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Sifting through the Rubble of Wine Award Winners

I’m convinced a couple of things will happen in a post-Armageddon world – cockroaches will be the first to emerge from the cataclysmic rubble followed shortly thereafter by man (woman?) who will try to A) Procreate B) Create Wine and C) Make sense of Wine.

Maybe not in that order, item A may occur after item B ... who knows ...

And, if a wine competition emerges in short order after an apocalyptic meltdown (and why wouldn’t it if there are more than two wines to drink), I have no doubt the survivor will rub his chin in existential thought while reviewing the gold medal winner wondering, “What does it all mean?”

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about wine competitions a lot lately.


And, I think most wine lovers, while perhaps not existentially, but ponderous just the same, rub their chin and wonder about wine competitions, “What does it all mean?”

First, and Armageddon notwithstanding, let’s get a couple of current intractable truths out of the way:

1) Wine points will not go away in my lifetime

2) Domestic wine production, labels and wineries will continue their upward pattern of growth; as will imports

3) Wine competitions will continue to exist, if not proliferate, commensurate with the amount of wine growth that occurs inversely proportional to the amount of wine ratings that are granted by taste arbiters.

Phew, got that?  I think the net-net is that wine competitions exist to fill a quality arbitration void created by the major wine magazine glossies and their limited scope and space.

The other fact, the unspoken fact, the mixed metaphor 800lb pink elephant in the room, remains that wine competitions and their ensuing winners mean very little to consumers outside of schlock presentation value in a tasting room, sales copy on the web site and the occasional one-off sticker on a bottle at retail.

So, why the heck do they even exist?

To send out press releases that never get picked up?

After talking with Neil Monnens, Publisher of The Wine Blue Book, I’m intrigued with his metadata approach to wine scores.  And, I’m likewise intrigued with the fact that he doesn’t cross-reference and analyze wine competitions.

As reviewed in previous posts, most recently last week, The Wine Blue Book is a monthly wine buying guide that groups the previous month’s major critics’ average wine ratings, and then lists them by price to determine overall value – the Quality Price Ratio (QPR) for wine.


Monnens approach, The Wine Blue Book approach, just makes sense to me.  Whether or not you agree with wine points or not, as we’ve agreed, the intractable truth is they are here to stay, so why not aggregate that data in a meaningful and useful way? 

Since we’ve gotten the usefulness of points and their consumer value out of the way, what to make of wine competitions?

According to The Wine Institute, there are some 25 + wine competitions, and that list represents perhaps 2/3’s of the actual number of events that exist.

Just this past week, the San Francisco International Wine Competition announced their winners.  This isn’t to be confused with the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition who announced its winners in January, nor the California State Fair that will announce their winners in two days.  Just to be sure, none of these should be confused with the Indy International Wine Competition who announced their winners two weeks ago.

You get the point.

There are a lot of wine competitions.

And, there are a lot of results.

The San Francisco International Wine Competition winner by winery document is 119 pages.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition winner by category listing is in HTML and, if printable, would represent at least a 100 pages

The Indy International Wine Competition winner by brand document is 67 pages.

And on, and on, and on …

The 2008 California State Fair does the best job of presenting the information in a clean and elegant way, keeping it manageable, but the fact remains that the results of these competitions yield a result that is tasting room, sticker and press release oriented.

I repeat, in order to make sense of wine, or at least wine competitions, you have to answer the question, “What does it all mean.”

Sadly, that’s not happening.

I wish I were a statistician, or I had an intern, because none of these wine medals really mean a thing, or will transcend their somewhat dubious place in a transparent, Internet-connected society until somebody applies some statistical analysis to them like the Wine Blue Book.

Ultimately, I really don’t care what the metadata execution is, but there is a gigantic, gaping opportunity here –publishing of some sort – the first guy that aggregates these medals with a value equation that makes sense, adds context to each wine, and publishes it on a web site, in an online document, or in book form, will have something valuable – as equally valuable as the numerous annual wine books like the Wine Enthusiast Essential Buying Guide 2009: Includes Ratings for More than 50,000 Wines!

