There's no dispute that Texas trounced New York in last night's Grape Gridiron Classic, a Texas Department of Agriculture-sponsored competition featuring wines from both states. What's debatable is whether it was a fair fight.
"You guys killed us, and we deserved it," Albany Times-Union wine columnist Fred LeBrun said after a group of 40 winemakers, sellers and writers judged Texas the winner in eight out of 11 blind pairings. "I sided with you guys more than I sided with my own."
But other experts said New York's chances were seriously hobbled by arcane liquor laws and a roomful of Texans.
To avoid appearances of impropriety, the Department of Agriculture recruited local wine educator Jeff Siegel and wine blogger Russ Kane to design the contest. The men settled on 11 categories -- some of them varietally based, others not -- in which wines from two very different places could reasonably compete. Siegel and Kane nominated the Texas wines, while Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Association, made the New York selections.
Guests weren't told which wines they were drinking, so even the most diehard Texas loyalists couldn't cheat when choosing a winner between 1A and 1B. Sam Clark, vice president and national sales manager for Messina Hof in Bryan, ended up casting a vote against his own Riesling.
Had New York lost in the Riesling division, it would have qualified as a major upset: the state's synonymous with the white grape. New York also met expectations in the dessert wine category, triumphing with a Vidal Blanc ice wine from Wagner Vineyards.
Still, the evening belonged to Texas. Wine consultant Richard Leahy -- a Virginian who was considered a member of the small New York contingent -- later wondered whether Texas had a home field advantage.
"The question is whether people unconsciously absorb a palette," Leahy said. "I like to look for acidity, but that's hard to find in Texas. It's worth pondering: The scientific thing to do would be to do this in New York."
There's already an encore edition on next year's calendar, although organizers aren't planning on serving the same line-up of wines. Texas and New York laws regulating wine shipping, distribution and service meant Trezise could only present wines already sold in Texas.
"You guys have 200 wineries," Trezise told the gloating crowd. "We have 298 wineries in New York, but I could only use wines from seven or eight of them."
Siegel, an enthusiastic Texas wine booster, said he couldn't take much satisfaction in beating an opponent fighting at a fraction of its strength.
"It's the worst of both systems," Siegel said of the legal hurdles.
But the event was terrifically successful in advancing the cause of regional wine, even if it didn't settle the question of state superiority.
"Wine is a wonderful, wonderful thing, and if we limit ourselves to drinking something because it's on the shelf at a grocery store, we're missing something," Siegel said. "These wines do not taste like Califonria wines, these wines do not taste like French wines. They don't taste like anything else, and that's the point."
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