During the course of the year, I am invited to serve as a judge for a few professional wine competitions around the country. I like the experience and enjoy the socialization with my fellow judges who are from many diverse backgrounds. They all possess keen palates and a solid sense of what the wines should be.
Also let me state here that you, as a consumer, should have an interest in these judgings as they are possibly your best guide of which wines deserve your attention. In professional wine judgings, scores, usually not numerical, are assigned to the wines by panels of tasters. The multiple noses and palates that are involved in the process paint a nice picture of what the wine is and whether it may be something that could fit into your wine appreciation experience.  
Along those lines, I have just completed the judging of the San Francisco International Wine Competition. This is one of the most prestigious wine competitions in America (yes, you are right. I too was wondering the whole time what I was doing there.). The SF International is staged by respected journalist, Anthony Dias Blue, publisher of Tasting Panel Magazine, among other media outlets.
This year there were more than 4,500 wines entered into the competition, and it takes several days of judging a lot of wine in an efficient fashion to reach conclusions. The wines are rated by the judges as Double Gold Medal winners, when all the judges unanimously agree the wine is Gold Medal worthy; Gold Medal; Silver Medal; Bronze Medal; or no medal.
What the results show is further proof that we are living in a Golden Age of Wine. The difference between the various award categories is razor-thin. Even the slightest variation in the aroma or palate experience of a wine can knock it down several notches. The wines are hardly ever about brute strength, but are gauged by subtleties and nuances, and awarded medals based on true excellence. 
The competition named 200 Double Gold winning wines. Quite a large number, but some were so outstanding that you had to give them their due. Four hundred eighty-eight wines were awarded Gold Medals, and 1,601 wines took the Silver Medal. 1,438 wines earned a Bronze Medal, and fewer than 900 wines earned no medal at all. The judging process is tough, with no quarter given, and the judges are not particularly generous people. Believe me. Just try to get one of them to buy you a drink. But what we are seeing here are incredible levels of quality in so many wines available on retail shelves. 
A few of the stand-outs that deserve your attention (and I am not privy as to whether these wines are available in our town, but since this blog has pretty wide distribution, maybe some of our readers can easily find them in their markets):
• Niner Wine Estates – 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, CA. This is one of the best Cabernet Sauvignons I have ever had. Absolutely stunning and delicious.
• Fattoria La Vialla – 2010 Vin Santo, Tuscany, Italy. You won’t believe the depth of the nuts and fruits in this astounding dessert wine. A Best of Show winner and rightfully so.
• Petr Vacenovsky – 2013 Riesling, Pozdni Sbër, Czech Republic. Look where this wine is from! Can you believe it? There were a number of Czech wines in the competition and the majority of them were quite good. 
• Lost Canyon – 2012 Pinot Noir, Whitton Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California. Seemed to me that as a group the 2012 pinot noirs were a bit of a let-down. Could be the vintage. From all indications, 2013 is going to be grand. 
• Trione Vineyards – 2011 Chardonnay, River Road Ranch, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California. Lean, not overly oaked, with a hint of butter. Well balanced. 
• Sileni Estates – 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, The Straits, Marlborough, New Zealand
• Roaring Meg – 2013 Pinot Gris, Central Otago, New Zealand
• Tinpot Hut – 2012 Syrah, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Check out the place of origin on these last three wines, and then pay attention to the Kiwi’s. 
• Becker Vineyards – 2013 Mourvedre Rosé, Provencal, Tallent Vineyard, Hill Country, Texas. What the heck? A Texas rosé winning it all at the sweepstakes level? Take that Lone Star beer off the shelf in the refrigerator and replace it with a rosé. Yeah, right!
Complete results are available at www.sfwinecomp.com
A Mid-Summer’s Night Cocktail Dream 
Next week is the annual Tales of the Cocktail festival. More on that next Wednesday here in Happy Hour. But on Monday, the Museum of the American Cocktail will celebrate its traditional and annual opening to the week with a State of the Art Cocktail Extravaganza. Might as well start the week off right. 
On Monday, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the Windsor Court Hotel, almost 20 of this city’s most gifted mixologists will be mixing drinks up for you. Plenty of variety here, and lots of good fun. At only $45 per ticket, you could have each personality mix you a drink for just a few pennies over $2 per serving. Such a deal!   
Tickets, and more information, can be obtained here.
You don’t want to just rush into Tales week. This will help you ease into the overload. 
By the way, the Museum of the American Cocktail and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum will both reopen on September 29 in their shared new space on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. They have done a wonderful job in design and construction, and the facilities are going to be beautiful, educational, fun, and filling. More on that later.