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How Do The Winning “Corks” Get Into Forks & Corks?... We Look Behind The Scenes Of The F&C Wine Competition


Wine aficionados hoping to sample specialty sips at the upcoming Forks & Corks Food and Wine Festival are in for a treat. Winning bottles were cherry-picked in early December for a reveal at the Grand Tasting and the Trade Tasting during the upcoming festival from January 25 to 29, 2024.

To find these delectable winners, the Forks & Corks Wine Competition was held at Michael’s Wine Cellar in Sarasota from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, December 4. A perennial predecessor event to the Festival, the Forks & Corks Wine Competition is a behind-the-scenes, exclusive, all-day event that many festival attendees may not even know exists every year. 

“I created the program about 10 years ago to create excitement about the wines,” said Michael Klauber, co-owner of Michael’s On East and a Founding Member of Sarasota-Manatee Originals. “I was a professional wine judge for many years and had experience in setting up wine competitions.” 

Wine Judge Nicole Carbon

This particular competition is where all the potential Forks & Corks wines are gathered and selected in a blind tasting by a panel of 20 judges (Trained tasters, Level I and higher). The judges are all lauded beverage professionals with certifications from the Guild of Master Sommeliers and Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) organizations, Klauber said.

The 2024 Forks & Corks Wine Competition Judges

During the competition, flights of wine were poured and served in clear glasses for judges to savor. The judges sipped, made their expert decisions, placed their scorecards at their stations, and then exited to the patio while their stations were reset for the next rounds. Once all of the 221 wines were judged, a selection of scoring reds and whites – the Top 10 in each - were re-judged before the final list of winners was announced. 

“The medals are an additional recognition of some of the wines that were highly rated by the wine judges,” Klauber said. “Guests gravitate to the highest-rated wines.”

The judges gravitate to the competition to taste outstanding wines while networking closely with other professionals who share their passion.

Carol López-Bethel of Swirl Wine Consulting is one of these regular judges. She holds a WSET Level III certification in wines, has studied with the Wine Scholar Guild, and has traveled extensively throughout European and Latin American vineyards since 2007. 

“Through travel, study, and experience, I learned how to excite the senses, develop the palate, and bring joy to our most basic daily activities: eating and drinking,” López-Bethel said. “For me, after breakfast, no meal worth having is complete without wine. Of course, the more you know, the easier and more rewarding it is to elevate this quotidian ritual.”

Wine Consultant and Educator Carol López-Bethel

López-Bethel helps select wines for restaurants, catering companies, and individual clients looking to wow guests on special occasions. She was first invited to the Forks & Corks Wine Competition in 2019 through the Guild of Master Sommeliers. 

“I had been involved in many blind tastings before this one, and I had previously been a judge for VeritageMiami and enjoyed the experience,” López-Bethel said. “I was also excited to visit Sarasota for the first time in many years.”

This particular event excited López-Bethel because of its sense of community.

“The work of a sommelier and/or wine educator can be solitary work, especially for those who don't work in large or corporate settings with other colleagues,” López-Bethel said. “I enjoy meeting others who work in varying aspects of the business, sharing and learning from their commentary, and hearing about new trends.” 

López-Bethel is also impressed that Sarasota, which is relatively small compared to other Florida markets like Miami or Palm Beach, attracts such a high level of wine submissions and professionals from around the state. 

“The quality at this event speaks very highly of the City of Sarasota and its surrounding areas, and of course the Forks & Corks organizers and Members of Sarasota-Manatee Originals,” López-Bethel said.

Wine Competition Results

The judges, each of whom sampled about 60 wines apiece, spent nearly five hours evaluating the wines before coming up with the top winners. The two "Best of Show" wines selected – one white and one red - are the Anselmi “San Vincenzo” 2002 White Blend from Veneto, Italy, and the Babylonstoren Shiraz 2020 from Simonsberg-Paarl, South Africa. 

Michael Klauber reveals the winning wines

Overall, (twenty-three) white wines garnered gold, silver, and bronze awards; (44) red wines were recognized with gold, silver, and bronze awards; (two) sparkling wines received gold and silver recognition; and (five) dessert wines were given gold, silver, and bronze awards. A complete list of the Top 10 Whites and Top 10 Reds is available below. 

Marc Grimaud, proprietor of Café Gabbiano and president of Sarasota-Manatee Originals, co-chairs the Forks & Corks Food and Wine Festival. "The results heighten anticipation about which wines people are going to want to taste and purchase over the five-day event,” says Grimaud, adding that the winning wines will be among the over 300 wines showcased and for sale at the sold-out Grand Tasting event in the courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art on January 28. “The buzz among winemakers and wineries from around the country and world is that Forks & Corks, in its seventeenth year this January, has become one of the most popular wine and food events in the United States," says Grimaud. "This year, more than 90 winemakers will converge in Sarasota and show off their favorite vintages. That's something to raise a glass to!"

Heading now into the hands of future festival attendees, these winning bottles are on the move and ready to make an impression in January. Palates, prepare to be pleased as corks start popping at Forks & Corks 2024.

For more information about the 17th Annual Forks & Corks Food & Wine Festival and the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, visit