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August 24, 2010

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Howard -

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'd like to address your questions on two fronts.

1) You write, "So in the interest of transparency, please tell readers how many editors and writers you have, who by name they are and if each and every one of them has indeed individually taken the nonparticipation pledge. For example, your language would seem to encompass Tom Mansell, at Cornell. Does it? Nondisclosure of this body of basic information, or hedging, might well place a question mark above the transparency claim."

Please refer to the tab on our main page labeled "Our Team." By questioning whether our team agrees with our position, which we have made clear that they do, you are simply accusing us of dishonesty. I'm also confused as to why it's difficult to figure out who writes for this site; Lenn and I do most of the heavy lifting, sure, but that's born out of the size of the regions we cover and our loose-screw passion in doing the (non-paid) job.

Yes, in other words. Everyone on that list. We communicated with the team, shared drafts of the post, and debated it. I hope that satisfies your concern.

2) You write, "So that readers may evaluate the rootedness in bedrock reality of your policy paper, would you both please disclose your full judging experience, naming each contest and the year you participated?"

I'll speak to my experience and my position on this, and let Lenn respond as he wishes.

First of all, I've tried to make clear from the beginning: My judging experience is not extensive. By comparison to Lenn, it's less. By comparison to you, it is miles and miles less. That's one reason I've said from the start of this process that my thoughts come from a place of conviction but humility, and I remain open to persuasion. To that point, if someone with your experience has not thought to raise these points over the years, it's likely someone like me has much to learn.

Earlier in this thread I mentioned meeting Christopher O'Gorman and Lorraine Hems at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. There are two others, and I have not mentinoned them by name, and I will not. They are not as, let's say, prestigious. They are certainly not of the reputation and standards set by the NY Wine and Food Classic or Dan Berger's competition. But the organizers are people whom I respect deeply and I mean them no ill will; if they choose to interject, that's fine. My mission is not to cause harm.

But returning to the point you are making, I think it's fair for readers to determine whether I'm credible to be making this argument. Three wine competitions, they might ask? That's all? Yes. I have not sought to hide the fact that I haven't worked dozens of competitions. This does not mean I am not highly familiar with the process; beyond judging I have covered events for various forms of media and held long discussions with winemakers and industry professionals who have acted as judges around the world.

But I won't dig in and tell you that no one has a right to attack me for making this post. If you choose to view me as the law student at mock trial, that's up to you.

I would add that in your critique, you push the discussion to my light judging background, which I have not tried to mask. You have not addressed a single point of substance, and I find that disappointing. If you want to ignore the points on substance because my resume is not as long as you require to take seriously, I can't say much more. That seems to me to be a pretty convenient way of avoiding the argument, though.

Cheers, and thanks for joining the discussion.

I just recently saw a bottle of Barefoot Merlot with a sticker proudly proclaiming it to be a gold medal winner at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. It's good to know my dad's cooking wine was so highly decorated.

Tom
Scott Osborn brought up a very fine point in "As producers we have to understand our consumer and make the wines they want and then make wines we want to drink and above all make them well." I have known wineries who said " I am only going to make wines I like" and they are soon out of bussiness or they have a different product mix so they have wine to SELL which in any business is the key. No customers no business. We at Linganore Winecellars were ridiculed by other wineries for years about producing semi-sweet wines from labrusca and different fruits. Now, I think,every winery in Maryland has some semi-sweet wines in their line. No one copies the company at the bottom they all copy the company at the top. Any new Yugos' out there?

Howard: Good morning and thanks for taking the time to comment. When I saw on my Blackberry that you'd left a comment, I was anxious to see what you had to say.

After a week filled largely with those on the INSIDE of competitions defending them without addressing the key points of our post, I was looking forward to someone with your experience offering an opinion on its core points, its substance.

Instead, you decided to side-step the crux of our argument and call into question our transparency, honesty and ultimately our credibility. I'm really disappointed by that.

Evan covered much of what I wanted to say, so I'll be relatively brief here:

First, Evan and I would not have published this post without having our wine staff -- specifically Bryan and Tom -- sign off on it beforehand. Both did so enthusiastically.

Second, much like Evan, my judging experience isn't extensive, but we've judged a handful of events, covered many more and have been approached about judging many more -- which is why we thought it important to get our thoughts out there.

I'm not sure we have to have ANY judging experience to recognize the shortcomings of the overall process. Our argument is a sound, well-thought-out one and to date, no one has questioned the core substance of it. That might be the most disappointing thing of all.

You're questioning our experience and our credibility -- and yet you've been reading and engaging with the NYCR for many years. It's obvious to me that you find something of value you here.

Sure, you've been -- on occasion -- critical of us (and me) over the years. Sometimes it's been because, as my father would say "I put my mouth in gear before I turn my brain on", but other times I can't help but question your motivation for comments such as this.

If the matter is closed to you based on insufficient number of events judged, then there isn't more to say. But if we had 30 years of experience (meaning we started judging in grade school) and then published the same post, would it warrant discussion?

I wonder, because we've heard from plenty of folks who have judged for many years who agree.

Tom,
I read a very interesting introduction on your website:"Thomas Pellechia developed a few years ago his “What is-wine?®” seminar and education program. In these programs, he has created an effective method for teaching some of the technical information that provides consumers with the tools they need to establish faith in their own taste buds as well as in their ability to select wine." Faith in their own taste buds, that is what all the wineries should be educating their customers about. If you operate a winery and don't think your in the education business you better look again. So many people think that wine is this upiddy product that they won't even give it a chance because "they don't know enough." We have done it to ourselves folks with all the jargon and BS. But I will tell you, people will drink what people like wether it's won a medal or not. Each winery has a unique opportunity to teach its consumers. Years ago, here in Maryland there was a company whose moto was "An educated consumer is our best customer." That holds true in any industry. You don't need to give formal sessions, but when you have a customer in your tasting room you should be trying to demystify this product that has been around for 6,000 years. It's not rocket science, it's old fruit juice.

Anthony,

I'm updating the copy for my Web site--it's so stuffy...this time, I'll write it myself!

It is amazing how many times while presenting a seminar I've had to deal with resistance to such a simple notion as "trust your palate."

One of the many things I've learned while teaching others is that most people can detect an offensive wine; and most people can pick out a superior wine; all they have to do is slow down and get in tune with their natural sensory equipment. The problem is, as you say, we have made a myth out of the subject and people feel ill-equipped to approach wine.

Incidentally, wine has been around for about 8,000--not 6,000--years. But I doubt many of us would recognize the old stuff as the wine we expect today.

