What We Really Can Learn from Wine Competitions

    There has been a lot of chatter on the internet about reports written by Robert T. Hodgson, who is now a winemaker following a career as a college professor.

     Hodgson presented data indicating that judging at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition has been inconsistent over the past four years. He also wrote that “many wines that are viewed as extraordinarily good at some competitions are viewed as below average at others.”

     It didn’t take long for some bloggers to pile on, opining in no uncertain terms that wine competitions are basically useless to consumers.

     Not to sound elitist, but this is what you get when a writer is able to communicate to the world without the benefit of an editor. At the very least, a trained editor would have asked a few questions of the writer in order to determine whether the conclusion was attained through logical deliberation.

     Let’s begin with Hodgson’s assertion that a given wine may receive a gold medal at one competition and not even a bronze at another. Having worked at numerous competitions through the years, my reaction to that is: Duh! Results absolutely are going to vary from judging to judging.

     Here’s why:

     1. The judging panels consist of different people.

     2. Different people have different palates.

     3. Different wine competitions have varying judging criteria.

     4. Wine changes with time in the bottle, and it’s not uncommon for there to be some variation from bottle to bottle. Especially among white varieties, wine can change a great deal over just six months.

     So, the conclusion that a given wine may fare quite differently from one competition to another isn’t exactly a revelation.

     But for bloggers to cite that conclusion as “proof” that competitions are useless demonstrates a total disconnect with logic.

     Here’s a better, more logical approach to using the information in Hodgson’s reports:

     1. If a wine receives a gold medal in one competition but no medal in another, it’s going to be a good wine.

     2. If a wine receives multiple golds in multiple competitions, chances are it’s a great wine.

     3. If a wine receives no medals in any competitions, it’s probably nothing special — but it still may not be bad.

     The perception of wine is a very personal thing. The key role of the wine judge is to make sure that wines with noticeable flaws do not receive awards.

     After that, determining whether a wine deserves a bronze medal, a silver or a gold becomes a very subjective matter. Even so, you’re more likely to get a more valid assessment from a panel of judges than from a single palate.

     The bottom line: Hodgson’s reporting appears to be very accurate, but the conclusions being drawn from it by some bloggers are pretty wacky.

Posted in Editor's Journal
Members-only Wine sampler specials delivered straight to your inbox via our Cyber Circle newsletter.

%d bloggers like this: