Tuesday, July 24, 2012
So You Want to Be a Wine Judge
THE HOSEMASTER’S™ BASICS OF WINE APPRECIATION 5
Many consumers see wines advertising medals from wine competitions and have little idea what those medals mean or how they were arrived at. They do know that Gold is better than Silver, Silver is better than Bronze, and Bronze is better than any wine with any sort of pastry on the label. Really, stay away from Cupcake, Layer Cake and the newly released Urinal Cake. I’m OK with orange wine, but yellow? In this edition of the Basics of Wine Appreciation we’ll talk about wine competitions and their place in the wine business. As required of a wine judge, I am writing this completely blind and in a white coat. I may have forgotten to take my Thorazine. Which makes me slightly manic and sing “Oh, de Miltown Ladies sing dis song, Doo-dah Doo-dah.” This will make more sense as you read about wine judgings.
What is the purpose of wine competitions?
Like any competition, it is to determine winners and losers. Winners are awarded medals by the losers with spit buckets. In wine competitions, each wine is judged individually. Therefore, many wines win gold medals. They tried this system in the Olympics once, but gave it up when 20 of the 80 gymnasts wouldn’t fit on the Gold Medal podium. All those girl gymnasts up there looked like a scene from Munchkinland. Every time I watch gymnastics at the Olympics, I expect a house to fall on them. Awarding medals is the main purpose of wine competitions, but there are others. For example, they also provide a place for our endangered wine judges to get together and reproduce. There is a National Registry of Wine Judges which carefully monitors the husbandry of the herd so that inbreeding can be avoided. It’s been mildly successful.
How are the wine judges chosen?
Each wine judge is carefully screened for experience, knowledge, STD’s and felony drunk driving convictions. A minimum of three out of four is required. Then each competition tries to select its judges from different sectors of the wine business—a few wine writers perhaps, a couple of enology and viticulture professors, some sommeliers, and a handful of people no one has any idea what they’re doing there. These are usually bloggers. This cross-section of the business allows for differing opinions about what each wine merits, and often lively discussions. At a recent competition, a wine judge was stabbed with a homemade shiv made from a room service breakfast sausage by a fellow judge for arguing that the nail polish smell in the Syrah was “perfect with finger foods.” Judges are also chosen for their willingness to allow other judges to raid their Honor Bar after Last Call.
Why do wineries enter wine competitions?
Winning a Gold Medal, or a Double Gold (which is simply a Gold with extra meat and cheese), can boost sales of a wine that was nearly dead in the water. Sort of like when Olympian Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board. Competitions are a sales tool that can be very effective if marketed correctly. Say you enter a Folle Blanche into the Waco International Wine Competition and Weenie Roast and win a Bronze. Yours was the only Folle Blanche entered, therefore your wine is “Best of Class 2012 Waco Wine Competition!” Bingo! There’s a BevMo 5¢ Sale in your future. The biggest floor stack since Dolly Parton passed out on her bathroom floor. It’s totally worth the price of entering the competition. However, winning a Bronze Medal for your high-end Zinfandel is like getting 98 points from Wine and Spirits—no one cares.
How are the wines judged?
The judges sit at a table and are served each flight of wines by the wine competition volunteers—there are many transients and drifters. Among the judges, not the volunteers. The wines come about a dozen at a time, already poured into very cheap glasses so as to give the judges the feel of being at home. The judges never see the bottles of wine they are evaluating. The judges quietly evaluate each wine knowing only the variety and vintage. Well, quietly if you don’t count grunts, groans, cellphones, dog whistles and all the instruments in the bodily orifice band. When all the judges have finished awarding each wine either Gold, Silver, Bronze or WTF?, a discussion ensues about each wine and a consensus is reached. Majority rules. So if three of the five judges decide the wine is worth a Gold Medal, it is awarded a Gold Medal even if the other two judges wouldn’t serve it to Jay McInerney’s overworked divorce lawyer. The best wine of each category, as determined by the judges, is then sent to the Sweepstakes round where every judge has a say in which wine is awarded Best in Show. Fifty-five wine judges can’t be wrong. Hey, it wasn't wine judges who ruled that corporations are people. No one who has ever worked for one would say that. Only dopes in robes.
How much credence should I give to Wine Competitions?
Sure, you watch FOX News and think it’s real. You watch American Idol and think it’s not fixed. You bought Spanish wines from The Wine Advocate. You think you have more than 350 friends because you’re on FakeBook. You think natural wines taste better. You’re in the Wall Street Journal wine club. You believe Apple isn’t selling your every move tracked by your iPhone to marketers. Is discernment your strong point? Hey, it’s only wine. Judges are human, except the MS’s, and make mistakes. And are happy to pass them along to you.