By Eng. Israel Preker – www.wines-israel.com
Experiences, representing Israel, at one of the most prestigious wine competitions in the world.
Everyone has dreams and even fantasies. I try to make some of my dreams come true, which is the best feeling of all.
When I arrived at the hotel in Verona , Italy, on Wednesday at midnight, I asked for a wakeup call for 06:30 in the morning, to be sure I would be in good time for the prestigious wine competition, held by VINITALY 2014 .
This wonderful adventure started two weeks before when I checked my emails at the hotel in Bulgaria, where I was a judge at the international VINARIA 2014 Wine Competition .One particular email I had to read twice, to be sure I understood it correctly:
" We invite you to be a judge at the largest wine competition in Verona…. We hope you can come and be a part of an honorable team of judges. "
I was invited because of my role in founding, owning and managing the Israel’s most professional and informative wine website, www.wines-israel.com
So obviously I was happy to accept the invitation, with pride that I would be representing Israel.
The Alitalia plane, which took off from Israel in the afternoon, landed at the airport in Rome in a dark corner. A bus took us to the terminal. The first thing I saw there was a shiny Mercedes. This was my first photograph that I took in Italy during the visit, one of about 400 pictures that mostly smelled of wine, and very good wine for the most part .
I did not hear a single word in Hebrew since taking off. I sat among a group of runners from Italy who had participated in and enjoyed the Jerusalem Marathon.
The Italian flight attendants were very polite. The food, however, was in a low grade. I laughed inwardly when I saw that most of the ingredients on the food tray where described only in Hebrew. Amusingly, nearly all of the passengers did not know Hebrew and couldn't possibly understand what was written.
The connection flight from Rome to Verona was delayed an hour, in case we disturbed the more famous persona of Obama, who happened to land at the same time in Rome. All traffic was disrupted there because the President of the United States of America chose exactly the same time to land.
This was all well and good, but we were forced to run in the rain from the bus to the plane.
That first night in Verona, as I snuggled under my blanket, I had dreams and thoughts, excitedly looking forward to the experiences of the next day. I imagined dozens of fine wines, spittoons and sommeliers, and hoped no drops of red wine would stain my smart white shirt .
On the day itself, the phone rang and woke me up at 6.00 am sharp as planned .I eagerly awaited the day’s adventure.
By 9:00 am on the Thursday, I found myself sitting amongst the 105 judges who came to the competition from many different countries. I heard dozens of languages. ??Most were incomprehensible to me. English, even though the international language, was rarely heard .
The opening speeches were in Italian, but fortunately there was a simultaneous translation. There were then explanations of the judging criteria. Finally, the long program of tasting began. For me, it was a dream, come true. I was in Italy, at the Vinitaly competition no less, representing Israel, as a judge in one of the world’s greatest wine tasting competitions.
This particular Thursday is defined as one of the greatest days in my wine career, over the last fifteen years. Everything was a revelation. Even the Italian Primitivo (Zinfandel) wine poured at lunch was excellent.
Why was this one of the highlights of my life? Well, on the morning of the first day I heard the pounding footsteps of twenty two immaculately dressed sommeliers on the parquet floor as they entered every ten minutes, in single file. They marched in like soldiers, turned as though on parade. Then, they stepped forward with wine bottles covered with bag, to pour for the 105 judges, I felt the rhythmical steps together with my heartbeats. I was thrilled at the theatre, the professionalism and the timing. What a spectacle it was. Words cannot describe what it looked like and how it felt to be there. It was not only beautiful to see, but also what great respect and honor they showed to the wine, the judges and the wine industry as a whole.
I tasted one hundred and sixty five wines during the four days of the competition. The sommelier (sometimes male, other times female), poured the wine into my glasses one hundred and sixty five times.
This entailed one hundred meters of walking back and forth, for each bottle, with almost military precision. Altogether, there were sixteen and a half kilometers or more to walk for each sommelier …
There were 2,700 wines from thirty countries in the competition, including Israel. It seems to me that, the organization, the order and management was impeccable and unequalled in wine events I have seen anywhere else.
Every jury team had five people, two Italians and three foreigners. One person in each team was a journalist.
Each judge sat at a secluded table, in front of 12 empty glasses, which were filled one after the other. A small flag was in front of each judge, denoting the country represented. There was a list, numbered with the type of wine and vintage year. All the rest was confidential. We did not know the grape variety or the country of production and certainly not which winery produced it.
All scoring and ranking process was done with the help of an APPLE IPAD and advanced software. By pressing the button the result was immediately streamed to a central computer.
The Italian director stood on an elevated platform, without a break, in front of us all and observed what all the judges were doing. He made sure that everything was going flawlessly. An Italian lawyer was on hand to verify all the rules and regulations were complied with.
The Vinitaly competition is one of the world’s strictest and most prestigious. Only 64 medals were awarded in this year’s competition. A mere three percent of all wines entered, succeeded to win medals. Many outstanding wines managed only to wine citations or an honorable mention .
One morning I was permitted to visit the sanctuary, accompanied by a lawyer, of course. This was the wine storage hall where thousands of bottles were covered with a velvet cover. Each bottle had a selected number. From there, the wines were marched by sommeliers to the judges table.
I received a temporary shock when I entered this huge hall when I was greeted by hundreds of bottles. In addition to what was visible, there were hundreds more, waiting, stored in brown boxes .
Each judging team could ask for another bottle for tasting if the original appeared faulty. Around the hall there were dozens of wine refrigerators installed only 24 hours before the event started. The wines were served at exactly the right temperature, and correctly according to the different types of wine.
The daily tasting was divided into two. There was a morning tasting and an afternoon tasting. The organizers made ??sure to diversify the categories, which made it more interesting. So I tasted and ranked white and red wines of different vintages, some young and others aged wines, dessert wines and sparkling white wines and even sparkling reds, (which were not to my taste!)
Among the wines that were tasted by me, some were wonderful, with good taste and aroma. I was pleased to give them high scores. However there were a few, that tasted less good and received a low score starting with a 7 … My nose and palate cooperated & were in agreement!
On the last day of the VINITALY 2014 Competition, I was fortunate. My team of judges, were given another twenty wines that had been scored particularly highly, for re-tasting. So I had the opportunity to taste twenty of the finest wines, with a new wine introduced every eight minutes. I have to say that a few did not meet my expectation, but others were superb.
The final results of the competition came to us about ten days afterwards.
In a lovely surprise, I was delighted to see Israel was represented amongst the medal winners. Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 produced by the Golan Heights Winery, won the gold medal in the category :
STILL WINES WITH DENOMINATION OF ORIGIN AND GEOGRAPHICAL INDICATION, GROUP 6 – RED WINES – FROM VINTAGE 2009-2008
Only one gold medal was awarded for each category.
Other wines from Israel, again from the Golan Heights Winery and also, the Galil Mountain Winery, received honorable mentions .
To summarize it all I would like to praise the professional organization of the event. I hope that more wines from Israel will take part in the future competitions, because I am sure that many of them will win medals or receive good recognition. Whatever the results, it is already worth being part of the greatest wine show on earth. It was a privilege and honor to be there.
Eng. Israel Preker – [email protected]