Category:Wine competitions

Critics Challenge 2015

critics challengeThis year, as the Wine Curmudgeon parses wine competitions and tries to understand how they fit into the next generation of the wine business, the Critics Challenge 2015 stands out. It’s one competition that doesn’t treat the judges like college interns, and where each judge isn’t overwhelmed by tasting hundreds of wines.

Plus, the event always attracts top-notch entries. Who knows? Maybe wineries figure there’s an advantage to letting people who judge wine for a living judge it in a competition.

This year was no exception. We did 160 wines over 1 1/2 days, using the event’s unique format to score the wines. Each table of two judges tasted the same wines, gave each a point total corresponding to a silver, gold, or platinum medal, and the wine received the highest of the two medals. Yes, I had to give a score, which is not something I like, but since it’s more about the medal, I have made my peace with it. That each wine is judged by two people adds another level of quality control, and platinum medals are tasted yet again. In addition, the judges write tasting notes for each medal-winning wine.

Besides, given the quality of the wines, who am I to complain? At one point, Michael Franz (one of the leading critics in the country) and I were handing out platinums like they were bronzes at other competitions. Complete results are here, and the highlights included:

* Perhaps the best flight of pinot noir I’ve ever judged, which included three platinums and six golds. The platinums went to ZD Wines, Coomber Family Ranch, and Dutton-Goldfield, and each wine (as well as most of the golds) was fresh and interesting, far removed from the heavy, overwhelming alcohol bombs that are the current critical favorites. The only catch? Each of the wines cost more than $40.

* A platinum for a merlot costing less $15 from Kon Tiki, a Chilean producer, with surprising depth and subtlety for a grocery store merlot. The bad news? It appears to have limited availability. If you can find it, though, buy as much of it as possible.

* A platinum for the nebbilo from Virginia’s Barboursville Vineyard, one of my favorite U.S. producers. Franz and I each gave it a platinum; this is a terroir-driven wine that speaks to the best of winemaking.

* Tremendous value from a couple of flights of $15 and less Chiantis, including platinum for Banfi, Gabbiao, and Castela D’Albola, as well as four golds.

The fine print: The competition pays a $500 honorarium and travel expenses.

How to improve wine competitions

wine competitionsWine competitions have received tremendous amounts of criticism, whether it’s from unreliable results, results that seem odd, and results that the experts don’t like. Or, as the co-author of a study of competition failings told me, “Consumers should disregard results from wine competitions, because it ?s a matter of luck whether a wine gets a gold medal.”

Can wine competitions fix these problems and become more reliable? This is especially relevant given the recession, when wineries reduced the number of competitions they entered. This has led to a shakeout in competitions, and those that don’t adapt to the new conditions, where wineries want more value for their entry fees, won’t make it. I can’t emphasize this enough: Wine competitions are at a crossroads, where their results are increasingly irrelevant to consumers and less important to ever more wineries. The millions of people who buy Cupcake Red Velvet probably don’t even know competitions exist.

Hence the need to make the results more statistically valid, and the Wine Curmudgeon’s five suggestions, based on more than a decade of judging, to do that — after the jump: Continue reading

TEXSOM International Wine Awards 2015

TEXSOM International Wine AwardsThe 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.

Judging the 2015 Virginia Governors Cup

2015 Virginia Governors CupThe controversy about whether judges at wine competitions know what they’re doing is never far from my mind when I judge these days. How will the competition I’m working try to fix what seem to be serious problems, including too many wines and not enough judges? The 2015 Virginia Governors Cup took a novel approach — lots of judges, small flights of wine, and standardized score sheets. The process — as well as many of the wines — was impressive. More, after the jump:
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Wine competitions and wine scores

wine scoresThe Wine Curmudgeon’s opinions of wine scores are well known: Get a rope. So what would happen when I had to judge a wine competition that required judges to use scores?