It's been my opinion for years that education is the one thing that can promote a better appreciation for wine. Yet, one of the most ignorant things we can do in terms of wine, or geography, or the sciences is to dumb it down so the masses can understand it. Such a ridiculous notion. Wine is very complex. Wine must be studied over a lifetime. It is worthy of time and study. It is NOT for everyone. As in education, when you lower the standards you get dumber students.

When you're finished making wine simple for everyone - that'll be the day it all looks and tastes the same. Then you really won't recognize it, now matter how old it is. Careful what you wish for.

Let's simplify dentistry next, so root canals can be managed by everyone. I didn't study wine for decades to have it turned into "lite beer." (no offense to actual beer intended.)

Jim,

Who said anything about simplifying the education process? A good educator should be able to make a complex subject more easily understood, and we are in fact talking about educating the public as opposed to bamboozling them with myth.

Wine is quite complex; so are many other foods, and that is the subject for professional evaluation. The general consumer, however, needs only to understand what to do with wine. I doubt that civilization will come tumbling down if every consumer drank only what he or she prefers.

In any case, wasn't it you arguing against my position that that who people evaluate wine need to be trained and educated? Which is your position?

Plus, in case you haven't noticed in that bubble on the Northfork of LI, upwards of 90% of the wine on the US market already looks and tastes relatively the same.

Make this: my position that that who people

into this: my position that people who

Thomas, I don't think you understood my post exactly. I'm not talking about simplifying the education process, just warning against simplifying wine itself to appeal to the masses.

You're right, I don't agree that formal training and education is necessary for the evaluation of wine for the purposes of fairs, festivals, or beauty contests especially where that evaluator's opinion is respected and desired - like Lenn's or Evan's, or Hugh Johnson's, or mine or yours. I do think that a length of practical experience is absolutely necessary however - and that practical experience especially coupled the passionate pursuit of the subject for years, and certainly travel, provide a deeper background for evaluation than classroom work.

I don't think our core opinions are too far removed from each other actually. I don't think though that 90% of wines taste alike, but I do agree we're headed there, and that's disappointing. The rise of sameness can be traced to the popularizing of grape varieties rather than "places". Take Cabernet and Chardonnay in the 80s, Shiraz in the 90s, Malbec now...it's all a beauty contest.

As for the bubble, there's no one more outside of the bubble here on the NF than me - you can ask around...!

Jim,

The bubble comment was a tweak--in jest--without those ;) things.

We are far apart, however, on the issue of evaluation training. The fact that judges even spend breath on Brett is enough to persuade me that there is a problem.

Until winemakers actively seek to make wine by fermenting with Brettanomyces, or until universities teach how to promote a Brett fermentation rather than to avoid it, I won't understand what judges argue about.

That's only one of the problems with untrained wine evaluators.

Besides, if judges and critics are so passionate about the product, why don't they want to learn more about evaluating it? Look at the level of work Lorraine Hems has put in to satisfy her passion for wine.

I simply don't place much value on personal opinion when it comes to making wine evaluations. The opinions are ok on their own, as opinions of preference, but they have no standing with regard to the level of achievement of a winemaker. I know many people who prefer flawed wines--and we are back to Brett!

It seems to me that this discussion has diverted from an argument about wine competitions - whether they are useful and whether their procedures need to be looked at and possibly changed - to a discussion of what criteria is necessary to evaluate a wine and share that observation with the public.

Wine on the internet is inherently different from wine as it has been for the rest of the past century. In today's world you can diagnose yourself with anything from cancer to the flu (with varying degrees of accuracy) using internet symptom databases. You can search message boards for car buying advice, decide on birth control options, or learn how to grow marijuana in your backyard.

We've all heard the rhetoric about the information addiction that characterizes this day and age. But when it comes to wine, the consumer is more empowered than ever, and I still encounter customers every day who are paralyzed with insecurity when it comes to selecting a nice wine to go with their dinner. The idea that you need a certain set of qualifications to evaluate a wine for public readership seems irrelevant, reactionary and pathetically out of date to anyone who deals with the wine-buying public - the people who drive the industry - on a regular basis.

I've never judged a wine competition. But I have worked with people, in food service, retail, and in tasting rooms, and I know that a good recommendation from a trusted source is worth as much to an individual as any review whether the topic is wine, movies, music, or the best sushi in town. Isn't that what unpaid, strictly-passion-motivated wine writing is all about? Do any of us need WSETs, wine judging experience, or MWs to taste a beverage and give an honest opinion? Do any of us need such a degree to express the idea that wine competitions may not be the best way to further popular opinion towards a product about which we're passionate?

Let me suggest, respectfully, that the participants in this discussion borrow a page from the craft beer book: we all got into this business because it was fun. Sharing opinions, disagreeing, and arguing back and forth all do good things for wine and beer in New York. It's a shame that a discussion based on finger-pointing and credibility attacks garnered the lion's share of publicity on this site.

Jim - No one's talking about dumbing down their wines. None of us want or need more Gato Negro on the shelves. But some of us interact with the average consumer more than others. I hope you can appreciate the fact that for the rest of the state, "outside of the bubble on the NF" is akin to "growing up on the streets" in a suburban housing development.

Sorry, you hit beer and Brett - I couldn't resist :)

Julia,
You hit the nail on the head. The average everyday consumer is just looking for something they like and what's wrong with that? They shouldn't be "paralyzed with insecurity" when they are trying to select a wine. What have we done to elevate this product to this level. It should be an everyday thing thike going to the store to buy meat, bread, and a bottle of wine.

I don't mean dumbing down the mean, just try to explain wine to the consumer in a way that it doesn't come off as something intimidating. Make it easy for them to buy with confidence and return and try different wines. I believe that's what we all want.

I have very limited judging experience and noticed a lot of opinions get in the way from quite a few judges. It's hard not to draw on your own personal experiences when it come to doing anything in life.

Julia,

By its nature aestheticism is personal and interpretive. As Lenn said earlier, if readers agree with his palate, then they can assess his evaluative opinions, although I don't know why in the world anyone needs to have his or her palate validated (or calibrated, as the Parker sycophants call it) to someone else's palate, but that's my aesthetics.

To the subject of the original post, I think I commented earlier that if competitions are merely a means to promote wines, then nothing needs to change. But there's more to marketing and hucksterism behind the subject of wine--it is, in fact, a complex product that can be qualified as well as quantified.

The intended purpose of wine evaluation used to be to award a merit achievement to the winemaker, not to sell wine to the consumer.

