Wine competitions generally.


Though competitions are mostly commercial events and are often criticised, they are important for winemakers and wine companies. On the one hand to know how their products are appreciated compared to others and on the other hand as a marketing instrument. You can draw attention with winners, are able to send press releases and advertise and you can provide bottles with award stickers.

Nevertheless you often see that a given wine is “Best of Show” in one competition and in another one only wins “Bronze”. And then we still do not know which fantastic wines drew a blank as that is not published. In most cases 70% of the entries will not win a prize.

General editor Luís Ramos Lopes of the Portuguese magazine Revista de Vinhos wrote in the May issue of 2008: “To win a gold medal in an international contest you need two things: a very good wine and luck. To win the trophy for the best wine of the contest you have to have a very good wine and much luck.”

Judging and adjudicating is done by people. Think only of the discussions around the movie Oscar awards or of the conflicts in jury sports like gymnastics and horse-training, even at Olympic level.
Judging of wines is nothing more than giving an opinion. This is often a well-founded opinion after intensive schooling and much experience, but it continues to be a personal opinion.

That’s why it is wise to put competition results and individual judgments into perspective a little. But judgments and competitions are part of human nature, they are ineradicable. So it continues to be important to do this work as good as possible.

Certainly in large competitions much is done to improve the quality of judgements with critical group presidents, re-examinations and discussions about differences, but it remains a hard job to align all tastes. Due to the enormous numbers that the jury members often have to judge in just a few days, large differences are more than likely to ensue.
Robert T. Hodgson published a report in the American Journal of Wine Economics (autumn issue 2008) of his study on the results of the California State Fair Wine Competition over the years 2005 to 2008. Hodgson is a retired  professor of the Humboldt State University, manager of the Fieldbrook Winery in Humboldt County
(see: http://www.fieldbrookwinery.com/) and has worked as a jury member. His conclusions were: “About 10% of the judges were able to replicate their score within a single medal group. Another 10%, on occasion, scored the same wine Bronze to Gold.”
See for his article:
In the Journal of Wine Economics (spring issue 2009), Hodgson also published a report of an inquiry into the comparison of the results of 13 American competitions. The conclusion of this study was that: “Of the 2,440 wines entered in more than three competitions, 47% received Gold medals, but 84% of these same wines also received no award in another competition.”
See for this article:
Particularly interesting are also the reports of the Grand Jury Europeen in which the variations and discrepancies between the judges are indicated graphically. This method was developed by Bernard Burtschy, permanent member of the Grand Jury and Professor of Statistics in Paris.
These reports can be found (after registration on the site) at: http://www.grandjuryeuropeen.com/index.php?lang=en
To put all this into perspective again here is a quote from the article How Wine Competitions Shaped California Wine by Robert Whitley (see: http://www.whitleyonwine.com/), an experienced organizer of wine competitions, publicist and one of the two founders of Wine Review Online (see: http://www.winereviewonline.com/home.cfm):
“Any winemaker will tell you that the tasting notes on a single barrel of wine vary from week to week and month to month. Even with quality wines, there is no straight line in the evolution of a wine from the time of bottling until it reaches its peak. It’s all hills and valleys, and a young wine has to hit it just right when it’s sitting in front of a panel of judges.”
See for his article: http://www.winereviewonline.com/whitley_wine_competitions.cfm

Every wine lover also knows the effect that a wine in the glass can change  in a short time. And we also know that the condition of different bottles of one kind can vary and that even the ambiance of tasting is influential. Moreover by far not all wines are suitable to drink without a nice combination with food, but that is exactly what does happen in competitions.

However Whitley also wrote in his earlier mentioned article:
If winemakers consistently win medals, they can feel confident about their direction. And if they always come up empty, they know they still have much work to do.

The large importance of competitions has especially become apparent with the entry of ‘new’ wine countries from New Zealand to California. Competitions have helped them to gain  appreciation and to obtain market share.
Maybe the first competition ever was  the Classification of Bordeaux Wines in 1855 at request of Emperor Napoleon III. Though often criticized, the list has hardly changed since then. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bordeaux_Wine_Official_Classification_of_1855
Another important competition was The Judgement of Paris of May 24th, 1976 with French and Californian wines. This competition was organised by the British wine merchant in French wines, Steven Spurrier, who believed that the Californian wines would not win. However the Californian wines did very well in all categories, marking their definitive breakthrough.
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judgment_of_Paris_(wine)#The_wines
How legendary this competition truly was is depicted in the movie entitled Bottle Shock made in 2008. See: http://www.bottleshockmovie.com/

In his column Arbor Vinous of August 1st, 2009 Joel Goldberg (see: http://www.michwine.com/) gives a nice impression of judging during competitions. At least this article can lead to some understanding and respect for this difficult work. See: http://annarborchronicle.com/2009/08/01/column-arbor-vinous-10/

It is often thought that only small companies enter their less known wines for competitions. However this is not true for the Port Wine industry. We have tallied all the results that were published on our site in 2008 and have found the following numbers of mentioned prizes:
-      The Symington Family Estates 33.
Sogrape 18.
Sogevinus 14.
The Fladgate Partnership 11.

Total for these four large concerns with their top brands: 76 mentioned prizes.
This versus the 40 citations of all other Port companies together.
Of course the criteria for this comparison is rather arbitrary, but the result gives at least some  indication.

The  following organizations are often mentioned by competitions and in publications on it:
O.I.V., the International Organization for Vine and Wine in Paris. See: http://www.oiv.int/uk/accueil/index.php  The O.I.V. is an intergovernmental organization, active in the field of vines, wine, wine-based beverages, table grapes, raisins and other vine-based products. The associated countries are from the old as well as from the new wine world. Eye-catching non-member is the United States. The O.I.V. has developed an extensive Standard (renewed in 2009) for wine competitions. See: http://news.reseau-concept.net/images/oiv_uk/Client/OIV-CONCOURS_332A-2009_EN.pdf  One of the important rules there of says that no more than 30% of all entries can win a medal. Competitions may be recognised and sponsored by the O.I.V., but in order to do so have to abide by stringent rules. See: http://news.reseau-concept.net/images/oiv_uk/Client/OIV-CONCOURS_332B-2009_EN.pdf
U.I.OE., the International Union of Winemakers, a federation of national organizations. See: http://www.uioe.org/index.cfm/1,113,0,0,html
A.S.I., the International Association of Sommeliers, a cooperation of national organizations. See: http://www.sommellerie-internationale.com/index.php?id=42&L=1
VinoFed, the organization of some medium-sized competitions. See: http://www.vinofed.com/EN/prix_en.asp  One VinoFed trophy can be awarded in  every associated competition. This is a trophy for the wine with the least deviation among scores received from each jury member, the wine with the smallest difference between the arithmetic mean score of individual tasters, the wine that satisfies the stated requirements and receives at least 86 points.
WAWWJ, the world organization of writers and journalists about wine and spirit. See: http://www.wawwj.com/2009/index_en.php  Every year the WAWWJ publishes a ranking of the most important wine competitions and calculates on the basis of the results lists of the best performing countries, wineries and wines.


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