I had the honor of participating this past Saturday in the oldest wine judging in America: the annual Hudson Valley Wine Competition. How do I know this is the oldest event of its kind? Simple: take a look at the logo!

OK, I exaggerate. But it was a fine event, and fun (which is important when the pay scale is precisely “lunch”). Some 80 wines were assessed by a panoply of professional palates—comprised of writers, bloggers, sommelier and sundry members of the trade. The judging had a strong twitter contingent {@hvwinegoddess, @bsimi, @lenndevours, @small_bites, @TheBeerWench and within 12 hours afterward @NedWWS}. It was held on an unspeakably gorgeous day at the very fine Terrapin restaurant in Rhinebeck, NY, starting at 9:00 am.

My take: I went in expecting little, and walked away impressed. The format—splitting the 11 judges into two panels, with an all-judges’ taste-off of panel favorites—seemed just right (we each tasted about 50 wines). Official results have not been released yet, but the best white (by unanimous decision) was the Benmarl 2008 Riesling, made from Finger Lakes grapes (proving both that FL Riesling truly rules NY, and the HV vintners are not too proud to “reach out” for the best grapes they can grab). This fruit-loaded beauty retails for $15 and can hold its own against any $15 Riesling from anywhere in the world.

On the red side, a flight of five yielded three nominees for Best Red; which was then narrowed to two by a vote, and then to one. The eye-opening verdict? Millbrook’s elegant, smooth, balanced 2007 Pinot Noir “Block 5E,” Hudson Valley ($35) edged out the sturdier Millbrook 2006 Cabernet Franc, New York ($29). Clearly Millbrook is on top of its game (they make a nifty Tocai Friuliano, too). Would I recommend the Pinot unconditionally? No. There are plenty of more intense, complex Pinots from the West Coast I would prefer. But consider this a statement that Hudson Valley wineries are about much more than hybrids.

Shocker of the day for me was a semi-dry Brookview 2008 “Whistlestop White,” made from arguably the Hudson Valley’s finest fruit—apples. We had just the third vintage made of this wine; the ’06 sold out at an apple festival in two days; the ’07 won Best of the Hudson River Region at the NY Wine & Food Classic last year. The 2008 wins the award for “Most Likely to Make Me Shout Sweet Jesus!” It would please any Moscato d’Asti lover, just in an appley way, as opposed to peach.

Some handy Hudson Valley links: http://brookviewstationwinery.com; http://www.benmarl.com; http://millbrookwine.com; http://hudsonvalleywinecountry.org; http://hvwga.org;
http://hvwinemag.com. All the winning wines (and more) will be ripe for tasting at the Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Association (HVWGA) annual awards dinner, catered by Terrapin, on June 12, 2009, at Dinsmore Golf Course in Statsburgh, NY (tickets $85 all-inclusive). 

And as proof that I found the HV Wine Competition both entertaining and inspiring…

 10 Things NOT to say at a ten-flight wine judging
that starts at 9:00 a.m.

#1:   I had a bean burrito for breakfast. How ‘bout you?
#2:   I might’ve mixed up my glasses… Can we start over?
#3:   Top me off!
#4:   Is that smell in D3 rubber or plastic?
#5:   I’ve had wine #E4 before… and I think it got me laid.
#6:   Altoid, anyone?.
#7:   Brotha, I know Bob Parker, and you’re no Bob Parker.
#8:   This flight tastes a lot like the last flight. Just sayin’.
#9:   That line where it says ‘Judge’s Name,’ up there at the top
         of the sheet. Was I supposed to fill that in for each flight?… 
#10: Am I still drooling?