The Dallas Morning News and TexSom Wine Competition 2012

This year's competiton, the 28th annual, was held Sunday and Monday. The biggest news, at least from where I was judging, was that the quality of the California wine did not hold up to the quality of the U.S. wine that wasn't from California. Hard to believe, but the other three judges on my panel agreed — the regional wine we tasted was mostly better than the California wine, and we tasted wine from parts of California, like merlots from Napa and cabernet sauvignons from Alexander Valley, that should have been full of gold medals.

But it wasn't. And it wasn't because of the Wine Curmudgeon and his idiosyncratic palate. The others on the panel — Texas winemaker Kim McPherson and wine writers Marguerite Thomas and Laurie Daniel — very often felt the same way. We tasted a lot of California wine that wasn't varietally correct, poorly made or both. Or, as I asked out loud more than once, how can a winemaker screw up wine made with grapes from California, which produces the best grapes in the world?

We did about 100 wines from the rest of the U.S. and about 100 from California, all tasted blind. The standouts included a chambourcin, which probably came from the East Coast; what was likely a $10 sauvignon blanc from California and which got a gold; one of those Alexander Valley cabernets, which did get a gold because it tasted like it was supposed to taste; the best flight of regional merlots I've ever judged, which is saying something; and an orange muscat dessert wine, which McPherson took one sip of and pronounced spot on — also a gold.

Why the difference in quality? I'm guessing, though entries were up 500 or so from last year to 3,300, that many California wineries that do better quality wines still don't want to spend the money to enter. The recession took a toll on wine competition entries; they were one of the first things that wineries cut back on when they were looking for ways to reduce expenses, and the competitions haven't fully recovered. My sense is that the increase in entries came mainly from grocery store producers, and there is a lot of grocery store wine these days that counts on label or cute name, not quality, to attract consumers.

The results will be out in about a month, and I'll follow up this post when that happens. And a tip o' the Curmudgeon's fedora to Carolyn Westberry, Dave Oatman, and Sara Nichols, our table crew — the people who brought the wines out, cleared the empty glasses and handled the paperwork. They were excellent and true professionals; anyone who puts up with me sipping and spitting for two days deserves all the recognition they can get.

3 thoughts on “The Dallas Morning News and TexSom Wine Competition 2012

  • By Jim Caudill -

    One of the ongoing issues with Dallas is simply that, as one of the competitions that happens earlier in the year, many of the wines have just been released when they’re entered and are not necessarily showing as well as they will be later in the year. The option is not to enter at all, or, because Texas is an important market and the May Wine & Food Festival is such a great gig, you enter and hope for the best. The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon is a case in point: we entered and are pleased to have won a Gold Medal (wineries have been told their results) but this wine is barely shipping, and won’t really reveal just how terrific it really is until much later this year. You were lucky to have such a terrific panel with both really nice folks and experienced judges. Don’t give up on California quite yet. Two things can be equally true: regional wines are getting better all the time, and California can hold its own.

  • By Jeff Siegel -

    Me give up on California wine, Jim? Never.
    And, interestingly, we didn’t taste all that many wines from the 2010 vintage; even the whites were 2009.

  • By Andy Doyle -

    If the proportionate entries of non-‘grocery store’ wines seems to be on the decline for DMN I’d suggest that it’s not so much a general expense reduction by finer wineries rather a provable diminishment of the sales promotion (by retailers) of gold medal+ wines in North Texas. I was a supplier rep for Lake Sonoma winery, which was one of only 13 chardonnays to fetch a gold in 2008. Upon pre-release of medal info I attempted to get the wholesaler to ramp up inventory above the 7 cases on hand – they refused, stating that ‘no one supported the winning wines anymore’. After the public release in the paper I was able attribute 2 cases of sales to the gold medal. My company (also Kenwood and Valley of the Moon wineries) had submitted 35 wines that year at a cost of about $1500. The following year the number was zero.
    Mine is but a single anecdote and may or may not reflect others’ sentiments
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