Swirl, sniff, taste, swish, spit, repeat. Four ... hundred ... times. While it may seem a bit overwhelming, I can think of far worse things to be doing over a long weekend in San Francisco.

It all started when Anthony Dias Blue -- Andy to his friends -- invited me to fly out to California to participate as a judge in the 30th annual San Francisco International Wine Competition. Winemakers from around the globe -- 28 states and 27 countries -- submitted 3,900 wines from 1,290 wineries to be judged in several different categories, including best white wine, best red wine, best sparkling wine and best dessert wine.

The competition is the sponsored by the Tasting Panel magazine, a monthly publication that caters to a diverse group of professionals in the wine and spirits industry, including retail shops, restaurants, importers and distributors.

In addition to his role as executive director of the San Francisco International Wine Competition, Blue also is considered a highly regarded authority on food, wine, travel and spirits and is the recipient of the prestigious James Beard award for his work. He reaches more than 30 million consumers each month through a variety of media outlets, including the Tasting Panel magazine, his radio show "The Blue Lifestyle Minute," broadcast daily on both KFWB in Los Angeles and WCBS in New York, and a weekly live radio show devoted to spirits and cocktails, called "The Happy Hour," which airs in Los Angeles on KLSX-FM.

But one of his favorite projects is the International Wine Competition. According to Blue, "The diversity and global impact of the wine competition was notable with 27 countries submitting, six more than last year. We also saw a dramatic display of success from the Paso Robles and Monterey regions and were proud to honor a Hudson Valley riesling from New York with a sweepstakes win. The caliber and variety of the wines tasted was stunning, particularly an extraordinary group of pinot noirs that wowed the judges."

Make no mistake, though. Judging this competition isn't easy. The 45 judges are broken down into roughly 12 panels, consisting of three to four judges. Each panel is responsible for tasting a portion of the wines submitted. My panel included John Cunin, general manager of the Bazaar by Jose Andres in Los Angeles and Kevin M. Vogt, wine and spirits director of Emeril's Restaurants, Las Vegas.

Together, we blind tasted -- the identity of the wines were hidden -- about 200 wines each day ranging from sauvignon blanc, riesling and chardonnay to zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and various red wine blends. If all three of us agreed that a wine deserved a gold medal, it was awarded double gold and we could submit it to the sweepstakes round on the final day where it would be evaluated by the entire judging staff. There were a total of 78 wines that made it into the final sweepstakes round.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from this experience is that you don't need to spend a lot of money to enjoy gold medal wines. Many of the sweepstakes winners were around $30 or less. Here are the results -- retail prices are approximate.

The big winners of the event, know as "Best in Show," went to: 2009 Whitecliff Vineyard Riesling, New York, $15, for Best White Wine. 2008 Sequana Pinot Noir, Sarmento Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, $32, won Best Red Wine. Piper Sonoma NV Blanc de Blancs, Sonoma Coast, $17, won for Best Sparkling Wine and 2007 Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Vidal Ice Wine, Proprietor's Reserve, Niagara Peninsula, Canada, $40, took top honors for Best Dessert Wine.

"Best of Varietal" winners were awarded in 18 different categories, including a Maryland state winery, Elk Run, which took top honors in cabernet franc.

Here are some of the white wine winners. Best Sauvignon Blanc: 2008 Brancott Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, B, Marlborough, New Zealand, $26. Best Chardonnay: 2008 Church & State Wines Chardonnay, Gravelbourg Vineyard, Okanagan Valley, Canada, $25. Best Pinot Grigio: 2009 Montevina Wines Pinot Grigio, California, $10.

Here are some of the red wine winners. Best Rose: 2009 Kavaklidere Egeo Roze, Aegean, Turkey, $19. Best Petite Sirah: 2007 Clavo Cellars Petite Sirah, Dreamer, Catherine's Vineyard, Paso Robles, $30. Best Tempranillo: 2008 Consensio Cellars Tempranillo, Symphony of Wine Series, Amador County, $30. Best Cabernet Franc: 2008 Elk Run Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Cold Friday Vineyard, Maryland, $28. Best Syrah: 2007 Hahn SLH Estate Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands, $27. Best Barbera: 2008 Jeff Runquist Wines Barbera, Amador County, $24. Best Zinfandel: 2007 Maple Creek Winery Zinfandel, Artevino, Largo Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino County, $26. Best Bordeaux Blend: 2007 Niner Wine Estates Fog Catcher, Paso Robles, $58. Best Malbec: 2006 Paradise View Malbec, Sonoma Coast, $32. Best Cabernet Sauvignon: 2007 Robert Hall Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, $18. And Best Merlot: 2006 Still Waters Vineyards Merlot, Estate, Paso Robles, $22.