Some Thoughts on Wine Competitions
Christian over at Turn the Screw has, as he often does, dished out an interesting post. This time it’s about wine competitions and their usefulness.
The point that Christian leans toward, but doesn’t quite say explicitly, is that wine competitions tend to reward wines that are bigger than the rest, but are not necessarily true to varietal form.
It’s a good point.
Having judged at a few wine competitions I can say that it is daunting work, at least for this palate. I don’t judge a lot, so when I do I don’t have seniority. That means I get to judge the Merlot, Chardonnay and often the White Zinfandels. I have nothing against this wines, but after you’ve gone through 80 Chardonnays in an hour and a half, well, things start to blend together. It takes a great deal of work and concentration to give each wine it’s due.
The best competitions, in my mind, are those where the chief organizer or judge, gives very specific instructions on what they are looking for out of their judges. They are like a coach, regularly pushing you to look through the oak and sugar and bigness and not ignore the more subtle, intriguing wines.
I think a well run competition can unveil real gems. Yet, Christians point about unvarietal wines winning out is well taken. It happens. Still, I can’t degrade a gold medal and I have real respect for the Best of Class and Sweepstakes Awards. These are often wines that make it to the top after having been tasted by a number of panels and usually the entire cast of judges. It’s an impressive achievement.
Are competitions medals of any use in the long run? They are, at least to marketers. Wine marketers look at two different constituencies: the consumer and the trade. It is a fact of life that the trade puts very little emphasis on competition medals. However, in a tasting room or on those little shelf talkers in the grocery store medals are very helpful in moving wine. Consumers are looking for anything to distinguish one wine from another. And in a tasting room a medal will often make the difference to them if they have to choose between one wine and another to take home. The trade (Wholesalers, Retailers, Restaurateurs), well, they are looking for numbers. The medals matter very little.
Look for for the Best of Class and Sweepstakes award winners. They are often very good wines. But don’t be surprised if they are big, flamboyant little gems.