Tag Archives: wine competitions

2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup

Virginia Governors CupIt’s not the high quality of the wines that impressed me when I judged a preliminary round in the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup earlier this month. Rather, it was the consistency. There were almost no undrinkable wines among the five dozen or so wines we did, a far cry from the first time I did the competition in 2010.

If this is not unprecedented, it’s certainly rare in any state that’s not on the west coast. One of the biggest difficulties for regional wine, given that most local producers have too little experience and too little money, is consistency and improving toward that consistency. It’s not enough to make one great wine every three or four years; for regional wine to succeed, it must make drinkable wine every year. If it can do that, the great wines will follow on a regular basis.

And my panel saw that consistency earlier this month, allowing for the small sample size and that we judged blind. Especially impressive — but not surprising, given past experience — were the viogniers, where I though three of the five wines deserved gold medals (though medals won’t be awarded until the final judging in February). The other two were well worth drinking, too. Every wine was fresh and varietally correct, and even the two that had been oaked were nicely done. The oak complemented the wine, and was not its reason for being.

The half dozen cabernet francs, another Virginia specialty, were surprisingly fruity, without the elegance I have come to expect. But they were enjoyable and two were worthy of silver or gold meals.

Even those regional wines that usually fare poorly, like chardonnay and dry rose, were professional and competent. The former are usually under-ripe and over oaked, while the latter are usually just a mess. But though simple, they were drinkable, and that’s not damning with faint praise given the difficulty in making those wines drinkable.

This is the slow, steady improvement that we haven’t seen in Texas for several years, and is one reason why I despair about the Texas wine business. But if Virginia, Texas’ arch-rival, can do it, maybe we can be motivated to do it as well.

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.

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Colorado Governor’s Cup 2015

Colorado Governor's CupMidway through yet another enthusiastic debate during the sweepstakes round of this year’s Colorado Governor’s Cup wine competition, I asked Doug Caskey, who runs the event, “When’s the last time you heard people get this worked up about regional wine?” Doug laughed, and said he wasn’t sure he had ever heard this many people get this excited about this many wines at a regional wine competition.

Which says pretty much everything you need to know about this year’s Governor’s Cup, which annually picks the best wines in Colorado. It’s not so much the quality of the wines, which are much better than they were when I first judged in the state a decade ago. It’s that the judges, most of whom don’t specialize in regional wine but work for restaurants, retailers, and distributors, have a completely different opinion than was common then. They don’t dismiss the wines out of hand, and they understand that Colorado wine isn’t supposed to takes like wine from Napa or Sonoma.

How else to explain Warren Winiarski, one of the greatest winemakers in Napa history, giving double gold medals to several Colorado wines?

The results haven’t been released yet, so I can’t name names (but will post them when they are). But I was especially impressed by:

? Two less-oaked chardonnays, which were crisp, fresh, and fruity. One of the judges went so far as to say one tasted more like Chablis, one of France’s great chardonnay regions, than the Colorado chardonnay he was used to.

? Two syrahs, cause of tremendous arguing about which was the best wine of the competition. Both were delicious, and what made them even more appealing is that they were completely different in style — one more Old World, with that almost bacon fat aroma, and one more New World, with lots of berry fruit.

? An absolutely gorgeous viognier, a grape I don’t usually associate with Colorado, that was on par with the best in Texas and Virginia, and much better than almost every California viognier I’ve ever tasted.

In this, Doug, who heads the Colorado Wine Board; his colleague, Kyle Schlachter; and state enologist Steve Menke have done yeoman work with the state’s wineries. This is always one of my favorite events to judge, and not just because they pay me $200. It’s a pleasure to judge an event where the winemakers want to get better, and where they have.

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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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6 wines from San Francisco International Wine Competition

san francisco wine competitionThese wines, which were gold or double gold winners at this year’s San Francisco International Wine Competition, show the strengths and weaknesses of wine competitions. It’s not that the wines are bad or didn’t deserve the medals they got, but that the results speak to the perspective that the judges bring. In this case, three-quarters of the judges were from California, and many of the wines I tasted showed that perspective — pricey, fruity, and oaky, with lots of alcohol. How about a 15.1 percent tannat?

It’s this perspective that is overlooked when we debate the merits of wine competitions. How can a wine — technically well-made and delicious — do well if the judges don’t appreciate its style? The biggest problem I have when judging is being fair to the kinds of wines like those that won at the San Francisco competition. I find them difficult to enjoy and so mark them down. But at least I know I do this and make an effort. Hopefully, this idea of perspective is something that competition organizers take into account when they select judges.

Having said this, I tasted some terrific wines when the San Francisco wine competition did its Dallas road show last week (and the tannat, if not to my taste, was a wonder of winemaking skill). Check them out after the jump: Continue reading