If the intent of the evaluation is to get at the merits of the wine, then it takes someone with training to understand how to do that. People may not want to believe it, but opinions on anything are only as good as the base from which they stem.

NYCR claims to dislike the hucksterism behind wine competitions yet, NYCR uniformly dismisses the need for merit achievement evaluation by trained judges. Can't have it both ways.

And please, please, dispense with the argument that because of the Internet the world has changed. The same argument has been passed out and tailored for each new media invention and introduction. Ideas and methods continue to recycle throughout civilization--the only thing new is the technology. When you read history, you find these very arguments concerning wine quality and consumerism preceding the Roman Empire, where technology reached its zenith (for that period in history).


Evan:

To your point about my remarks about posting results of wine competitions: No, we do not post the result or write press releases for the consumers. We do it first for the entrants of the competition, the wineries. Second we post them for the wine media because writers sometime likes to cover these results or use them in one way or another. Consumers who take a deep enough an interest in our results are free to peruse them also. But that's not our target. We post results on line understanding that the wine publications and websites sort and sift and decide what in our results they wish to advance to the consumers. I do not know any competitions that deliver information directly to consumers, and I do not know how they would do that other than via the intermediary step we call the wine press or media. I know this to be the case with Riverside, Long Beach and to a large degree Los Angeles County Fair, three of the big competitions where I have judged over the years.

Thomas

The idea that the internet has changed the world is proved when Amazon suggests your book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting and Running a Winery" every time I log in.

I don't need a panel of certified readers to tell me that that book is worth reading. Instead I'll look at the reader's comments and statistics that the internet provides on who buys the book and what they thought.

That changes everything and makes the archaic wine competition format almost irrelevant.

Still considering the book BTW :)

Thomas, you write: "NYCR claims to dislike the hucksterism behind wine competitions yet, NYCR uniformly dismisses the need for merit achievement evaluation by trained judges. Can't have it both ways."

This is not the position of NYCR. Our position is stated in the original post. Our individual contributors seem to have varying opinions on this issue; I'm in favor of some baseline standards for judging, if competitions must exist at all. I understand points on all sides, thought. But please understand that our position is not monolithic on this point.

Bryan,

Buy the damned book, will you. I need the money to pay for Internet service...

Of course, the Internet has changed the way transactions take place, but it has done little to validate the credibility of anyone who has an opinion, and we all have that. In fact, it has made it easier for people with an agenda to spout off without providing real facts, and that extends to what passes for the news media these days. Not sure if that would be considered progress, but it certainly is one result of the new technology (notice, I say that it has made it easier; in that regard, the Internet is no different an outlet from, say, yellow journalism, and that was a few eras ago!). The more things advance, the more they stay in place.

OK, Evan. Thanks.

I'll just pick up on this comment in the original post:

"We feel that medals only confuse consumers instead of educating them, and that they provide little real value."

I agree to some extent. My overdone and by now probably overbearing point is that "real value" is achieved when those who place the value know how to do it.

After reading your separate replies to my posting, I remembered an often-quoted James Thurber line: “It's a naïve domestic Burgundy . . . but I think you'll be amused by its presumption.”

“It's official,” you trumpeted in your opening paragraph. “We are done judging big, blind, medal-focused wine competitions.”

After reading how little due-diligence experience you’ve both had in judging, I am obliged to think your trumpeted manifesto can legitimately be read as grandstanding, as publicity-hungry.

In everyday life, this sort of thunderous renunciation typically comes from people who have spent a long time in the trenches. Lawyers forsake the law. Concert artists, actors and actresses forsake the stage. We read about their departures and we say, “Wow!”

Guys, if Oz Clarke or Jancis Robinson or Steven Spurrier had issued such a declaration, it would be a bombshell. Anybody in the wine world who reads your loud pronouncement and later learns about the meagerness of your hands-on credentials as judges could titter, yawn, shrug and say: “So what? Who cares?”

In other words, like Thurber’s domestic Burgundy your introduction is, alas, an amusing presumption.

But -- a Big But -- your intent, the debate your manifesto has spawned, and what is being said in a truly impressive explosion of readers’ comments needs to be taken seriously. The issues you raise are genuine and abiding. (I myself have an oceanic number of thoughts about them, but I am concerned here not with substance but with your rhetorical stagecraft.)

You have performed an impressive journalistic service. However, in my view you went about the essay the wrong way. A more modest introduction could been something like this: “Look, people, taken together we have not participated in many contests -- certainly not many serious ones -- but we have observed the process, talked with credentialed judges, written about competitions, know a lot about them and, as a result, will accept no invitations to take part. Here’s why.”

By, at the outset, leaving an impression -- deliberately or inadvertently or carelessly -- that you are more seasoned as judges than you really are, you splattered some mud on your vaunted transparency. Doubtless it will wash away in future squalls, and the air will feel fresher than it does right now.

Howard -

I don't share your opinion that we "splattered some mud on (our) vaunted transparency" simply because you made inaccurate assumptions about our judging history. No other reader has raised concerns over this aspect of the post, and I don't think it's because everyone assumed we had judged 100 competitions. Our points were made from the standpoint of writers who 1) had judged before, and 2) had closely covered many more judging events, and 3) had held long discussions with other long-time judges, and 4) had pored over the issue at length, and 5) were now being approached to participate in ever more competitions.

That said, we have to take some responsibility if you were confused about that. So while I don't think this impacts our stated values, I do think we should apologize for any misunderstanding. It would have been quite nefarious for us to use intentional language designed to mislead, but of course that would have been ultimately self-defeating. I'm glad to know that most readers have not had any confusion about this matter, and I hope you'll take my word when I say we had no intention to mislead you.

I couldn't agree more that this post would have been a "bombshell" if it had come from one of the wine world's leading writers. I think anyone would agree. We knew there was a chance that no one would care when we published this post. Certainly, there are plenty of people who still don't care, which is fine. And there are likely plenty of people who don't care for the very reason you raised regarding our judging background - which, by the way, is understandable.

Our goal was to do two things. First, we wanted to present our views to our readers. Second, we wanted to see if we could start a conversation that would address our concerns. We knew that for the second point to happen, readers and other writers would have to consider our post not based on the strength of our resume or name, but based on the strength of our ideas.

You write, "In everyday life, this sort of thunderous renunciation typically comes from people who have spent a long time in the trenches. Lawyers forsake the law. Concert artists, actors and actresses forsake the stage. We read about their departures and we say, 'Wow!'"

