Best of the Vine

Judges mark favorites at the fifth annual Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition
Friday, December 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:03 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Spitting is appropriate when it comes to deciding America’s top wines.

Wine testers are in Columbia at MU’s Eckles Hall this week to distinguish the top wines for the fifth annual Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition. From a pool of 500 wines, less than 1 percent of the wines will receive the award in final judging today.


Wine testing is a lot of fun, but it isn’t rocket science,” said Bob Foster, wine judge and a prosecutor for the California Department of Justice.

Foster’s testing technique starts with swishing the wine around in the glass. He then takes a swig and flushes it around in his mouth. Finally, he spits out the wine and then takes notes about his impressions. He repeats this process for each variety of wine.

The Jefferson Cup award is named for President Thomas Jefferson, who competition director Doug Frost said refused to allow assigned seating at his functions and was the first president to shake people’s hands. In honor of Jefferson’s modesty, the competition is an invitation-only event seeking to bring the best wine from each region.

This competition puts a Missouri wine against a California wine with the potential for each to take the award, Frost said.


During the competition, Frost said, the judges are looking for a balanced wine. He said they test to see that it has a lot of body without having a powerful oak or fruity taste. Tasting good is the most important factor, he said.

The panel, three teams of three judges, narrows the selection to about the top 10 percent of entries. The panel will test each of those wines today.

“DNPIM,” or “do not put in mouth,” is a phrase each tester knows well, Foster said. This is for wines that are deemed to smell bad and therefore do not even need to be tasted. Each bad-smelling wine receives two or three evaluations before being discarded.

Behind the scenes, competition staff mark each bottle with a numbered sticker and each glass with a coordinating sticker. Wines are then divided into classes, and escorts bring them to the testing room.


Mark Huebner of Kansas City tests a glass of port wine on Thursday during a competition in MU’s Eckles Hall. Huebner has been in the wine business for more than 25 years. There have been a few good wines this year, but this was not one of them, he said. (Photos by UWE H. MARTIN/Missourian)

Each judge has a method of cleansing his or her palate to give every wine a fair chance. Some eat cheese while others use celery or slices of roast beef. Bread and water are also available.

Wine competitions are important to wineries because they bring credibility, said Jim Puchta of Adam Puchta Winery in Hermann.

“People in Missouri buy wines according to medals,” Puchta said. “People always ask if you’ve won a medal and want to drink the wines that have.”

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