Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wine Competitions and Awards Matter

Last week we discussed wine critics and the value of wine ratings.  This week we take a look at wine competitions and wine awards.

A wine competition is an organized event, usually held by a state, an organization, the media, or the wine industry.  Wines are entered by the producing wineries, which pay a fee, usually from $40 to over $100 PER entry, and send anywhere from 2 to 12 bottles of each wine to be judged.
To submit a wine for consideration in these competitions, a winery fills out a competition form indicating the grape variety or proprietary name, where it was grown, the year made, the percentage of residual sugar and the current price charged for the bottle.  This helps the competition staff to place the wine in the correct categories for judging.

The wines are judged by professionals in the industry, peers, or consumers.  Awards are given and may include medals or ribbons to signify bronze (3rd place) silver (2ndplace) and gold (1stplace.)  A double or Concordance gold means that every judge at the competition gave that wine a gold medal.  These competitions usually have a “Best of Class” category and a “Best of Show” award, as well.

Wineries enter what they consider to be their best wines in these competitions, hoping to medal so that they can claim a Gold, Silver or Bronze in that competition.  It’s an impressive selling point for the wine and is a great marketing tool for the winery.

Judging for wine competitions are done ‘blind.’ This means that the judges do not know who made the wine, where it was produced or the price it sells for.  This is done to prevent any bias, so that the wine is judged on its merits alone.

Wines are usually arranged in flights.  A flight will include wines from the same vintage year or same type of grapes but made by different wineries. A tasting flight is a selection of wines, usually three to twelve, to be reviewed.  Judges at the same table are served the same wines in each flight.  They use a judging form to evaluate each wine in its own merits.  Each judge scores the wine, signs the form and turns it in.  After the forms are picked up, judges can discuss their opinions.

Wines may be judged on a combination of the following elements:
1)  Appearance – The wine should be clear and bright without dullness or particles.
2)  Color – The color of the wine will depend on the type of grapes used.  A white wine that shows amber tones or a red with bronze edges indicated oxidization.
3)  Aroma & Bouquet – This can include many things but a wine that smells moldy, dirty or corky will loose points.
4)  Volable Acidity – Does the wine smell like vinegar? If so, 0 points.
5)  Total Acidity – This is felt in the mouth.  If the wine is judged to be too flat or too sharp, points are deducted.
6)  Sweetness/Sugar – Sugar and acid should be balance.
7)  Body – This is the mouth-feel.
8)  Flavor – It should correspond to the grapes used.  Anything metallic is not good.
9)  Astringency – This accounts for bitterness.
10) General or Overall Quality – This is the one category that is subjective.

Wine judges use a 20 point scale when judging a wine.  This scale was developed in 1959 by Dr. Maynard Amerine at the University of California at Davis.  The UC Davis scale allots points in the following categories:
Appearance – (Up to 2 points)
Color - (Up to 2 points)
Aroma & Bouquet - (Up to 4 points)
Volable Acidity - (Up to 2 points)
Total Acidity - (Up to 2 points)
Sweetness/Sugar - (Up to 1 point)
Body - (Up to 1 point)
Flavor - (Up to 1 point)
Astringency - (Up to 1 point)
General Quality - (Up to 2 points)

Each wine is sampled and the judge scores it in each category from 0 to the maximum number of points allowed, based on a theoretical standard.

The UC Davis 20 point rating is scored as:
0 - 5 points - Objectionable
6 - 8 points - Deficient
9 - 11 points -  Acceptable
12 – 14 points – Average (Bronze)
15 – 17 points – Above average (Silver)
18 – 20 points – Outstanding (Gold)

After years of using this system, the American Wine Society created a different version of the 20 Point Scale.  The AWS version assigns points in these categories:
Appearance  (Up to 3 points)
Aroma & Bouquet - (Up to 6 points)
Taste & Texture - (Up to 6 points)
Aftertaste - (Up to 3 points)
Overall Impression - (Up to 2 points)

The AWS 20 point rating is scored as:
12 – 14 points – Good  (Bronze)
15 – 17 Excellent  (Silver)
18 – 20 Extraordinary (Gold)

The AWS scale is now being used by more and more competitions as the standard.  Wine judges are told to try to be objective, and somewhat restrained in their negative evaluations. 

Wine competitions are held around the world.  In the United States, there are several wine competition held annually, including:
Critics Challenge International
Finger Lakes International
International Eastern
San Francisco International

Most competitions are sponsored by those in the wine industry, state fair associations, or newspapers and magazines.  The Finger Lakes wine competition is different.  It is sponsored by Camp Good Days and Special Times, a not-for-profit 501 corporation that provides a camping experience and other benefits for children with cancer.

There is also a unique competition that is judged by select wine loving consumers. The Wine Lovers Consumer Wine Judging participants attend seminars on how to judge wine objectively, and are guided by an experienced advisor. This competition is held annually and sponsored by the Tasters Guild.

Keep in mind that small and medium sized wineries, those not located on the West Coast, and those that craft non-standard wines will probably be hard pressed to ever get a wine rating from a wine critic.  Wine competitions however are open and available to all commercials wineries to enter.  This is a chance to level the playing field for the small wineries and give their wines a chance to be noticed and shine.

So the next time you’re selecting a bottle of wine, don’t be so quick to look for the big name wines or the wine rating numbers. Instead, check out some of the wines offered by local and regional wineries.  See what awards they have won and take a chance on that gold, silver or bronze medal winner.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised with what you find.  Enjoy!

~ Joy