Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: At Wine Competitions, Prospecting For Gold

This is the season of show biz awards — the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and the upcoming Academy Awards — but the wine world takes a backseat to no one when it comes to handing out the trinkets.

I just returned from judging in the 7th annual San Antonio Express-News Wine Competition, in which more than 700 wines were put through the swirl/sip/spit cycle by 39 judges split, unevenly, into seven panels.

As we plowed through the chardonnays, the Spanish varietals, the malbecs, the zinfandels and the various pinots and cabernets shipped in from around the globe for the event, one topic kept coming up in conversation: What have you heard from other competitions?

Many judges participate in several competitions each year, so the insider gossip about emerging stars and declining labels is non-stop. Likewise with discussion of the competitions themselves.

Two schools of thought contend for supremacy. One is that the more medals given out, the more popular the event will become — and the more entries it will attract. The other is that the more discerning and hard-nosed the judges are, the more valuable medals from those events will become — and the more entries it will attract.

As always, reality lies somewhere in between. In a field replete with outsized egos, there are judges so stingy in finding praiseworthy wines they knock down legitimate contenders just to keep looking tough. Conversely, some competition managers actually seek out at least a few judges who are, to put it mildly, pushovers.

Not all events announce the winners right away. Most results are held until, for example, a sponsoring publication goes to press with the whole list or until an awards banquet is held.

In the case of the San Antonio judging, even I won’t know the entire list of gold medalists until later this month. If sweet-talked, however, I might be able to provide two buying tips that came out of my panel: a 2003 Napa Ridge Reserve from the merlots-over-$15 category and a 2005 Clos du Bois from the chardonnays-under-$15.

A few other early-announcement gold medal winners from recent competitions (full lists to be announced later):

• San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition: Santa Rita Hills Rancho Santa Rosa, Flying Goat Cellars 2005 Pinot Noir, North Coast Petite Sirah, B.R. Cohn Winery 2004 Petite Sirah, California Geyser Peak Winery 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley Premium Label, Windsor Vineyard 2006 Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley L’Ermitage Sparkling, Roederer Estate 1999 Brut, Navarro Vineyards 2005 Late Harvest Muscat Blanc.

• Pennsylvania Farm Show Competition (Pennsylvania wines only): Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery Vidal Ice Wine, Naylor Wine Cellar Red Raspberry Wine and Peaches Plus, Winfield Winery Country Red, Pinnacle Ridge Chambourcin Reserve, Vynecrest Cabernet Franc, Pinnacle Ridge Blanc de Blanc Sparkling.

There will be many more results from major competitions around the country as the year goes on, usually one or two big ones a month, slowing down a bit around Labor Day.

Before that holiday, you can look forward to, among others, the International Eastern Wine Competition in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and the Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition, both in May, the San Francisco International Wine Competition in June, the Indiana State Fair International Wine Competition in July and the New York Wine & Food Classic in August.


  c. 2007 Hearst Newspapers