Undoubtedly an annual highlight of the Ontario wine community’s calendar, the annual Brock Experts’ Tasting (coming up on the 28th of this month) sees a sizeable contingent of the province’s top winemakers, sommeliers, media, and LCBO making an early morning journey down to Brock University for what always turns out to be an enlightening and entertaining academic tasting.
This week we speak with none other than Barbara Tatarnic, the Manager for Outreach and Continuing Education for Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (AKA CCOVI).
Barbara also happens to be the Manager for both the annual Experts’ Tasting and Cuvée celebrations.
Good Food Revolution: Hello there Barbara. For those who don’t know, would you mind explaining exactly what the Experts’ Tasting is and give us a bit of its history?
Barbara Tatarnic: The Experts Tasting is in its 26th year and is an annual tasting designed for the trade – primarily media, product consultants, sommeliers and wine educators. The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University took on the organizational role in 1999 and it was at that time that, due to the popularity of the tasting, we developed a policy on the role of the tasting as well as who should attend. The tastings directive is to help educate and promote VQA wines through this annual tasting to this specialized group of tasters who promote VQA wines through education and/or promotion.
GFR: And how do you go about selecting themes for each year?
BT: The theme traditionally has been decided by the judging panel from the previous year or in consultation with the wine industry. Many times the themes direction is based on, for instance, a very good vintage of Pinot Noir just coming into line at the LCBO. Some years we delve into one varietal – Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc for example but some years we’ve explored things like the art of the blend, sparkling wine, Bordeaux reds or last year, for our 25th anniversary tasting, it was a retrospective look at the Ontario wine industry focusing the tasting on Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Bordeaux blends.
GFR: Would you mind explaining the selection process for the wines? (People are always asking me about this)
BT: Once we have our theme the call out to the wineries happens. All wines must be VQA. The judging panel is made up of an LCBO Product Consultant, 1-2 wine writers, 1-2 sommeliers as well as equal representation of winemakers with varying levels of experience. I think it’s important to have both young and established winemakers around the table and it’s just as important to have sommeliers, wine writers and the LCBO – each individual brings their experience to the process.
My role is to manage the tasting, the wines are presented by varietal, the tasters are given only the varietal information and vintage but the wines themselves are presented completely blind to the tasters. Once everyone has tasted through each of the wines then everyone votes on each wine and a majority will rule on whether the wine is in or out. The group does its due diligence with each of the wines, if for instance someone feels strongly about a wine and wants to “champion” that wine then they are encouraged to do so and a dialogue ensues.
It is a very inclusive process but I have to stress that the whole procedure with the wines is done completely blind. Even when we are discussing the flights no one is aware of whose wines are in the tasting. It’s actually quite fascinating how it all comes together. The judging panel starts with no preconceived notions of the wines or flights.
It isn’t until the final judging (there are typically three times the panel meets) where we work to find the flights through everyone’s tasting notes that you see those flights emerging. It’s quite an exciting process, after 16 years I still am both thrilled and proud of how the tasting evolves.
GFR: What else can attendees expect on the day of the tasting?
BT: For 2015 attendees can expect 4 flights of amazing VQA wines. Our theme this year is Rising Whites and a Rediscovered Red. The “Rising Whites” or perhaps some might call white sheep varietals are those that are considered the briskly-selling LCBO white wines that are enjoying better than ever consumer acceptance. We wanted to bring in the “Rediscovered Red” as a theme to focus attention on one of the first commercially grown viniferas in Ontario – Gamay! How far have we come and can we consider Gamay as rediscovered? We also like to pull in some international “ringers” to the tasting to help show how well our Ontario wines are doing in an international context but I won’t reveal whether we will have any “ringers” as the tasting is done blind and we’ll have a Wine Options component to the tasting with a prize for the winning table.
The Experts Tasting is also home to the VQA Promoters Awards. The VQA Promoters Awards recognize individuals for their outstanding achievements in the grape and wine industry. Categories for the awards include Media; LCBO; Hospitality; Retail; Education; Non-Ontario VQA Promoter; Promoter-at-Large; and Lifetime Achievement. I was blown over by the number of nominations this year, it only goes to show how many front-line people in our industry are promoting VQA wines through education and or promotion in each of these categories. The Award recipients will be announced at the Cuvée Grand Tasting and will be announced again and handed out at the Experts Tasting on February 28th.
If any of your readers fall into the categories for receiving an invitation but have not received an invitation to the Experts Tasting I would encourage them to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration to attend!
GFR: Thank you so much for your time Barbara. We look forward to seeing you at Brock in a couple of weeks.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s really looking forward to this year’s Experts’ Tasting.