Everybody gets a trophy…

Wine bottles at the Public tasting event of th...
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It’s awards time for American wine. Each year in January I receive a slew of emails from various wineries proudly proclaiming they won this or that medal at San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (“SFCWC”). According to Winejudging.com, home of the SFCWC…

“The SFCWC broke the records with 4,913 entries in 2010 and now in 2011; it continues to uphold the title of the “Largest Competition of American Wines in the World” with a staggering number of entries, 5,050 from 23 states. For eight consecutive years, the SFCWC is able to proclaim that it is the “Largest Wine Competition of American Wines in the World”.

I always peruse the list to look for familiar names, and certainly there are perennial award-winning wineries (Click here for 2011 Winners). Usually, what strikes me most is how many of the wineries I’m not familiar with, and I mutter to myself “So many wineries, so little time.”  But what sucker punched me this year was when I saw the name of a winery I just visited a couple of weeks ago listed among the award-winners. And not just one wine from that winery was an award winner – the winery won 14 awards!

Here’s the thing, I didn’t care for their wines at all!  Neither did my wife. The wines seemed flabby, almost watered-down in both taste and color – at least the reds. As I tasted a few of their wines, I began to wonder if maybe the color of red wine matters (i.e. the darker the wine, the better the quality?), and up until that time I hadn’t given it much thought.  But, wine varietals I’d almost always seen as a dark red/ruby/garnet color, were medium or light red instead.  In fact, tasting their wines brought back memories because when we first started our wine tasting adventure we were members of as small local winery. We thought their wines were good…until we started to taste more wines. I guess you could say our tastes have evolved.

As I continued to review the list of winners, a question popped into my mind that I’ve had many times before while wine tasting at “award winning” wineries – Are wine awards like soccer – everybody’s a winner?  It’s certainly seemed that way to me at times.

Here’s Exhibit A – The SFCWC has 92 categories of wine they judge, 59 of them red wine.  I picked one – Merlot; $15-$19.99.  The numbers of medal winners was as follows:

Award # of Medals Awarded
Best of Class


Double Gold










That’s 46 medals awarded in one of 92 categories!

Just for grins, I decided to check out another wine competition, the Critic’s Challenge International Wine Competition. There were 186 categories of wine, and 697 medal winners!

I don’t know about you, but when I think about gold, silver and bronze medals, I think there is one winner each by category, rather than multiple winners by category.  Looking for the best of the best?  Go with “Best of Class”, or “Double Gold”, which signifies a unanimous decision by the judges.  Just remember when a winery boasts about their award winning wines…think youth soccer…not the Olympics!

I’m not suggesting the award winners are not good wines, some maybe very good, or great, but it appears that if a winery can pay the entry fee for a competition and has a solid well-made wine, then they’ve got a pretty damn good chance of getting a medal.

Which brings me to the oft contentious subject of wine scores (I’ll throw in awards as well), and the objectiveness thereof.  The fact that certain wine publications held in high esteem are not 100% independent (they accept advertising from wines they review) doesn’t cause me any heartburn. Wine scores and award have their place in my opinion.  And that place is in line behind your palate.  Follow your palate. Trust your taste first and foremost.  However, in the absence of having the opportunity to taste a wine, wine scores and/or awards can be helpful place to start.  Just keep in mind there are wily marketeers looking to wheedle your hard earned cash their way.

As always, I welcome your comments.  Cheers!