Rich Cook is not one to drink wine. The Chief Wine Judge for the Monterey International Wine Competition follows the practice of swirl, sip and spit. On Saturday, March 14, the San Diego-based wine writer and retired music teacher joins 17 other judges in King City to sample more than 700 bottles from all over the world. A public grand tasting of the winning wines will take place during the Salinas Valley Fair in May.
Weekly: When you’re tasting so many wines, how do you keep your palate clear?
Cook: Different judges have different methodologies. Some like still water, some use sparkling water; if they are judging really tannic reds, some will use roast beef, some eat almonds. I personally don’t like to eat or drink anything. When I move on to the next wine I use the first taste to clear my palate.
How important are competitions?
I just wrote a column on the value of wine competitions. Hopefully the benefit is two-fold. The winery benefits and the customer benefits. In judging, a range of palates comes to a consensus. And when a customer is staring at a thousand bottles, those stars can help.
Do you come across bad wines?
Oh, sure. If we come across wine that’s oxidized, we’ll request another bottle to give the wine a fair shot. But some wines just don’t show. And wines show differently on different days. A wine that doesn’t show here might win gold a month later.
What are you drinking when you’re not drinking wine?
I’m a huge coffee nut. I roast my own beans – it’s quite an obsession. It’s made me a much better wine taster. The nuances in coffee make wine obvious.