Over the past weekend I, along with many colleagues from various facets of the wine industry, evaluated nearly 5000 wine entries at the 34th annual San Francisco International wine competition, run by longtime wine journalist Anthony Dias Blue.
My panel alone tasted more than 300 wines. This may seem a daunting task, and indeed it is for many if not most wine enthusiasts.
That’s why Andy, and those of us who also operate major international wine competitions, choose wine judges carefully, recruiting wine professionals who not only have a good palate but also broad experience tasting multiple wines on an everyday basis.
Sommeliers certainly fit the mold, so of course San Francisco-based Master Sommelier Fred Dame was on hand to lend his expertise. Winemakers, too, routinely taste multiple wines, often from barrel, over the course of their workday, so no surprise to see Heidi Peterson Barret of Screaming Eagle (among others) on one of the judging panels as well.
Journalists, wine retailers, wine buyers for major beverage chains and wine marketers also have the knack.
The quality and integrity of wine competition judges is critical, for it is their endorsements, through the process of awarding medals, that consumers often rely upon when they choose a wine.
Visit almost any winery website and you are likely to find a button to click to view awards and accolades for the wines being offered. Medals also are an important factor for consumers in winery tasting rooms, where customers frequently encounter wines they’ve never even seen on a retail shelf. The medal is one indication that a panel of experts has given a wine its stamp of approval.
While I take great pride in the quality of the judging at the four wine competitions I manage – the San Diego International and the Critics, Winemaker and Sommelier Challenges – I know first-hand there are other wine competitions you can certainly trust for a tout on the best wines, because I know the caliber of the judging panels they assemble.
The TexSom International Wine Awards in Dallas, for example, is among the best. This was formerly the Dallas Morning News wine competition and it has long been one of the benchmark wine competitions in the wine industry. Find a wine that won a gold at TexSom (run by a group of professional sommeliers based in Texas) and you know you will have a very good wine.
The Sunset Magazine International wine competition falls into the same category. That’s because it is run by Rebecca Murphy, formerly the Director of the Dallas Morning News competition until she sold it to the Texas sommeliers.
And then there is the San Francisco International (as opposed to the San Francisco Chronicle competition, which is in Cloverdale) wine competition towered over by Andy Blue. Gold medal wines from any of these three wine competitions will not disappoint you.
To get a gold at any one of these three, a wine must stand out in a sea of very good wine. The vetting process is rigorous. If you happen to find a gold-medal wine from one of these three, you not only have a precious metal, you have a gem.