Coke Roth

Platinum judging: A complex beauty pageant

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this Wine Press issue reveals the Platinum results; where the judges are expected to find the best of the best from wines that were awarded a competition Gold medal.

A beauty contest of this magnitude has its complexities, as envious as it may seem to the unwashed who only get to read about it and not participate like I your heart out, Sucker! So how do we know when a wine is a Gold, a Double Gold or Platinum? And, moreover, how do you tell if an avant-garde variety is good? And these blends of strange bedfellows.WT.erHeck! This mission calls for some deep cogitation and legal research.

In the landmark United States Supreme Court case of Jacobellis v. Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart attempted to describe his threshold for obscenity. Using the “Roth Test” (coincidence? I think not.) to determine whether a frisky movie was protected speech or not, Justice Stewart said: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced with that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it and the motion picture involved in this case is not that". And that's the way it was for all of us judges back in late October; looking for consensus on what we individually saw as the best wines. We personally knew a winner when we saw one. And the unification of opinion meant a wine struck pay-dirt.

It is all subjective when we see it. The first thing we do is try to eliminate those wines to which we take exception. Sometimes we take exception to too much of a good thing, and sometimes we take exception to too much of a bad thing.

An example of too much of a good thing is oak. Oh, the charm that complementary oak brings to certain wines is so appealing: Toast, chocolate, vanilla. But when aromas of pencil shavings and dominating oak flavors make it an "oak monster", not even time will heal too much of that good thing. I can tell you one thing; I know too much oak when I smell and taste it.

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And what the barrel itself does beyond the infusion of flavors and aromas is extraordinary; oxidation mellows harsh tannins and fermentation aromas to become an estery bouquet. But too much oxygen makes the wine pruny As much as people my age need prune juice, it might be an elixir to some, but not to me.

There’s another love – hate component set of chemicals that comes from a feral yeast, Brettanomyces. It smells oh so sexy when it's in small amounts. But, after it blooms and inundates the wine with higher concentrations of what we refer to as "Brett", it smells like the horse barn on the fourth day of the fair, among other delicious odors, like Band-Aids. Some people reject a wine with just a little bit of Brett, and some people feel that a wine is not a good wine unless it smells like a feedlot. Personally, I know when there's too much Brett When I smell and taste it.

The group of chemicals that we call “volatile acidity”, comprised of vinegar, nail polish and nail polish remover, actually smell downright good in certain circumstances. I embrace vinegar – enhanced salad dressings. The smell of nail polish and nail polish remover is often engaging to a real man like me because of its feminine nexus. But a couple drops of that stuff in a wine is a fault to some, while others call it a virtue. But people know what the right concentration is for them when they smell it.

How much of something is too much of something. Or under the "Roth Test", it might be said how little of something is too much of something ahem. How much is too much perfume, or salt, or pepper? Is a handful of rings extravagant or gaudy, is the music too loud or does it rock, and is the tequila smooth or does it warrant a 911 call? All examples of what we smell, taste, see, hear and feel that tell us we like it or we don't. One thing for sure, we know it when we see it.

Until you tried a peach, how did you know what it was supposed to taste like? I know that my kind of Pinot Noir has red currant, pie cherry, a hint of raspberry and violets. But what about Montepulciano, Dolcetto or Nebbiolo? How do I know whether I’m going to like a blend of Gewürztraminer-Schönburger? Well, the first time I tasted a standalone Mourvedre’, I didn’t know what to expect, but I liked it. What we look for, whether tasting a variety we’ve never heard of or a blend of what we consider to be family, is sound wine; and we know it when we see it.

There were several wines that received a Platinum that I didn’t particularly like. And there were several wines that I thought would go the distance that never made it to first base, because my esteemed counterparts judging the wine didn't see what I saw when I saw it. By using the Platinum results as a guide, I hope you see what I saw, and consume it with your pals who see it, in moderation, frequently.

This story was originally published December 21, 2014 12:00 AM.


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