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Never Wear a White Shirt to a Wine Tasting

15/06/2009


One of the perks of being an accountant and business advisor focusing on the B.C. Wine Industry is you occasionally get to do things which clearly make your co-workers jealous. Spending a morning as a judge in the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival’s “Best of the Best” Varietals Competition at the height of tax season, is a good example.

To be clear, the judging gig came not as a result of talent and expertise in the area of wine tasting. Rather, this special invitation came to my colleague, Don Murdoch and me through our Firm’s sponsorship of this prestigious event.

So off we went, exactly one week before tax filing deadline. Leaving our laptops behind for a morning, we arrived to find rows of glistening glasses filled with an awesome array of wines representing the full spectrum of Okanagan varietals.

Basically, we were comedy relief amongst four separate panels of talented B.C. winemakers. I felt like a 25 handicap hacker sharing a foursome with Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Mike Weir. “Just stay out of the way.”

The Competition Chair indicated that Judges were to score each wine out of 20. The high and low scores would be discarded; assuring that our novice palates would not skew the integrity of the results too badly. The remaining scores in each category would be averaged to arrive at the “the Best of the Best” ranking in each of the 28 categories. The winners were announced at a special reception on April 30 (another coupe for us tax accountants turned wine aficionados!).

Our fellow panelists were incredibly patient and gracious. They offered tips on how to organize our glasses, smell each wine, taste it and then taught us the etiquette of spitting. All the while, I’m sure they were secretly praying that I wouldn’t dump Pinot Noir on them while I was trying to sort up to 31 wines entered in a single flight!

About half way through the competition and with a definite “buzz” building, Don wandered over from his table and sheepishly pointed out two big purple stains halfway down his crisp, white dress shirt. I quickly glanced down to check my own shirt as Steve, a 26 year old winemaking wizard from Therapy Vineyards, slowly shook his head and provided some obvious wisdom, “never wear a white shirt to a wine tasting”. Rookie mistake.

Despite regular spitting and cracker munching, I couldn’t help but feel a little light-headed as the morning progressed. In my giddiness, I imagined how my beer-drinking buddies back home would howl if they could see me now: swirling, sniffing, swishing and spitting, desperately trying to look like I had the faintest clue what I was doing.

My fellow “green” panelists were a terrific group, except the part where they had some fun at my expense confusing me between Syrah and Shiraz. If you think winemaking is a pretentious profession, then guess again. These folks are down to earth and genuinely enthusiastic about their industry and their art. As Crystal Froese of Dunham & Froese Winery pointed out, “there is no right or wrong answer. The best wine is the one that appeals to you individually.” So throughout the morning, I did my best to score the wines based on my personal preference. It took all my willpower to avoid glancing out of the corner of my eye to see which glasses Road 13 winemaker Michael Bartier was eliminating.

The final flight for the green panel was Miscellaneous Ice wines. In front of me, were 10 glasses filled with syrupy, sweet dessert wines. I quickly estimated that at about $15 a glass, I was about to swish and spit $150 of wine into my plastic beer cup. Once an accountant, always an accountant!

Fortunately, it doesn’t take an expert to realize that the quality and variety of wines being produced in the Okanagan is truly exceptional. It’s very difficult to identify any one wine that stands out from the rest because the quality is first-rate. I guess that’s why they named this competition the “Best of the Best.”

Geoff McIntyre, CA, is a Business Advisor, specializing in the wine industry, with Meyers Norris Penny in Kelowna.