January 26, 2023 | Julius Orth
Wine Competitions..... we love them, we love getting the medals, we love the pat on the back, but it is important to put competitions, awards and medals in perspective and not all competitions are equal.
So what is a wine competition? Many of these now exist, from state fairs, to magazine and press sponsored competitions where usually people considered to be "experts" in their field are tasked with tasting through a range of wines and determining which ones meet the criteria for excellence in the particular competition. Sommeliers, winemakers, wholesalers, retailers and restaurateurs are invited to judge at competition, and each of these has their own perspective on what constitutes excellence for a specific wine.
In reality, these skilled people may be tasked with tasting through an array of 100 wines in a 3 hour period, and at the end of it all express their opinion on these products and choose their favorites?
Make no mistake, each of these competitions has value. It serves as an attempt by a group of people to rank wines in a manner that might assist the buyer in determining which wine their palate might align with. A Gold medal wine must taste better than a Silver medal wine right? Not so fast. Does a Gold medal winning wine from the Idaho potato festival get bragging rights over a Silver medal winner from San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition? Maybe, maybe not. Is a wine rating 100 points from Robert Parker guaranteed to satisfy more than a wine rating 17 Cheers by Julius? Perspective makes all the difference.
Now I would not for a moment deny the marketing clout that a Parker rating will bring to a wine, or the leverage gained from a 100 Point score in the Wine Spectator. But at the end of the day, each and every one of these awards is an expression of opinion. The consumer is then tasked with deciding how much weight to place on any of these opinions. It is therefore fundamentally important to determine a formula to apply competition information to your own personal preferences.
If, for instance, you have absolutely loved every single Gold Medal wine award that has been awarded by Wilfred Wong, then chances are the next time he rates a wine highly you will enjoy that one too. However if Hubert Schwartz reccommends the 1982 Chateau Lafleur, and you are looking for that rich & buttery Rombauer Chardonnay you will likely be disappointed by his reccommendation.
The scale of a competition can also tell you a lot about its awards. As an example let us take one of the larger competitions, the 2023 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition which just posted it latest array of awards. These figures you will see are pretty close approximations and do not represent all the details, glean what you will.
You just saw a promotion stating that "The Dude (fictitious example)" wine just won Double Gold Medal at the competition... WOW!
Now this competition had 60 judges, analyzing 5500 wines from 1000 wineries in 190 categories, IMAGINE !!!! Of these wines there were 800 Bronze Medals, 2396 Silver Medals, 1155 Gold Medals, 518 Double Gold Medals, 199 Best of Class Medals and Seven Sweepstakes awards. If you were to taste 3 of the gold medal winning wines every day it would take you over a year to try them all !!! All of a sudden the shade of perspective changes everything.
So what should we take from this. Competitions are important, awards are noteworthy, medals have value, but ultimately there is no substitute for each of us stepping into the fray and becoming judges ourselves. That is exactly what you do every time you visit a tasting room or attend a public tasting event. You become the most important Judge of wine there is.... the one that decides what YOU like.