The wine competition business is at a crossroads, with entries still not back to pre-recession levels, with wineries cutting the marketing budgets that pay entry fees, and with the reliability of competition results called into question. Hence my curiosity in judging the the TEXSOM International Wine Awards this week, which organizers want to become the wine competition that addresses those questions.
TEXSOM used to be the Dallas News Morning News competition, perhaps the leading wine competition in the U.S. that wasn’t on the west coast. Its new organizers (who include friends of mine) understand how the landscape has changed, and want to find ways to adjust.
That means giving wineries more to market their product than just a medal — finding better ways to publicize the wines that earn medals, working with a wine publication to publish tasting notes for medal winners, and publicizing the medal winners with its audience, sommeliers around the world. TEXSOM started life as educational organization for sommeliers and restaurant wine employees, and much of its focus remains there.
In addition, this year’s competition included some double-blind judging, apparently in response to the questions raised about whether medals mean anything. This was particularly intriguing given the quality of the judges, many of whom have MS or MW after their name, and almost all of whom are among the country’s wine retail, wine writing, and winemaking elite. (Whether one can include me in that group I’ll leave to the readers of this post.)
Finally, a word about the wines — or, in this case, not much of a word. I didn’t judge the first day of the two-day competition, thanks to our annual Dallas ice storm. Day 2 was 98 wines, almost all from California, and most of those from Paso Robles. We gave more than our share of golds (two cabernet sauvignons and a viognier in particular), and especially silvers, but few of the wines were memorable. But that’s hardly enough of a sample size for a fair judgment.
Seven years ago, James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks had an idea. Why not get a bunch of sommeliers together for a conference to help them learn more about wine? Their plan, shall we say, was met with some skepticism.
Which just goes to show how little the wine business knows about the wine business. The group that the two men started, the Texas Sommelier Association, will hold its seventh annual conference this weekend, and it has become one of the foremost wine education events in the country — not only for sommeliers and restaurant wine professionals, but consumers as well. This is where wine drinkers who are ready to take the next step can do just that, and in a mostly friendly and unsnotty environment.
TexSom has become so successful, in fact, that the three-day event is mostly sold out. More, after the jump:
James Tidwell of the Four Seasons in suburban Dallas is one of the top sommeliers in the country, the co-founder of the TexSom sommelier wine education group, and a wine blogger. As such, his view of of the wine world is a little different from the Wine Curmudgeon’s — call it more top down than bottom up. James buys wines from distributors to sell in his restaurant, which means he has more wines to choose from and which is not quite the same thing as desperately searching a retailer to find something interesting for dinner.
Or, as James told me the other day, “People used to tell me they couldn’t find good wine to drink, and I thought they were crazy.”
But not any more. James is on The Dallas Morning News Wine Panel, which recommends affordable wines that are generally available. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) And he has discovered that finding affordable wines that are generally available is not easy. (Sounds familiar, too, doesn’t it?) The panel may taste a wine it likes, but it can’t use the wine it isn’t sold in two retailers in the Dallas area.
“Every retailer seems to have the same 300 wines,” he says. “No wonder consumers end up drinking the same grocery store-style wines over and over.”
Which is the point of this story. If one of the most knowledgeable wine people in the country is frustrated by the conundrum that is wine availability, then don’t feel badly if you’re frustrated by it, too.