Palate to the people: Wine competition lets the consumers rate their favorites

Monday, March 21, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:50 am, Mon Mar 21, 2011

Consumers from around California spent
Saturday afternoon at Hutchins Street Square
sampling wines from around the world and
giving their frank assessment of what they

The Consumer Wine Awards at Lodi enables
those who would purchase wines in a restaurant
or grocery store to vote on it, said G.M. "Pooch"
Pucilowski, head of judging and wine
submissions for the event. Vintners are
always looking to understand a consumer's
taste preferences, and Saturday's event
helps consumers and winemakers engage
each other.

"Even though consumers can be more casual
tasters, the winemakers are very interested
in their feedback because they are the ones
who pay money to buy the wines," he said.

While the Consumer Wine Awards is a series
of tasting events that have been held for the
past five years, 2011 marks the second year
it has been held in Lodi. It is designed to refine
and improve the consumer wine evaluation
process. This year featured a noticeable increase in participation from wineries, Pucilowski said.

"We set a new record this year with almost 700 wines," he said. "Last year we had about 540."

To become an evaluator, consumers must take a survey on the Consumer Wine Awards website. The
questions revolve around the individual's taste preferences and help determine what kinds of wine they
will be tasting during the event, said Pucilowski.

"If you like sweet whites, you will be evaluating sweet whites," he said.

Each evaluator rates the wines on a scale of 0 to 7 and tastes about 30 during a two-hour shift. The glasses
are given a four-digit code so the evaluators have no idea what company produced the wine or where its
grapes are from.

"A 'seven' basically means an evaluator would leave right now to buy a bottle," Pucilowski said.

Davis resident Stacy Gagnon was tasting Zinfandels during his session as an evaluator. Gagnon was an
evaluator last year and said the wines he sampled this time around didn't impress him as much overall.

"I'm looking for an overly peppery fruit bomb," he said. "But the stuff that tastes too much like cherry
isn't for me."

Gagnon did give the highest marks possible to one wine he tasted and said he was looking forward to
the event's after party so he could see which one it was.

Even though the event centered around tasting and grading wine, one exhibit focused on the individual
consumer's sense of smell. Sensory Sciences, LLC, a Cincinnati-based medical research company, had
a "Wine Aroma Identification" test available for evaluators. The test features 12 separate fragrances and
asks the user to identify the smell and rate it on both its intensity and pleasantness.

"It helps them hone in on their taste preferences," said Bruce Johnson, president of Sensory Sciences, LLC.
"It's just one piece of the puzzle."

The competition is a charitable event hosted by Diversity Wine Awards LLC, and the Lodi-Tokay Rotary
Club. Proceeds from the event will be donated back the community. Tree Lodi and the Lodi Arts Commission
are two groups the Lodi-Tokay Rotary Club donates to, said Rotarian Mark Hamilton.

Hamilton was one of about 100 volunteers for Saturday's event. The volunteers began setup up at 7 a.m.
and would help calculate results, pour wine and attend to the needs of evaluators throughout the day. The
official results will be available later this week, said Pucilowski. An award ceremony for the highest-rated
wines will be held May 6 at Hutchins Street Square.

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at


Lodi News-Sentinel