Questions on Wine Competitions

Paul Gregutt, a long-time wine writer based in Washington State has done what I think is a wonder service: described what happens on the inside of a wine competition.

Most often consumers visit tasting rooms and see medals on the walls ands shelves touting a Gold Medal from this competition, a Silver Medal from that competition or a Best-of-Class from another competition. Yet rarely do we get to see how that medal was attained.

Paul’s article describes the process the judges go through, describing how one can taste upwards of 200 or more wines in a day. But he also brings up some questions about the philosophy behind wine competitions that need asking. For instance, Paul writes:

"Evaluating wines without knowledge of their
place of origin or their price forces you to guess about things that
directly affect your judgment. In a flight of 12 Merlots, where there
are two that stand out equally well, it might seem fair to award both
the same medal, whether bronze, silver or gold. But what if the first
wine sells for $10, and the second for $40? Wouldn’t that suggest that
the cheaper wine is a much better value, and should really merit a
higher award?"

The answer to Paul’s question is a resounding "YES" and "NO".

If you are evaluating wines only for the pleasure they give then all things being equal, YES, the lower priced one is a better value. However, in the context of a competition that merely looks at quality it is impossible to give th lower priced wine an award for being a better value. This is why some wine competitions have different categories for different priced wine, ie: "Merlot up to $15", Merlot $15.01 to $30", etc. But in the end, what gives a drinking person pleasure might in fact be more than the taste of the wine. This means "Value" is indeed subjective.

But Paul brings up another point which is even more fascinating:

"Within many of the flights there was clearly a
haphazard mix of old world and new world wines. New world wines tend to
be riper, fruitier, more alcoholic and sweeter than old world wines,
which are often more delicate, more acidic, with more mineral and
herbal elements. Going back and forth and back and forth in the same
flight between wines that seemed to come from different sides of the
ocean makes it very difficult to be objective. Which style is more
varietally "correct"? Which wine is more true to its terroir (place of

Indeed. Should a wine taste like a wine is expected to that comes from a particular locale? Is it fair to judge a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir against an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir without knowing which is which? It is done all the time and it must be done, in fact. Yet hopefully the judges are capable of detecting differences in the weight of a wine and not automatically judging the heftier wine or the lighter wine to be better due to this. My experience in judging is that many judges can do this. However, when you are on your 49th of 50th Merlot your palate can be a bit fatigued, particularly if this is the 200th wine you’ve judged today. All too often the bigger, fruitier wine is called the better wine simply because it stands out more to a weary palate.

This article by Gregutt is well worth a read.


2 Responses

  1. wineguy - March 1, 2006

    “Which wine is more true to its terroir (place of origin)?”
    — seems like somebody believes in terroir even if you don’t!

  2. Brent Stiffler - June 9, 2006

    I’m in charge of the Fedex wine shipping program. I am want to know what are considered to be the top 5 wine competitions in the US today. Any insights? and websites to review? Thanks….

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