CT Specialty Food Association Wine Competition

The Wine Institute of New England had the special honor of judging the wine category at the Connecticut Specialty Food Association competition last week on February 17th. This year, the categories were expanded to include wine, beer and cheese. The perimeter of the Glass Room at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville was lined with cloth-clad tables adorned with small plates of cheese, lettuce, grains, and pasta sauces, among other things. Judging sheets on clipboards were being handed out at a round table toward the center of the room. I stood on line and mingled with my fellow judges. There was an interesting mix of people – chefs, food bloggers, culinary institute staff, restaurant owners, food writers, and even a celebrity or two, including “Hell’s Kitchen” contestant, Kevin Cottle, and NPR’s Chion Wolf.
A charming popping sound drew my attention to a long table by the door where the rather extensive array of wines to be judged was being set up. All categories had multiple entrants – blush, dessert, fruit, white, rosé and red – and all of the wines entered had to be produced from 100% Connecticut grown fruit. I certainly had my work cut out for me. Armed with clipboard and pen, I approached the table and contemplated the army of specimen-sized plastic cups. The wines were to be judged on four criteria: color, aroma, taste and overall presentation. The white table clothes and natural light from the large windows provided good conditions for assessing color. The little cups, however, made judging the wines’ aromas more challenging. There was definitely more time spent sniffing than tasting. Once I did embark on the tasting portion of my judging journey, I was delighted by the marvelous creations Connecticut wineries were producing. I recognized several of the entries from my own travels on the Connecticut Wine Trail, but there were many new and enticing tastes. And although red wine was the category I enjoyed the most and the one that was most susceptible to being compared to wines from outside of Connecticut, it was enlightening to sample some of the charming libations being created with other locally grown fruit, including strawberries, apples, pears and black currants. I noticed the wine judging continued well after the food entries had been tasted and picked over for lunch. Whether it was the sheer number of samples tasted, the gravity with which wine drinkers approach the job of tasting, or the inordinate amount of sniffing that was required, I am not sure. Perhaps one just likes to linger a bit longer over wine. Whatever the reason, it was time well spent. Kudos to the Connecticut Food Association on providing a vehicle for introducing and appreciating Connecticut grown and produced products. And I understand that arrangements have already been made for stemware to be provided for next year’s wine competition. My nose thanks you.

Results of the wine portion of the competition can be found at: