Have you ever seen someone’s teeth after they’ve been swirling 80-plus red wines around in their mouth? Not pretty! Most of us look like we’ve never owned a toothbrush by the end of the day.

C&S: Do most of the judges agree which wines should get the awards?

PSF: This year the wine that was voted AWFC’s Best of Class Pinot Noir [a 2013 Hahn SLH] was actually featured on the cover of Wine Spectator the following week. All the judges felt pretty good about that. Judges for this competition are always very civilized. A disagreement on what a wine should be awarded has never led to fisticuffs. I can’t say there hasn’t been the occasional evil eye, though.

You can sample the wines Peg San Felippo and the other judges picked as the best in the nation – paired with a gourmet dinner – at the AFWC Charity Gala on Friday, April 8th, at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale. The event, benefiting the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, will include a silent and live auction and music. Advance purchase price is $300 per person. For more information call 561-558-2345 or visit americanfinewinecompetition.com

Above: Peg San Felippo was one of 24 judges at South Florida’s home-grown American Fine Wine Competition.

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