That's true. But let me raise two objections: 1) This type of renunciation was simply not happening at all in the world of wine judging, despite the fact that many judges have offered full-throated agreement with our ideas. I'm not sure why it wasn't happening - we could get into a psychological discussion about wine politics and status quo, among other things - but it wasn't happening. And, 2) If we have given careful and long thought to the issue, and have seen competitions from all sides, and have conferred with colleagues, do we not have any sort of credibility in making this decision before spending years spinning our wheels in frustration? Isn't it a better idea to think critically about it now, rather than wait two decades to have a conversation?

You write, "A more modest introduction could been something like this: 'Look, people, taken together we have not participated in many contests -- certainly not many serious ones -- but we have observed the process, talked with credentialed judges, written about competitions, know a lot about them and, as a result, will accept no invitations to take part. Here’s why.'"

I think that's probably right. A move toward more humility is always a good idea. Our goal was not to chest-beat or grandstand; I'd like to think that anyone who knows us understands this. That said, if our language is perceived that way, we have to wear it. This is another case where we haven't heard similar complaints from other readers, but that doesn't mean I don't take the point, Howard. I appreciate you making it. If we entered this discussion without humility or an open mind to the many others with more experience, we'd fail before getting started.

Thank you, as always, for taking the time - and for holding us to our own high standards.


On the minor matter of majority rule:

There’s a formative reason why, when I read that “no other reader has raised concerns” and “we haven't heard similar complaints from other readers” I feel unmoved.

When I was growing up and being pushed around, The Newark Evening News reported that a careless driver had wedged an oversize truck against the ceiling of Newark Penn Station’s Raymond Boulevard underpass and couldn’t budge it. Minutes passed. Raymond Boulevard, mind you, was a major downtown thoroughfare. Blocked traffic grew. Impatient horns made an ever-louder din. Tempers flared.

Station personnel came; they couldn’t do anything. The cops came; they were baffled. The fire department arrived; it seemed impotent. A gawking crowd gathered, watching and wondering how the problem would be solved.

A little boy, detaching himself from the crowd, went up to the driver. “Mister,” he said. “Why don’t you let air out of the tires?”




Howard,

Have you read the article titled: The Dissent of Man?

Wonderful piece concerning the dynamics behind the creative thinking of dissenters and about the treatment they endure from the conforming group.

Made me feel proud!

Sorry, make that, In Praise of Dissent: Jeremy Mercer; Ode Magazine.

Howard -

In any conversation, there must be two parties willing to give ground. We are fortunate to have someone of your stature joining this thread. When you take the time to weigh in, you can bet we're going to listen. I've conceded points you've made while debating others.

And yet this is starting to feel suspiciously like a lecture, not a conversation. I point out that the many intellectually strong commenters that preceded you here (and in the other forums where our post has been linked) have not found the same concerns that you have, and you position yourself as the victim of intellectual mob rule. And yet there I was, wondering if you might be seeing something that wasn't there, and yet I was still conceding the point and apologizing for causing confusion. But instead of seeing that I was trying to give ground, and acknowledge your point of view, you respond as if I didn't credit a single point you made.

I appreciate the lone voices of dissent that can uncover things others haven't seen. This thread is far, far from some form of mob rule. There were one hundred comments and a productive, healthy discussion going on regarding the substance of the post. You came in and saw yourself as the boy in the crowd who could see what no one else could see. And that is: Evan and Lenn have behaved as boorish, grandstanding, inexperienced and obfuscating louts!

I promise you, Howard, you have registered those points. The original post was not perfect. I don't know what else to say.

Evan,

I know, and imagine you know, that two people look at the same text and see different content. Your latest remarks indicate you missed my point. If you think what I said and how I said it sounds “suspiciously like a lecture” there’s a chasm between our readings.

You find that I have positioned myself as “the victim of intellectual mob rule.” Mob rule? Come on. What mob? Such over-the-top language rings of hysteria.

I merely expressed indifference to your assertion that “no other reader has raised” my concerns. Having created a straw-man fiction, you make hay of that fiction by saying “the thread is far, far from some form of mob rule.”

Yes, this thread had “one hundred comments” but not 100 commentators. Pretty much a biggish handful.

You attribute to me intent to show portray and Lenn as “boorish” and “louts.” There is no latent or overt evidence of such intent. Having read the whole record, do I still think that at bottom you and Lenn were grandstanding? Yes. Why? Because I think you’ve supplied evidence in the extended thread that overstating seems part of your rhetoric.

You write: “There must be two parties willing to give ground.” Says who? I’m not involved in negotiations here, just commentary. The record shows, after all, that I wrote: “You have performed an impressive journalistic service.”

Became of the mountain range of issues involving criticism and scoring, of which
medal-giving contests (a much picked-over topic) is just one peak, and of personal-time limitations, I have chosen not to go into substance. I don’t know if I will want to circle back to the issues down the road. A busy September lies ahead.

Howard -

Very well.

I've been judging wine competitions since the 1980s. I have never met either of you two at a competition. For all I know you have only judge at some obscure second rate competition. Howard's comment matches mine. Without knowing the competition(s) you have participated in, it is impossible to evaluate your comments. You apparent ducking of this question makes me wonder what you are hiding.

Bob -

Thanks for checking in. We've talked about our rather limited juding history; a handful of competitions that include the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. We have nothing to hide.

What are your thoughts about our concerns with the process of blind judging and awarding medals?

My thoughts mirror those of Chris Cook.

I think blind judging, with qualified judges, is critical.

You've taken a handful of minor competitions and sullied every competition. You have insufficient experience to make such a call.

Mr. Foster: I guess it shouldn't surprise me that the only people who think the system is okay as-is are those who benefit from them from the inside -- organizers and long-time judges.

It's very easy for you and any other member of this old guard to scoff at us and our ideas as those from inexperienced, new-to-the-wine-world individuals. I understand that. But inexperience judging competitions does not invalidate our ideas -- it just doesn't.

And this argument we've made isn't based purely on our limited judging experience. It's based on speaking with judges, winemakers and -- most importantly -- consumers about this issue.

You say that "blind judging, with qualified judges, is critical" and to that I'd respond -- critical to what? Critical to wineries who rely on these medals to market their wines? Critical to the judges who are reimbursed travel expense and meals and sometimes wine-and-dined by the organizers?

I can tell you who they are not critical for -- consumers walking into a wine shop, restaurant or tasting room.

In using language like "sullied" you've also taken a respectful-but-critical argument and turned it -- in your own mind -- into something entirely different.