The competition, the Critics Challenge in San Diego, was its usual enjoyable self, featuring wine I usually don’t get to drink as well as some top quality cheap wine. The scores? Meh. More, after the jump (plus some of the best wine I tasted):


Caveats first: The competition pays judges a $500 honorarium and reimburses expenses, and the weather in San Diego is always so much better than it is in Dallas that I’d do it just for the 70-degree temperatures.

But are those good enough reasons to give scores, considering how I feel about them? Probably not. I agreed to judge for two reasons: First, because if you’re going to criticize something, you should do it at least once, and second, because I have tremendous respect for competition impresario Robert Whitley. If Robert wants to do scores, then I’m willing to try it.

Having said that, the scoring process was underwhelming. In years past, we gave wines a silver, gold, or platinum medal; this year, we added scores to those awards. I’m still trying to figure out the difference between a silver medal wine with 87 points and one with 89 points, even though my judging partner, Linda Murphy, did her best to explain it to me. A silver is a silver is a silver, and I don’t understand why two points makes a difference. Or how Linda and I could give the same wine the same medal, but different points. How could one of us like the wine 2.2 percent more than the other (the difference between an 87 silver and an 89 silver)?

Still, there were some terrific wines entered:

? The 2013 Giesen Riesling from New Zealand ($15) was named best in class, an excellent example of the tremendous value available in New Zealand riesling.

? Linda and I agreed that the Yorkville Cellars 2012 Carmenere ($38) was platinum worthy, and it earned best in class honors. Carmenere can be off-putting, unripe and tannic, but this was an intriguing, rich, and earthy effort, with dark fruit and complex finish.

? I’ve been lucky enough to taste sparkling wine from Dr. Konstantin Frank in upstate New York three times since last fall, and each time it has been sensational. The 2007 Chateau Frank Brut ($25) won best of class, and the non-vintage rose ($21) grabbed a silver.

? The 2012 Nottage Hill Chardonnay from Australia’s Hardys ($13) won a platinum, which wasn’t surprising. Aussie chardonnay can often be $10 Hall of Fame quality; the catch, usually, is that the wines vary greatly from vintage to vintage, and what was tasty one year isn’t the next.

? A non-vintage red blend, called Kitchen Sink ($10), won a silver. It’s fruity, but well-made, and I’ve always enjoyed the Kitchen Sink white blend.

Dallas Morning News TexSom Wine Competition 2014

Dallas Morning News TexSom Wine Competition 2014The best piece of advice I ever got about wine came shortly after I started doing this, and from two different people (both well known for their irascibility). “The minute you think you know everything about wine,” each told me, “go do something else. Because as soon as you think that, you’re not capable of being any good at wine.”

In other words, shut up and listen to people who know more than you do, something I’ve tried to do as often as possible for the past 20 years. I had an excellent opportunity to do it again on Monday and Tuesday when I judged the 30th annual Dallas Morning News TexSom Wine Competition. Regular visitors here know how I feel about high-alcohol, over-ripe, and over-oaked wines. So what did I get to judge? Lots of high alcohol, over-ripe, and overoaked wines — 41 zinfandels from Lodi, Dry Creek, and Napa in California among 185 wines over the two days . And you know what? I liked some of them, and even gave two gold medals.

More, after the jump:

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The Two-buck Chuck gold medal fallout

The Two-buck Chuck gold medal falloutTwo-Buck Chuck, the most notorious cheap wine of all, won three gold medals at a California wine competition last week, and the cyber-ether went wild. One member of the Winestream Media tweeted that the result proved that state fair wine competitions were worthless. Another left a comment on a blog, which had defended the medals, taking exception and implying that the competition had been rigged. And then there was this from a winemaker: ?Makes one wonder what the ?experts ? are drinking or smoking. ?

All of which demonstrated the Wine Curmudgeon ?s favorite adage about wine: That people who claim to be experts don ?t have to taste a wine to know that it isn ?t any good. More, after the jump:

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