The “golden rule” of the Golden Nose Awards in New York's Finger Lakes: there is no good and bad – there’s good, better, and best.  Especially when we’re talking about this selection of wines – which wouldn’t have made it here if any were truly “bad”.  Perhaps the second most important thing to remember? A well-made wine may not be your favorite, but objectively, it could be the world’s highest-quality vino.

A vino enthusiast myself, I had the opportunity of attending and participating in the much-anticipated Golden Nose Awards at the New York Wine and Culinary Center last weekend.  A wine competition that invites the public to serve on judging panels, the Golden Nose Awards pits the best-of-the-best Finger Lakes wines against each other in an effort to deem one the winner of each of six prestigious categories.

The day kicked off with a few sessions in the Demonstration Theatre, during which all beginner judges picked up some lessons.  Lorraine Helms, an RIT and NYWCC lecturer, opened the day with her introduction to “The Golden Nose Way”, and the six “S”s of successful wine tasting: sight, swirl, sniff, sip, spit, and savor!  These were kept in mind as the day went on and seven –yes seven! – flights were presented to each panel for judging.

Peter Bell, winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards, continued the morning lessons with a breakdown of the components of wine, giving us the opportunity to taste each.  Yes, this included a taste of water, a taste of pure ethanol, a taste of acid, and more.  Put them together and our taste buds savor the flavor of wine; taste them separately and our taste buds flat out object.

Participants moved on to learn the objective ways in which a wine can truly be bad: possible flaws and faults.  This came from Anna Katherine Mansfield, Assistant Professor of Enology at Cornell University, before Brandon Seager of Red Newt had the opportunity to introduce us to the part we’d all been waiting for: the mechanics of tasting and judging.

The next four hours of the day, only interrupted by a brief (but delicious) lunch put on by the Wine and Culinary Center, was filled with sniffing, sipping, spitting, note taking, and discussion.  Rounds and rounds of wine glasses clinked and clanked into the room as we tasted and discussed the aromas, aesthetics, and aftertastes. 

We engaged several senses in our judging – sight, smell, and taste – so why the Golden Nose?  Well, there’s no contesting it - when we’re looking to trigger our long-term memory, it’s our sense of smell that lends itself to the most vivid recognition.  It’s also the reason why the first question asked of us as we judged the wines was to answer “What does this remind you of?” after indulging in the smell of the wines.

Did it take you back to that windy day at the beach?  Or the walk through the woods with the smell of burning wood?  Was it peachy, floral, or induce a cringe when you smelled petrol? 

Discussions went on for hours as we decided which wines from each flight would move on to the “Best of the Best” showing later in the day.  The ultimate crowning categories: Best Sparkling, Best Hybrid, Best Cabernet Franc, Best Other Vinifera Red, Best Other Vinifera White, and, perhaps the highest honor of the day: the crowning of the region’s Best Riesling.  This prestigious award went to a 2010 Vintage Riesling from Lakewood Vineyards, a contestant from Watkins Glen on Seneca Lake.

The night culminated in an awards dinner and another opportunity for the Wine and Culinary Center to wow the crowd with a delicious food selection.  All in all?  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday in the spring.  And if you’re looking to try your nose at wine judging, the Golden Nose Awards is the place to do it.  You’re surrounded by an incredibly knowledgeable staff and a portfolio of delicious New York State wines that never fail to give you something to talk about.