Unfortunately, some who have read and commented on this post have been unable to take a step back out of their own role in wine competitions and look at them objectively.

We aren't saying that all of them are invalid or useless. What we're saying is that they should and need to be improved. Would you argue that they are perfect as is?

Your New York consumers must be different from those in Iowa, Missouri and California. In recent years the winner of the Mid-American Wine Competition and the winner of the Missouri State Fair Wine Competition have sold out within weeks. The big winners in California (those that win big at several competitions-as tracked each year in the Calif. Grapevine newsletter) sell out very soon. The results do matter-at least outside NY.

So you base you position on atypical competitions and a typical consumers. Little wonder you came to such an "out there" position.

a typical should, of course, read "atypical"

Mr. Foster: That's great that those wines sell out -- but how is that a benefit to the consumer? Seems to me the only one that benefits when a wine sells out is the winery -- especially if they raised the price after "winning" the competition (which we both know does happen sometimes).

And our position isn't -- at all -- that the wine(s) that "win" competitions aren't any good. They are. And the winner of the Governor's Cup sells out here in NY too. But again, that benefits the winning winery, not the consumer.

Yes, "the results do matter" -- to the wineries.

It's interesting that you'd consider wine consumers in NY -- perhaps the most sophisticated in the country -- as atypical.

It seems to me that many people in this comment thread are out of touch with the consumer -- which is part of the problem.

Bob -

I'd like to quote from Terry Theise's book. He writes about blind tasting, which of course is the basis for judging in competitions.

"What is the value of reducing wine to a thing without context? What game is this we're insisting wine play along with? What's the good of tasting blind? Where's the silver lining of experiencing wine in a vacuum? Yes, it can train us to focus our palates and hone our powers of concentration. Then we can discard it! It has served its purpose. If we persist in tasting blind we run a grave risk -- because it is homicidal to a wine's context, and wine without context is bereft of meaning... Blind tasting will confuse you as to the purpose of drinking wine. The only genuinely professional approach to wine is to know as much about it as possible. What made it, under what conditions, what are the track records of the site and the vintner -- then and only then can a genuinely thoughtful evaluation of a wine take place in the fullness of its being."

That is beautifully said. I assume you disagree, because you haven't addressed any of the substance of our original post. The section I just quoted is one I only read yesterday in the course of devouring Theise's new book. Had I read it before we composed our original post, I might have simply quoted Terry!

And to re-state a point, no, I don't think blind tasting is worthless. Far from it. And I simply adore the fun of blind tasting parties. But to base the awarding of nebulous medals on massive tastings where the tastings are all blind with no context, and with very little time for the wine to even breathe... that's when I line up with Terry Theise.

What do you make of what Mr. Theise wrote?

Why didn't you respond to my point that competition results do matter to consumers?

Mr. Foster: I haven't responded to it because I don't believe that they do and you haven't made a case as to why they would.

I don't think it makes sense to call out points not responded to when our entire argument has been virtually ignored by your line of discussion.

You claimed that competition results didn't matter to consumers based on your casual interactions with them. Just a bit subjective. I gave concrete examples of where consumers relied on competition results, refuting your premise, and you ignored it. Let's see subjective believe versus concrete facts. No wonder you didn't respond.

Mr. Foster: I think maybe you've not read this entire post and comment thread because at no point (at least I don't think) have I said that the results "don't matter to consumers."

No one is arguing that consumers don't look at these results when making purchasing decisions. In fact, it's because they do that improvements NEED to be made. Consumers want help and put blind faith in medals when they shouldn't. That's one of the key points in our original posts.

Consumers don't BENEFIT from these competitions. Especially not if they end up not liking that "Double Gold" wine that received 3 bronzes in 3 other competitions. In that sense and situation, they do the consumer a disservice (for all the reasons Evan, I and others have pointed out earlier in the thread).

The organizers, judges and wineries all benefit from these competitions -- financially or otherwise. These competitions do NOT benefit consumers. All that a medal tells the consumer is that a group of anonymous judges liked (to varying degree) a particular wine on a particular day. That's all. At least most point scores are accompanied by a review that describes the wine. A "gold" doesn't give them ANY context or description.

I'd invite you to take the time (and trust me, I know it's a long discussion) and read the entire comment thread. You have focused on Howard's comment and little else it seems.

I want to say it again because I fear you're not understanding this basic point -- a wine selling out does NOT benefit the consumer. It benefits the winery that produces that wine.

Now, if you have reasons WHY a medal/competition benefits the consumer, I'm all ears. I've been waiting for someone to try to convince us that we're wrong. Hasn't happened yet.

One last point -- many of your fellow judges/organizers have argued that these competitions are NOT for the consumer. That seems very different from your argument I think. Even those within the competition field cannot agree on who they are for. That's problematic in my mind.

"anonymous judges"??? Every competition I know of lists the judges AND their qualification

A wine that sells out benefits only the winery? Huh? What school of economic did you go to? It also benefits the consumers who find a wine they like that they might not have found otherwise. The award is a guide for consumers to figure out which of the 400 choices at the wine store to try.

I have never seen an argument, other than yours, that competitions don't benefit consumers. Every competition I judge begins with me or some other chief judge reminding the judges we are there to help consumers find wines to drink. You set up a straw man and then knock him down. Not persuasive.

Yes, anonymous judges. Are the judges listed on the bottle that is adorned with a "Gold Medal from Western South Texas Missouri International"? Are they listed ANYWHERE in the shop? Or even in the tasting room where the medal itself is on a bottle?

Do you really think that consumers research each and every competition, its judges and its processes?

If so, you're more out of touch than I thought.

Yes, awards are guides -- bad ones that need to actually mean something. Thank you for making my argument for me.

I didn't go to "school of economic" but it's a pretty simple transaction -- consumer gives money away to get wine. A wine selling out has no impact on the consumer. And what about all the consumers who buy that "winning wine" and dislike it?

Bob -

This is simple. You think that judging identifies the better wines. Research indicates you're very, very wrong. In your world, you as a judge help identify the better wines, and consumers win. In the real world, wines win medals essentially at random based on all of the issues we raised in this post (and also based on the issues raised by Terry Theise in his book, as I quoted above).

I'm going to be specific, one more time, and you can choose to address this or not. There are many examples of wines that "win" bronze or no medal at all that eventually win gold. I mentioned a 2006 Finger Lakes Merlot (generally a weak grape for the region in a very weak vintage for red wine from a winery that has acknowledged overcropping issues in that vintage). That '06 Merlot was entered in many wine competitions. It earned bronzes, or didn't earn medals at all. Until it won a gold. All of a sudden, in the tasting room, that wine is strapped with a huge gold medal. Do you think consumers win in this circumstance? They have no clue how many competitions that wine was entered in, who the judges were, etc. But they see that it is a "gold medal wine."

