We have now reached the meat of the wine competition season, with several majors – Sunset Magazine, Los Angeles International, Critics Challenge and San Francisco International – on the horizon in the coming weeks.
Thousands of wines will be put before wine professionals for evaluation, and thousands will be honored with some type of award. You have every right to wonder what it all means.
As I like to say, it’s not rocket science. The oldest trick in marketing is the third-party endorsement. That endorsement is even more powerful if it is unbiased and comes from a trusted source.
Consumers are more likely to risk their hard-earned cash on an expensive bottle of wine if someone reputed to have expertise in wine has given it a thumbs-up. That someone could be a reviewer for a print or digital publication, or a group of wine professionals tasting the wine “blind” at one of the major wine competitions, which pride themselves on the skill of their judges.
The “blind” tasting is an important aspect of wine competition evaluations. During a competition tasting, judges are presented wines identified only by codes. This removes any taint of bias that might find its way into the results if judges knew the name of the producer.
For that reason alone wine competition awards always yield surprises, for many wines that might otherwise be dismissed because of price or producer or origin fare very well when they are evaluated from a “blind” perspective.
Still, some remain unconvinced that wine competition awards matter. A Napa Valley winemaker I know recently won a gold medal at a major East Coast wine competition and proudly announced the honor on social media. The enthusiasm was tempered, however, by a lament that many wholesalers and retailers don’t pay as much attention to wine competition awards as they do to scores and ratings.
What’s odd about that is the failure by wine salesmen to realize that competition awards mean a great deal to the person at the end of the food chain – the consumer.
“Nothing sells a wine faster in our tasting room than a gold medal,” says Gary Eberle of the Eberle Winery in Paso Robles.
Because it’s a fact that many wholesalers and retailers prefer scores to medals – in my humble opinion because it’s easier – a number of major wine competitions, including the San Diego International and the three “Challenges” I operate, have recently introduced numerical ratings to accompany each medal.
At the Challenges, judges are instructed that a silver medal wine should fall within a range of 87-89 points. The number the judges assign reflects how impressed they were with the wine being evaluated. A strong silver that’s on the cusp of going gold would obviously merit an 89, the top score allowed.
Gold medal wines are given a range of 90-93 points, and platinum 94 points and up.
In the one-year-plus my competitions have been assigning scores, we’ve had one 100-point wine, a beautiful single-vineyard Chardonnay from Dutton-Goldfield’s Rued Vineyard during the annual Critics Challenge. There have been several others in the 98 to 99-point range.
Rocket science? Not really. Let’s keep it simple, when assessing what a wine competition medal means: gold medal or better=great wine, 90-point score and up=great wine. I’m thinking even a wine retailer should be able to figure this out.
Email Robert at WhitleyOnWine@yahoo.com.