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Friday, December 30, 2011

Wine judging and buying gold medal winners

First, I have never been a wine judge. I have taken a wine judging class at the local college, talked to judges, attended or worked at wine events that are judged. So I'm not an insider, but then I don't have anything to defend either.

Looking at a wine's medals is one way to decide to buy, but what does a medal actually mean?

First, a winery has to actually enter their wine in a judging. Sometimes the wine is picked by the event rather than the winery volunteering the wines, but most likely it's the winery deciding what wines to enter in what events. So a wine may get entered into lots of events, a few, or none. A wine that's available only at the winery and not sold retail or a wine that easily sells out every year is unlikely to be entered as the purpose of the judgings is to win medals and sell wine!

If you have the time and desire there are some things to investigate about individual medals giving at a competition.

1. How many wines were entered and how many received medals. If 80% of the wines got something then what's the point? Actually, the point is marketing. A winery is more likely to enter if they are likely to get a medal.

2. How many gold vs. silver vs. bronze medals were given out? If there were 20 wines in a particular category, 18 got medals, and 12 of those were gold then what's the point? However, if there were 200 wines in a category and two got gold then that could mean something.

How do judges do it? They taste a lot of wine over a few days. Palate fatigue is an issue. Sometime a wine may just stand out (not necessarily in a good way). Even the order the wines are tasted makes a difference. The first and the last wines get noticed. If there's a particularly "strong" or nasty wine whatever unfortunate wine to follow it may be in trouble.

One interesting thing coming out of the wine judging class I took was you got "attaboys" for agreeing with the majority of the other folks and your judgement was suspect if you picked wines others didn't. So to be a good judge your opinion has to go along with the majority. I guess that makes sense. Maybe.

So should you care about medal-winning wines? Sure, it's a place to start. I would look for wineries winning in different competitions over multiple years. Of course, that's if you want to do the research on this. Why do this? Because a wine can easily get a gold in one competition and fail to get a medal of any kind in the next.

Use medals won as one data point to help you choose a wine.

Like you probably have done I sometimes pick a wine on a retailer's shelf because there's a little card under it saying "Orange County Gold Medal Winner!"

This post originally published 12/22/2009