We're going to go round and round here. If you choose not to address the very specific points we've made in the original post, you're just presenting white noise. If you have constructive criticism of our position and can apply it to our points, fire away.

"Research demonstrates"-name the research. Are you just making this up as you go along? Talk about making white noise.

On the merlot gold-you assume that all bottles tasted the same and the only variable was the judging panel. Ever hear of bottle variation? I've had some wines where some bottles were so-so and others were superb. How can you rule this out? You can't.

Across what period of time were these awards given? I've seen wines OK at first blossom with time in the bottle. How can you rule this out? You can't. You give so few facts there is no way to tell what happened. You assume, with no proof, what happened.

Lenn-so you admit that the competitions are non anonymous. Your objection has nothing to do with the competition, it has to do with how the results are used by wine stores and merchants. You don't get it. That is not the fault of the competitions rather that of the merchants. The info is there is a consumer choose to seek it out.

A wine selling out has no impact on the consumer??? Who do you think buys the wine? Some wine gnome? No, consumers.

You just call the competitions results bad guides-simply placing a label on it don't make it so. I can name scores of wines where the competition results found great wines (most recently the SF Chronicle 2010 red winner-the Graton Ridge Pinot Noir) You talk in generalities and seem to duck all the specific examples I've set forth. You've backed yourself into a corner and no one seems to be jumping in to help you out.

Lenn-you wrote, "many of your fellow judges/organizers have argued that these competitions are NOT for the consumer." Haven't seen anyone make such statements. How about some SPECIFIC QUOTES? Or are you just making this up as you go along?

Bob: I don't "admit" anything. Again, I'm taking the customer perspective and from their point of you, the judges are anonymous. Period.

And you're mis-reading what I'm saying. I haven't said that a wine selling out doesn't have an "impact" on consumers. I'm saying it has no benefit. Please read my comments carefully.

As for judges/organizers who say that competitions aren't for the consumers anyway...look no further than Christopher Cook's comments.

I'd invite you, again, to actually read the comment thread to get some context here.

As for no one "jumping in to help" us out...I don't think we need help. :)

Good gracious. Bob, we're finished debating with you if you refuse to read the original post and the subsequent comments. I don't think you are intentionally trolling, but I can't figure out how anyone could miss so many points and comments unless they were trying.

You have rationalized quite a few things here. So I'll ask, one more time: What do you make of the comments by Terry Theise about blind tasting that I quoted above?

It also strikes me that Bob, when talking about bottle variation, is excusing a weak bottle winning a gold medal under the auspices that just about any bottle of dreck can show like a gold medal wine on any given day. If that's true - and I don't believe it is, but nonetheless - if that's true, why hold wine judging competitions at all?

Oh, and Bob, regarding research, there is plenty, including this link that we included in our original post (which you, again, seem to have ignored or not read). But here you go:

http://food-economics.org/journal/content/Volume3/number2/Full%20Texts/01_wine%20economics_Robert%20T.%20Hodgson%20(105-113).pdf

HIf you think Hodgson's work is persuasive, I have sympathy for you. He bases it on a chart from the Calif. Grapevine. I'm the Ass't. Editor of that publication and I believe it proves exactly the opposite. there are a group of wines that wine gold after gold. If that is a fluke, then those folks ought to be buying lottery tickets instead of making wine as they are lucky beyond belief.

Hodgson has an axe to grind and the article shows it. How about citing a reliable source.

But to the point. You're out there on a limb, all alone. As you say, we're done. Your absence on the judging circuit will not be missed.

Bob -

Very well. Time after time, you refuse to address a single point of substance in our initial post. You adhere to this bizarre belief that sales mean the consumers automatically benefit. If you think this obstinate attitude is good for consumers, I think you might be the one out on a limb.

Your wounded, defensive attitude runs contrary to so many judges we've heard from. Take the judges who have posted in this thread, dissenting but tackling the issues head on. Take the many, many judges we've heard from who have applauded our position. Lenn and I are willing to change our minds here, if presented with persuasive dissents to our original points. But if you want to keep lobbing bombs, you're persuading no one.

We want what is best for consumers. There are some outstanding people running wine competitions. Everyone carries the best of intentions. I think we'll see a constructive, continuing dialog going forward.

It seems to me that what is really important here is the consumer. To the extent that these competitions inform the consumer, they are good. To the extent that they don't, they are bad.

Personally, this consumer pays no attention to all the medals. I find them confusing and suspect (though I don't have a firm basis for this) that they are often some kind of a scam. I have never found the medals to be a particularly good predictor of quality.

But I'm a curmudgeon, I only really like the International Wine Cellar (for pretty much everything), Burghound (for burgundy), the sommeliers at Veritas (also for anything), and this blog (for New York State stuff).

wounded? defensive? Hardly. But thanks for the best laugh of the week.

You are a piece of work. When presented with alternate theories you just write them of as unpersuasive or weak. It's clear nothing will ever convince you to rethink your position. I can't have a discussion with folks with minds as closed as yours. Just go on your way tilting at those windmills

Funny how you never mentioned this comment on your position:

http://www.winereviewonline.com/Tina_Caputo_on_Wine_Competitions.cfm

Bob -

Actually, on Twitter we were extolling the virtues of Tina's column. We think it was outstanding, right there with the dissent from MichWine.com as the most substantive we've seen. Really good stuff. I'm glad you posted it here, as it's easy to forget where it's been seen. We've had a nice dialog with Tina and we expect that will continue.

I'd like to back up, because I appreciate the fact that you're taking the time to stop in. I understand that you dispute the research we've linked to, which is fair. And I understand that you feel that consumers benefit because they respond by buying wines that win judging competitions.

But I want to make sure I understand your position on a few other discussion points. Do you disagree with the following, quoted from the original post?

"But most importantly, blind judging robs the evaluators of the most significant parts of the wine -- its context.

Tell a judge he's drinking cabernet, and he'll immediately try to lock in and ascertain the country of origin, then the region and perhaps sub-appellation. But the mind is a funny thing. Instead of simply enjoying (or not) the wine, and thinking about it individually, the judge begins to add context where there is none provided. How did the other wines in the flight taste in comparison? What might that say about this wine? When was the last time I tasted a wine like this one? Where was it from? Should I allow myself to believe this is Bordeaux, when I'll feel awfully silly when I'm told it's from somewhere else?

