The hot topic in Wine Country today is about truth in advertising when it comes to gold medal winners. A recent study of U.S. wine contests found little consistency from contest to contest regarding gold medal winners. The study focused on 13 U.S. wine competitions in 2003.


Here’s what I have to say about this study: so what? It’s an interesting study, but it fails to appreciate these variables. 

1)      Wine judging is subjective.

2)      Wine is a living thing, subject to bottle variation.

As for the subjective aspect, Ben Pearson of Santa Rosa’s Bottle Barn puts it best: “Criticism by nature is subjective and wine criticism is no less subjective than film reviews. One critic will love a movie and another will hate it.” Pearson, who will be a judge in the county’s Harvest Fair Wine Competition, added that one Chateau Montelena wine got a score of 95 from critic Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate, while the Wine Spectator rated it in the 60s because of the perception of TCA taint.

Skilled palates often disagree on a wine. In fact there were some heated debates among judges on the Press Democrat wine panel. Did I respect the judges less? Absolutely not because I know wine tasting is subjective. When a wine wins a competition, it means one thing and one thing only: that on a particular day, a particular panel liked the wine. That’s it. End of story.

As for bottle variation, it’s real and it can be dramatic. In fact most competitions ask for a back up bottle to protect against cork taint. Less dramatic changes among bottlings are also common. One bottle might shine while another seems less than stellar.

Robert Hodgson, the retired Humboldt State professor behind the study, said “Either the wineries are sending non-uniform samples to competitions or the judges are simply unreliable instruments for assessing quality. What’s the consumer to think?”

The truth, of course. Rating wines is subjective and wine is a living thing. This is the simple truth and consumers would be wise to keep this in mind because retail stores will soon have plenty gold medal winners on their shelves, with the Harvest Fair Wine Competition next week.