A couple of weeks ago, an article by Will Storr of The Telegraph discussed the apparent failings of the wine judging world by highlighting the findings of Prof Robert Hodgson. (I find it strange that The Telegraph has filed this under Culture > TV & Radio.) To summarise, and perhaps repeat an oft-claimed observation, Hodgson inserted multiple samples of the same wine to the California State Show judging panel and found inconsistencies by the same judge for the same wine. He is also quoted as determining from his own tasting experiences that wines upwards of $20 “doesn’t not get any better from there to $200″. (A valid question would be whether that conclusion was made under blinded tasting conditions)
Jamie Goode (Wine Anorak) has written a short opinion/response to the article, which eloquently points out several flaws in the structure of the piece (to me it did feel like a mismatched jigsaw), and to argue for the expertise of wine tasters. It is worth reading through the comments to Jamie’s piece from quite a few vino notables. Indeed, there is genetic evidence to suggest hypersensitivity of certain individuals for a wider spectrum of flavours. Recent studies have also linked memory to taste perception, and an individual’s cognitive capacity might also impact on their ability to taste wine. I certainly have fond memories associated with Torbreck’s 2004 Descendent, but I have yet to find anyone who would disagree with me that it is one bloody great-drinking wine!
Perhaps, the inconsistencies in Hodgson’s findings are a reflection of process of awarding wines in the California State Wine Fair. This subject was broached by Blake Gray writing for Palate Press who, based on previous judging experience at the fair, described some level of discussion within the judging circle to influence his opinion of the wines. I am not clear of how that judging panel is split up to cover the plethora of wine categories, but it does seem like heck of a lot of wine for 26 judges to evaluate. In comparison, the Decanter World Wine Awards benefit from having multiple sub-panels, each with their own regional chair.
So what do I think of wine competitions and those gold stickers being handed out? Not much at all really. How many round gold stickers get stuck onto top-tier Bordeaux, Chianti, Champagne, German Riesling? The most widely-regarded wines globally do not need competitions to sell their wines. Oh, wait a second, notice the Old World trend? Ok, sure, smaller wineries would need some national exposure and entrance into wine competitions might do the trick. But to be honest, the next time you browse, just glance across the wines sitting on the shelves of the commercial retailers and take a mental note of the difference to the smaller (good!) boutique wine stores. You’ll find far fewer golden and silver stickers on the bottles stocked at the latter. If you truly have a good product, the wine will sell itself.
At the end of the day, taste a wine, decide if you like it, if so, then buy it.