Delving deeper, we find that judging a wine that is simply known as cabernet sauvignon is extremely constricting. We don't want a Napa cab to taste like a Bordeaux. We expect Chile to turn out something else entirely. If we're tasting a Bordeaux cabernet that tastes like Napa, we're bound to be disappointed. But tasting blind, we might convince myself it's from somewhere else, mistaking place and winemaker intention. Whoops.

We've had judges tell us that we should forget about figuring out where a wine is from and simply taste it to see if we like it. Fair enough. But in that one statement, we see exactly why wine has become so homogeneous, so dangerously banal. Judges are not required to give a damn about a wine's sense of place."

Thanks, Bob, for continuing the discussion.

Bob,

Funny how you criticized Lenn and Evan for not mentioning Tina Caputo's commentary. As soon as I clicked the link, I realized I had read it before--when Lenn linked to it through Twitter, sending it out to all his followers. Here is a link:
http://twitter.com/lenndevours/statuses/22764019557 I remembered the commentary because of its thoughtful viewpoint and its tone--a respectful dissent.
As a consumer, I, personally, found your comments off-base. Your position, as I understand it, is that the judges of competitions serve consumers by awarding medals, thereby recommending wines of quality. My personal experience has been that medals, unfortunately, mean little. Having tasted several "medal-winning" wines that disappointed me, I have stopped using them as guidance. Perhaps some competitions are consistent and excellent and could give me valuable recommendations, but I don't know which ones. As a casual consumer, how do I discern the quality competitions from the lesser ones? Frankly, I don't think it is worth the time and effort for me to try. I would much rather read detailed tasting notes and recommended food pairings, both of which are more informative than the fact that a group of judges somewhere in the country gave the wine a gold medal.
There are many expert judges who care about wine and work hard to do their work at competitions. The result of this hard work: a medal list that I (and many other consumers, I'm guessing) find less useful than the amateur tasting notes posted on Cellar Tracker. There's something rather sad about that, and I would love to see it change.

Ryan -

Thanks for refreshing our memories on Twitter links. I posted about Tina's column, praising her for a thoughtful dissent. I sent a private email as well thanking her.

I asked my followers to read Howard Goldberg's comments, as much as I felt they were surprisingly personal and avoiding the substance:

http://twitter.com/evandawson/status/22792297154

And the following regarding another dissent:

http://twitter.com/evandawson/status/22622905938

By the way, Ryan: Are you on Twitter? Shouldn't I know this? What's your handle?

Gosh Ryan-since I'm not one of their sycophants I had no knowledge of what they may, or may not, have posted elsewhere. All I know is they didn't post it here on the net and then acted like it didn't exist.

I love it, Evan takes all of these shots at folks but when someone is critical of his ideas it suddenly becomes "surprisingly personal" I guess he can give it out but can't take it.

Perhaps the basic question that has been left unanswered is: What are Evan and Lenn's credentials to be judging wine at all? I can find little about them on the net.

Bob - I assure you I can take it. I like Howard immensely. He's a kind man and a wonderful writer. Just because I found his comments wanting doesn't mean I can't take it.

We're happy to post dissenting opinions, and we'll continue to do so.

In the meantime Bob, I'd ask that you lay off the other commenters who are just average consumers. Ryan is hardly a sycophant, and your mean-spirited comment does this board no favors.

Lenn and I make no claim to be highly credentialed judges; we've never gone through the process. We respect those who do. One reason we were concerned about competitions is that we were receiving invites and in many cases there is no set standard of judging. In other words, do Lenn and I write about wine, taste wine, travel, and know a hell of a good deal about wine? Perhaps so, but if I were running a wine competition I would seek a uniform standard of credential first. That's one aspect of where we think competitions ought to go next (though some in this thread have disagreed).

And Bob, if you're not familiar with Twitter: It's not for sycophants. I suggest you give it a try before making assumptions. Mr. Goldberg is a great example of a respected writer making great use of the medium.

Bob: We have given you ample opportunity to discuss the core of our initial post. Instead, you've decided to attack our "credentials."

We've been respectful and patient, but at this point your holier-than-thou arrogance has grown tiresome.

We don't pretend to know everything there is to know. But instead of enlightening us with your knowledge and experience, you've reduced this discussions to mocking not only us but our readers.

Instead of a productive discussion -- which certainly could have happened and has happened with many of the commenters both here and on Twitter -- you've reduced this to repeated personal attacks.

We know that we're not experienced judges. But our credentials have NOTHING to do with the argument we make in this post. Clearly you either haven't read it in its entirety or you just refuse to respect anyone with out X number of years in wine. You don't need much experience at all to notice the problems we've called out here. If you choose to ignore them, that's your choice, but you're wrong.

Again, our credentials just don't matter for this post. You don't have to want us to judge a competition with you -- but others feel that we are qualified.

Doing something for a long time doesn't necessarily make you good at it. And you don't need to do something for a long time to have new -- and valid -- ideas about it.

Evan remains hopeful that you'll respond to the crux of our original post OR any of the issues raised in the comments. I don't share his outlook. I don't expect you to do either of those things. I expect more attacks, which is kind of sad.

Lenn -

I would agree that doing something for years isn't evidence of skill, necessarily, but there are some outstanding judges who have posted in this thread. Lorraine Hems - the best! Chris O'Gorman is tremendous. There are plenty more. I would not be surprised for a moement if Bob is a world-class wine judge.

Bob – As an avid consumer and relatively young fan of wine it’s hard for me to say that I’ve found a lot of value in awards for wine competitions. Perhaps over the years, I may have on a half dozen occasions or so found myself in a wine shop trying to decide between a pair of wines and ended up selecting the wine with medal winning sticker.

However, what I can’t say is that every time I made that decision I was equally satisfied with the results. This of course could be attributed to a number of variables that were different from the time the wine was judged at competition to the time I tasted it, but I believe the main reason has more to do with what Lenn & Evan are trying to illustrate.

A competition award does not tell me that I will enjoy a particular wine, it only tells me a panel of so called nameless experts enjoyed this wine. Of course as you state, judges are in fact usually named, often on the competition website, but how many consumers do you see standing in an aisle with their smart phone searching for the competitions website to determine who were the judges that awarded the medal to the wine on the rack in front of them. And even for the more driven consumers, such as myself, that might actually be willing to do this, it still does not tell me how my tastes align with the panels.

