Rodeo Uncorked Insider

Behind the scenes at Houston's greatest wine competition: How 2,500 wines become 11 winners

Behind the scenes at the greatest wine competition: The winners are..

5 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
The committee washes the 6,000 glasses four times.  Photo by Eric Sandler
1 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
Wines are carefully poured into numbered glasses.  Photo by Eric Sandler
4 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
A volunteer delivers the wine to the judges.  Photo by Eric Sandler
3 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
Judges evaluate and debate the merits of each selection.  Photo by Eric Sandler
7 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
Scores are carefully tabulated and verified to ensure the right wines win.  Photo by Eric Sandler
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When the work is done, time to relax and drink some wine.  Photo by Eric Sandler
5 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
1 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
4 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
3 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
7 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013
2 Rodeo Uncorked judging tour November 2013

Two thousand five hundred and five wines. One hundred judges. Two days.

That's the basic premise of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Uncorked International Wine Competition. Now in its 10th year, the event celebrates the connections between agriculture, wine and scholarship. By number of entries, Rodeo Uncorked is the fourth largest wine competition in the United States.

Wine experts from across Texas and around the world gather in Houston to judge wines in a wide variety of categories. Judges are divided into teams of five and assigned a class. For example, champagnes priced from $50 to $100.

The experts then taste dozens of wines from the class broken into flights of 12. Each judge rates each wine as no medal, bronze, silver or gold. When all five experts agree that a wine deserves gold status, the wine is designated "double gold," which makes it eligible for the champions round. In all, 2,212 wines earn medals. 

All tasting is done blind. Each glass of wine has a numeric code on it to mask its identity. The committee takes comprehensive steps to ensure that no one who pours wine into glasses comes into contact with the judges.  

During a demonstration for media members on Saturday, various members of the wine committee led a mock tasting of 11 Chilean cabernets. Judges weigh the flavor, tannins, appearance and smell of each wine. When the group goes through all 11 without a single double gold, the leader encourages the group to settle on one favorite that's worthy of the award. That sort of "talking up" is a common occurrence in each round of judging. It produces the winners necessary to field a competitive championship round.

During the actual judging, Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse sommelier Madeleine Thompson and Cordua Group beverage director James Watkins debated the merits of the grapefruit pith taste of one wine. Needless to say the discussions at the media tasting weren't quite so sophisticated. 

The champions will be awarded buckles, chaps and saddles at the Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup and Best Bites Competition Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. In addition to the champion wines, the Best Bites competition features offerings from select Houston-area restaurants and caterers in the Best Bites Competition. Tickets to try the food and wine are $125 if purchased in advance. 

This year's winners are:

·         Grand Champion Best of Show – Marchesi Antinori Guado al Tasso, Bolgheri DOC Superiore, 2009
·         Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show – Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2010
·         Top Texas Wine – Bending Branch Winery Estate Tannat, Texas Hill Country, 2011
·         Top Country Wine (Chile) – La Playa Vineyards Axel Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, 2011
·         Top All-Around Winery – Michael~David Winery
·         Top Wine Company – Trinchero Family Estates
·         Top Sparkling Wine – Sophora Sparkling Rosé, New Zealand, NV
·         Top White Wine – Sheldrake Point Riesling, Finger Lakes, 2011
·         Top Red Wine – Fess Parker Winery The Big Easy, Santa Barbara County, California, 2011
·         Top Sweet Wine – Sheldrake Point Riesling Ice Wine, Finger Lakes, 2010
·         Top Value Wine – Vigilance Red Blend “Cimarron,” Red Hills, Lake County, California, 2011