For the past several years, I have been asked to judge at the World’s largest amateur wine contest, sponsored by WineMaker Magazine ( The judging is held at the Equinox Resort and Spa in Manchester Center, VT (http://www.eq, perhaps one of the most tranquil places on Earth and is a grueling three day affair. For the last few years, my wife has joined me in the judging, making this a “Team Musings” event…

The contest is quite popular with wines entered from all 50 states in the US, as well as 8 Canadian provinces and 8 other countries from around the globe. In all, 2012 boasted over 4,300 entrants in 50 categories. Our performance this year was excellent, with Team Musings turning in an impressive 681 wines judged in a little over 19 hours – that’s an average of one wine every 3 minutes – a brisk pace to say the least.

In general the wines were good-to-pleasant with a few outstanding and few really poor entries. The majority of wines are red vinifera blends and single varietals, many from kits, but many from cultivated grapes. The most unusual offerings this year were the Piña Colada wine and a wine made from the Southeast Asian Durian fruit. The Piña Colada wine tasted, as you might imagine, like pineapple and coconut. The wine was well made and because wine judging does not involve personal bias, scored well. The Durian wine, on the other hand was an unmitigated disaster. Durian is native to Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia and is also known as the “King of Fruits.” Durian has a very particular odor, a unique taste and is covered by a hard husk. Having a disagreeable smell, compared to skunk spray or sewage, the fruit is forbidden in hotels and public transportation in Southeast Asia. Making a wine from this fruit begs the question of why? The nose was foul, and while the palate was acceptable, the persistent skunk smell made it impossible to drink. Brings to mind an old adage… Just because you can make wine out of something, doesn’t mean you should.

Overall, the experience is wonderful and our role as judges is to offer critical assessment to the entrants. While we are primarily sifting through the wines to find medalists, we are also responsible for offering encouragement to those hardy souls who took the time to make, package and ship, from often far-flung corners around the globe their creations. We take this role very seriously, for it is the enthusiasm and passion of the home winemaker and brewer that fuels a growing movement – a movement that has been a part of the US since its very beginnings in the early 17th century. I will make the same statement that I have made after each of these contests – home wine making is a ton of fun and doesn’t take much to turn out a drinkable bottle of wine. I encourage everyone to give it a try – there is nothing like popping the cork on your own bottle of wine and pouring it for friends to enjoy!