Wait.  Maybe it’s actually merciful that a book doesn’t exist to aggregate medal winners on an annual basis … actually, now that I think about it Armageddon might be better. 

Let the cockroaches sort it out.


Posted in, Wine: A Business Doing Pleasure. Permalink | Comments (18) |


On 07/07, jason wrote:

I can see it already.  The BCS of the wine world, maybe we can get Fox to buy the rights!  Though my first reaction is humor and comparisons there is some merit here.  It shouldn’t be too hard to turn these mounds of data into something meaningful.  I’ll have to give this one some more thought…

On 07/08, Richard wrote:

Although this sounds like an admirable task, I don’t know how you’d be able to quantify the data and have it mean anything. 

And here’s my beef with QPR scores.  This is going to sound blasphemous, but here’s what it is.  What you’re trying to do is take an extremely subjective ranking, with no real set of standards, with different critics who inherently prefer different styles, and quantify it by a price that may have no bearing on the quality of the product inside the bottle.  You end up with a pretty number, but does it really mean anything?  My opinion is you don’t.  There are way too many variables embedded in the score and price to have a number that would stand up to statistical scrutiny.  Garbage in, garbage out.

Your best bet, in my opinion, is to find a wine retailer that lets you taste what they sell, and then have the retailer pick out wines that fit your style.  If you can’t do this, the next best option is to find a wine critic that fits your style, and then take their scores and come up with your own QPR ratio.  At least with this method, you’ve managed to partially isolate one of the variables, and the derived number has more meaning to the end-user of the data.

On 07/08, 1WineDude wrote:

Another way to look at this, is that it’s just fun to pit things against each other head-to-head.  As a society, we enjoy competition, even if it has no intrinsic value other than being fun.

On 07/08, Jeff wrote:

Thanks for the comments, gents—appreciated!

Jason - If you figure out a wine Sagarin ranking, let me know—a veritable gold mine ...

Richard—thanks for commenting, it’s your first time, I think. 

On the whole, I agree with you, but scores and scores of people don’t ask for help at retail, don’t want help at retail, or don’t have a good wine shop around.  Left to their own devices, I think people do some due diligence ahead of time.  But, yeah, I hear ya.

Dude - competition?  What you mean like the Steelers kicking some butt?


On 07/09, Michael Homula wrote:

Excellent and thought provoking post.

I am with you on the retail issue.  Most don’t ask for help and far too many retailers lack knowledgeable associates who can really add value to a wine search.  There is a noticeable void of quality wine retailers in most parts of the country - especially the part the coasters fly over to get to one another. 

That said, most consumers rely on the scores, the label design and their own pocket book depth to make a decision on what wine to buy and drink.  Some times they use their experience with a specific brand or varietal to make that decision because they don’t understand the traditional 100 point system to a degree that the number actually means something to them. As you all have noted before, the 100 pt systems is a bit flawed as welll but it is what we have…have to live with it I guess.

It is inherently American, as Dude was saying, to compete and to hold competitions.  It is not a coincidence American wine was only taken seriously after it won a wine competition set up by Steven Spurrier…you know that whole 1976 Paris Tasting thing. 

An aggregate number that accounts for wine critic ratings, price and consumer ratings would be ideal.  The Cellartracker community scoring is an interesting study in allowing the actual consumers to rate wines.  Sure, you get some who don’t know much pulling numbers out of their arse but in aggregate they don’t influence the overall number in a statistically relevant way.  If you start throwing out abberant or high/low scores the CT community, or any community like it, is a reliable resource.  I reference CT only because I use that particular site…I know there are others. 

That said, it will never happen.  Just like the BCS there are too many stakeholders who stand to lose credibility, prestige, money and free wine as a result.  In the end the best wine is the kind of wine you like and drink regardless of score etc.  Our role as wine bloggers, amateur scorers and oenophiles is to contribute to the discussion, education and hopefully add value. 

That or just confuse more people and make more noise.

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