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Fragrant and Perfumed Displays the Vintage
























On Tasting
A Peep Behind the Wine Show Door
Thursday, 17th March, 2005  - Richard Farmer

When it comes to giving out those medals which adorn so many wine bottles these days, everything might not be as the consumer thinks. Rather than a gold necessarily meaning good there's every chance that it is simply a wine that didn't offend any of the judges. That anyway is a conclusion you could draw from a little peep behind the closed door of wine shows by two of the judges at the last San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The San Francisco competition is billed as the largest show held in the United States and the industry gets behind it with enthusiasm. No wonder given the ethos that lies behind it. Wine columnist Paul Gregutt, writing in The Seattle Times on 16 February this year, quoted the show's executive director, Bob Fraser, as telling judges (of which he was one) that his idea of the competition was "a marketing tool for wineries to sell more wine. And the wineries could use your help; there are some high inventories out there."

According to Mr Gregutt the pursuit of consensus, something else which executive director Fraser urged upon his judges, resulted in the judging panel moderator patiently pushing the medals higher. "If a wine got nominated for a bronze, two silvers and a gold, the judge who voted gold would be asked to convince the two silvers to move up. Almost never was a wine moved down."

His verdict was that even gold medals might not mean all that much, given the haste with which panellists had to make their judgements.

Another journalist and another judge, Katherine Cole, backed that judgment in her piece which appeared in The Oregonian on 22 February. Ms Cole described reaching a consensus when there were a few hard headed wine experts on the same panel:

"…you get perpetual gridlock. Tempers flare, impolite words are spoken and a wine that no one likes ends up with a gold medal because no one hated it."

The same push to award golds was noted by Ms Cole "because the whole point of the competition is to support the wine industry (and, of course, keep the event going year after year)." Her conclusion? "Having seen how this works, I can't guarantee that a gold-medal winner – or even a double gold, or even a best of class – is going to knock your socks off."

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