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Wine: Do competitions matter?


Al and Cindy Schornberg of Keswick Vineyards, winner of the 2009 Governor's Cup. (Tommy Grimes -- Keswick Vineyards)

Tonight in Richmond, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will present the 2010 Governor's Cup to this year's winning Virginia wine. It's an annual ceremony meant to celebrate the (now) 167 wineries in the commonwealth's growing wine industry.

Visit a local winery's tasting room, and you'll probably see bottles bedecked with gold, silver and bronze medals won at various wine competitions. Medals shout quality and can be valuable marketing tools, as well as a not-so-subtle signal that you'd better like the wine because some judges did.

Mention those medals to a group of wine lovers, however, and you may hear snorts of derision. Medals are awarded by committee, and the contests award too many so they can get more wineries to enter, they may say. It's just marketing. And didn't Two-Buck Chuck win a gold medal somewhere?

The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. Wineries wouldn't enter contests if they weren't worth the effort and expense. I know one Virginia winery owner who pooh-poohed contests for years, until she entered one and won some medals. Now she's everywhere.

I've served as a judge at several regional competitions (though not at this year's Governor's Cup competition), and I believe they provide valuable snapshots of how a winery or wine region is performing. A wine typically is evaluated by a small group of professional judges – certified by a group such as the Tasters Guild, winemakers or retailers, and wine media, for example – with gold medal winners retasted by a larger group of judges to determine a contest winner. Yes, it is judging by committee, but it also avoids the tyranny of a single palate and reflects the diversity of wine.

Fifteen wines won gold medals at this year's Governor's Cup competition (which included only red wines). And Virginia wines garnered 23 medals at the San Francisco Chronicle's prestigious annual competition in January. These medals are not to be discounted – rather, we should look at them as evidence that some professional tasters believe these wines deserve merit. So we should taste these wines, and make up our own minds about their quality. That's what wine competition medals are all about.

-- Dave McIntyre

By The Food Section  |  February 26, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags: Dave McIntyre, Virginia, wine  
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Comments

Winning a competion has "almost" never been a factor in my selection of a different than "usual" purchase.

Posted by: herbertfoley7 | March 2, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

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