Award Winning Wine

Just like most of you, I watched the 84th Annual Academy Awards show over the weekend, and it made me think about all those wine awards that are displayed in the tasting rooms of so many wineries. I have always found it amazing how many wineries have won gold, silver or bronze award ribbons at wine competitions.

When was the last time you actually looked at the awards that "so and so" winery won, and decided to buy a wine based on that award? Granted, it may be a very good wine, but really, are there that many meaningful wine competitions out there?

A little research shows there are hundreds of wine competitions that can be entered. And, my guess is that a small winery would want to enter as many as possible to build up their "street cred" with the buying public, as well as wine shops and restaurants, by marketing the awards they have won..

The most common wine competition is done by blind tasting. The wines are grouped by grape variety, and tasted by trained experts, who are familiar with the common characteristics of that grape variety. They judge color, aroma, taste, finish and balance of the wine, and narrow it down to their top choices. The group of experts then review their notes, compare, and come to a conclusion for the entire tasting team. Some would argue that this doesn't necessarily mean these are the best award winning wines....they were just the best award winning wines in this particular group of submitted entries. Small group...better potential results for the entrants. So, if winery enters their dry Riesling (not too many winemakers making this in California) into the competition, they would have a better chance of receiving an award, than those entering into the Chardonnay tasting.

Some competitions rely on the public to taste the wines. These types of competitions may lead to a favorite wine, but not necessarily a good example of the grape variety.

There was an article in the Los Angeles Times, written a couple years ago by Jerry Hirsch, where he sited a study of 13 U.S. wine competitions, with little consistency in results,"The study said that of almost 2,500 wines that were entered in more than three competitions, 47% won a gold medal in at least one contest. However, of those gold medal winners, 98% were regarded as just above average or below in at least one of the other competitions."

For over 150 years, the California State Fair, has been one of the largest wine competitions, for a variety of California produced wines. In 2011, more than 600 wineries entered over 3000 wines.  Because of the large volume of wines submitted to the competition, a wine winning an award here, would hold more "weight" than an award won at a local art and wine it might make sense to determine where those award ribbons (the bigger the competition, the better the value of the award), hanging in the tasting room came from, and take into consideration the grape variety that was judged.

For a list of some of the wine competitions across the country, check out this site.

Wine tasting at Castoro
Better yet, if you really want to check out the wine, and determine how good it really is...go to the winery, meet the winemaker, learn about his/her vineyard and vinification methods. Try the wine, and buy what you like. Wine is an experience of taste, aroma, and emotional connection with the winery. Oh sure, take a look at their awards too, then judge for yourself.


  1. The stamina of the judges is critical in large competitions. Also, I've been to many competitive tastings where we all sipped the wines in the same order, which I'm sure biased the results. Finally, in large tastings, I suspect the hottest and heaviest wines have an advantage over lighter and more subtle entries.

  2. Good points. I don't think that the hottest and heaviest have an advantage when the the wines are tasted by grape variety, but I would suspect that higher alcohol wines, tasted at the beginning of the competition, would tire the palate faster. For this reason, lighter grape varieties should be tasted first (for even white before red). Since judges can be tasting hundreds of wines, it is important to know tasting techniques, and evaluation, and to always spit (rather than drink).

    Many think that wine judging is a "glamorous" job...but in fact it takes a lot of concentration, a good memory, and a trained palate.