By Joy Neighbors
Spring brings about an abundance of wine competitions around the country.
People put their trust into these awards, but what really happens at a wine competition? How does a wine receive an award? As a state and international wine judge, I’ll give you a behind-the-scenes look into how awards are decided on.
There are more than 70 wine competitions in the country, and they are usually organized and sponsored by industry organizations, state fair associations, state wine industries and industry magazines. Some of the more popular include Critics Challenge Wine Competition, Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Indy International Wine Competition, International Eastern Wine Competition, Mid-American Wine Competition, Pacific Rim Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Tasters Guild International Wine Judging, and TEXSOM International Wine Awards.
Wineries enter what they consider to be their best wines in these competitions, hoping to score medals so they can boast about winning a Gold, Silver or Bronze in a certain competition. It’s an impressive selling point for the wine and is a great marketing tool for the winery.
The next time you’re selecting a bottle of wine, don’t immediately reach for a well-known wine or one with wine critic accolades. Instead, check out some of the wines offered by local and regional wineries that have won awards.
To submit a wine for consideration, a winery fills out a competition form indicating the grape varietal or proprietary name, location grown, year crafted, percentage of residual sugar, and current price per bottle. This information helps the competition staff place that wine in the correct category for judging. The winery pays a fee anywhere from $25 to more than $100 per entry and sends the required two to 12 bottles per entry with the completed form. These entry fees are how the competitions pay for judges, food, room rentals, wine glass rental, advertising, event staff, and those prestigious medals and awards. The majority of extra wine is given as gifts to the judges, sampled out to event staff or served at the competition dinner finale.
Wine judges are usually professionals in the industry. State competitions may include winery owners and locally known judges. Actual judging is done “blind,” which means the judges don’t know what winery made the wine, its location or the price point. This allows each wine to be judged on its merits.
Wines are usually arranged in horizontal flights. A horizontal 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 vinos to be reviewed. Judges at the same table are served the same wines in each flight and use a judging form to evaluate individual wines on its merits. Each judge scores the wine, signs the judging form and turns it in. After the forms are picked up, judges can discuss their opinions.
Elements to consider
Wines may be judged on a combination of the following elements:
Appearance: The wine should be clear and bright without dullness or particles.
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 and will receive low points.
Aroma & Bouquet: This can include many things but a wine that smells moldy, dirty or corky will loose points.
Volatile Acidity: Does the wine smell like vinegar? If so, 0 points.
Total Acidity: This is felt in the mouth. If a wine is judged to be too flat or too sharp, points are deducted.
Sweetness/Sugar: Sugar and acid should be in balance.
Body: This is the mouth-feel.
Flavor: should correspond with the grapes used. A metallic taste scores low.
Astringency: This accounts for bitterness.
General or Overall Quality: This is the one category that is subjective.
Today, several evaluations are used but the American Wine Society’s (AWS) 20 Point Scale is becoming a judging standard. The AWS version is preferred because of its simplicity in assigning 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), and Overall Impression – (Up to 2 points.) That could add up to a total of 20 points. The breakdown for those points is scored as:
12 – 14 points: Good (Bronze)
15 – 17 points: Excellent (Silver)
18 – 20 points: Extraordinary (Gold)
Awards are based on those points, and medals or ribbons are then awarded signifying bronze (3rd place) silver (2nd place) and gold (1st place.) A double or Concordance gold indicates every judge at the competition gave that wine a gold medal. Competitions may also have a “Best of Class” category and a “Best of Show” award.
Keep in mind that small- and medium-sized wineries, those not located on the East or West Coasts, and those that craft non-standard wines will be hard pressed to ever get a wine rating from a wine critic or industry magazine. That’s why wine competitions are so important. They are open to all commercials wineries and that promotes a more level playing field, giving smaller wineries a chance to shine.
The next time you’re selecting a bottle of wine, don’t immediately reach for a well-known wine or one with wine critic accolades. Instead, check out some of the wines offered by local and regional wineries that have won awards. Grab a bottle of that gold, silver or bronze medal winner and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you taste. Enjoy!