On Judging Wines


I was honored to be invited to judge this year’s LA International Wine Competition, an 80-year-old tradition based at the Fairgrounds in Pomona. We kicked it off by introducing ourselves, and I quickly learned I was among some greats—some true veterans of both the industry and of this competition. Everyone assured me that this was the “fun” competition, and I could tell that people have been coming back year after year as much for the comradery as for the wine.

But the wine too is a great draw! What an educational experience to evaluate wine for medals. The entries came from all over the world, as eclectic as can be. I’m used to evaluating wine for flaws, structure, varietal/regional character, etc. To take a flight and blindly rank them was somewhat of a different experience. I do believe in quantifiable excellence in a wine, but there’s some subjectivity there too. So the conversation among judges—three other exceptionally knowledgeable and experienced tasters, including K&L’s Keith Mabry—became paramount in the process. With a backdrop of pouring rain and late-May thunder and lightning, we tasted through 100 wines each day, category by category.


It got me thinking about blind tasting. Wines that show well in a blind panel may be delicious, but I still enjoy knowing where they came from and how they were made when I’m thinking about a wine overall. Critics’ numeric scores tell part of the larger story. While a score can tell you how well a wine is made, another part of the joy of drinking wine is to understand the all the factors—human and natural—behind it. Wine is a beautiful part of a meal, and its flavor profile is the tip of the iceberg. So, if anything, I’d encourage a numeric score to open the door to learning the rest of the wine’s story.

It was a great honor and a great experience to be a part of this competition. We tasted some fantastic wines, confirming that there is good juice out there to please any palate. I enjoyed meeting so many of the people who make the wine industry what it is today. Judging wine may be serious business, but this talented group of professionals made it especially fun (the Karaoke helped, too)! Cheers!

- Kate Soto

Kate Soto