To Be First, You Must Be Last!


Every year my wife’s family hosts Thanksgiving and every year we have a Cabernet Tasting Contest. You get to submit one bottle of Cabernet and it doesn’t matter how much it costs or what region or country it’s from, although they’re generally from Napa or Sonoma. Along with your wine, you have to buy in with a $20 entry fee. The person whose wine wins the contest gets to keep the pot.

Owning a wine store, you’d think that I’d have some built in advantage to win this contest year after year – but no, that has never happened. Yet every year I put a lot of time and careful consideration, and quite a bit of money, into selecting the wine I think will win. But after a few years now and a much lighter wallet, I’ve discovered that it doesn’t really matter what you bring – in fact it only matters when your wine is tasted.

Let me explain: After just a few bottles, you’d have to have a pretty well trained palate to discern one wine being  better than another. It’s the same phenomenon you experience when you go to Napa wine tasting all day. Ever notice how much better the wines and winery’s get as the day goes on? It’s because you’re drunk!

Enough of that, back to amateur hour. “The family” has a simple scoring system. You take a taste of each bottle and score it from 1 – 10, 10 being the best. Keep in mind; none of the tasters are professionals, so getting ratings of 9, 9.1, 9.2 is not what we see in this competition. No, can you imagine getting scores of 1, 3, 4 or 6 point scores on a 2005 Blankiet Cabernet? And yet we did! The Blankiet was the first wine poured. The winner was #12. Same with the year before and the year before that. So to win, all you can hope for is that your wine is poured last.Thus why it doesn’t matter what you bring.

Sidebar: Last year I brought a 95 point Spottswoode and a 94 point Rudd but got smoked by your ordinary every day 90 point Caymus. The year before that – I brought a 2002 Robert Foley and I lost to a 2001 Robert Foley. Both of these years the winning wine was poured last.

Well this year I thought I had it covered. I not only brought my wine, I also selected my wife’s and my sister-in-laws entry. Three entry’s and yet once again the amateurs brought me to my knees. The one consolation? My wife’s cousin who has won 3 years in a row was finally knocked off AND I sold the winning bottle from my store. The best part is that is that I don’t have to hear the cuz’ brag again!

To prove my point again that it matters only if your wine is tasted near the end of the contest, here are the 14 wines that were submitted, the order they were poured and their finishing place in the competition:

Pour #1 – 2005 Blankiet. Came in 11th place.

Pour #2 – 2006 Quilceda Creek. Came in 10th place. (And this was a 100 point wine by the so-called experts!)

Pour #3 – 2003 Lewis Cellars. Came in 4th place. This was one of my submissions.

Pour #4 – 2004 Miroslav. A Slovinian wine that came in dead last. (I actually liked it a lot and found it to be the most interesting wine, but not the best of the day!)

Pour #5 – 2004 Lyndenhurst (2nd label for Spottswoode). Came in 12th place.

Pour #6 – 2004 Realm. Came in 8th place. This was one of my submissions.

Pour #7 – 2005 BV Merlot (yes, Merlot! It was grabbed by accident but submitted anyway). It came in 5th place! See my point about amateurs!!

Pour #8 – 2002 Jones. Came in 7th place.

Pour #9 – 2002 Blank. Came in 13th place – next to last! This is a Grace Family second label I believe.

Pour #10 – 2005 Buccella. Came in 9th place. (I almost brought this myself!)

Pour #11 – 2004 Lancaster. Came in 3rd place. This was one of my submissions

Pour #12 – 2005 Faust. THE FIRST PLACE WINNER!! (second label wine for Quintessa)

Pour #13 – 2002 Lewis. Came in 6th place.

Pour #14 – 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia. Came in 2nd place.

So you see, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners were amongst the last 4 of the 14 bottles to be sampled, thus proving my point: To be first, you must be last!