What most wine competitions attempt to do though thoughtful judging is wiped away almost immediately upon completion with their broad medal award system. A simple and thoughtful tasting note surpasses tenfold what any gold medal from the southeast northwest domestic international wine competition can achieve.

But then again, these are just humble opinions from a wine consumer. And for the sake of full disclosure, I follow both Evan and Lenn on Twitter.

Lenn and Evan--
Your defense is appreciated, but I assure you that Bob's "sycophant" line inspired no feelings except humor. Evan, my Twitter handle is rlove327, but while I read my stream daily, I haven't actually tweeted since May.
Bob--
Your insult is particularly amusing since, several comments ago, you noted that no one was jumping in on Lenn and Evan's side. When someone does--one of the consumers you assure us you help--you respond with an insult. Aside from typing with caps lock on, I think you've done everything in your power to ensure that no readers of this blog can take you seriously. Nonetheless, your biography reveals a passion for wine and many years of experience. If you ever get around to penning something beyond ad hominem attacks, I will be interested in reading it.

So both of you have limited wine tasting experience but when I talked about bottle variation and/or bottle changes accounting for different medals at different competitions you had no hesitation to label those alternative hypothesis as weak or unpersuasive? How can you believe you have enough experience to evaluate those claims? You seem to believe you can comment on any aspect of wine tasting/judging with authority. I've been tasting wine since 1970 and would never claim such bold, broad credentials.

Ryan, I'm not that subtle. If I wanted to call you a sycophant I would have called you one directly.

Okay, Bob. Show me where we ever said we have limited "wine tasting experience." You can't. Wine judging and wine tasting are not the same, despite your best efforts to make it so. You've set up just another straw man.

And yes, I feel the excuse about bottle variation is rather weak. After all, it's not uncommon for a strong bottle to show weakly for a long list of reasons. But it's much less likely for a poor bottle of wine to show shockingly -- gold medalingly! -- well. And yet we see substandard wines picking up golds and silvers with regularity. That's a subjective comment, definitionally, and yet I doubt anyone who reads the list of wines and their medals would disagree.

We talk about bottle variation all the time, particularly in older bottles from our home regions, which are only now establishing track records. I once set up a blind tasting for industry fiends and other wine lovers in which the the wines, poured two by two, were the exact same wine from different bottles. The point, of course, was to evaluate confirmation bias and bottle variation.

One other point that we did not stress in the original post, but that has come to the fore of late: Wine competitions generally (always?) decline to publish the list of wines that win no medal at all. Why not be open and transparent with consumers about the full list? Are we worried about hurting feelings, or are we concerned that wineries will stop submitting?

You start with the premise that they are "substandard"- or poor, but that is your evaluation. It certainly is possible that others would disagree. What experience gives you the ability to call a wine poor or substandard without any possibility of error? You say just look at who they are. That's the whole point of blind tasting. I don't want to know who they are--I want to taste them for myself.

I find bottle variation not only in old wines but in new ones as well. I've had Foley pinots from the same box where some were superb and others so so.

Bob -

I've had the same desire to taste blind, and I do it all the time with friends and industry professionals. It's great fun and a great test. Picking out a Sancerre was one of the highlights of my summer when it comes to wine.

I think the trouble for me is that I align more closely with the Rosenthal and Theise mentality on wine. I don't view it in clinical terms, and I don't generally think it can be reduced to sterile, boxed analytics. (Some wines are made for just that, of course; they lack the character or nuance and instead are the commercial wines we see so often.) I'm open to convincing that there is a way to marry the points of view, but I haven't gotten there yet.

I also don't hide the palate fatigue I've fought while judging in the past. I realize that Jay Miller and others have argued that this kind of fatigue can be overcome with years of experience. But I'm not convinced it would ever be fair to a wine to judge it without context and as part of a slog through dozens (hundreds, even!) of its peers. This might make me soft. It almost certainly makes me mushily romantic about wine, its origins, and what makes it special.

But then I listen to people like Lorraine and Chris and I'm impressed with their capacity to appreciate wine in those competition settings. And that's part of why we wrote the original post: To state our unease with the process and appeal to smarter, more experienced people to show us what we might be missing.

Sounds like you have been on Twitter:

Robert Whitley on his web site writes:

"Someone wanted to know why we published the medal-winning wines, but not the wines that failed to impress. To me, the answer is obvious. The medal-winning wines are the recommendations of the professional judges who evaluated the entries. Publishing the names of wines that failed to win a medal might unnecessarily embarrass the winery that submitted the entry. Nobody is served by that.

Wines that fail to win a medal are not necessarily bad wines. No doubt some were poorly made, but in many cases, a wine simply doesn't perform well because it's going through a stage of its evolution that is not particularly flattering. Young wines are like that. Sometimes the fruit shows, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the tannins seem to be supple and nicely integrated; sometimes they are hard or aggressive.

As the Twitter query unfolded, the question of the consumer benefit came up. Wouldn't it be useful — the question was asked — if the consumer knew all of the wines entered to better understand the framework of the evaluation? Good question. It would be useful if the wine competition were a horse race: with one winner, a second-place finisher, and so on through the entire field of horses.

That's not how a wine competition works. At the wine competitions I manage (five major international events) and those I have judged, such as the Concours Mondial in Brussels, each wine is treated as a stand-alone entity and evaluated on its merits. The wines only "compete" if they advance to what my wine competitions call the "sweepstakes" round, where best of class and best of show awards are determined.

At that point, a wine has already received whatever medal the judges believe it deserves. In theory, a gold-medal wine should be of a certain quality whether there were 300 wines or two wines entered in its class. Wines are not graded on a curve, so the "framework" question is irrelevant.

The benefit to the consumer, of course, is that he or she can piggyback the preferences of well-qualified wine judges when making wine-buying decisions. The Sommelier Challenge is judged exclusively by professional sommeliers. All of the Sommelier Challenge results are available at www.sommelierchallenge.com."

Bob -

Thanks for catching that. I very much enjoy Wine Review Online (and quoted a passage from one of its reviews for my forthcoming book). I also think the competitions run by Mr. Whitley feature outstanding websites, easy to use, with all kinds of good information.

Back in July, Mr. Whitley himself defended wine competitions and included this paragraph:

"A winery has no guarantee its wines will be reviewed by the major wine publications. And even if a winery does manage to get its wines in front of the critics at the big pubs, there’s no guarantee the review will be kind. What’s more, quality isn’t always the issue. If a certain critic likes his wines austere and mineral driven and your wines are big, bold and juicy, you can forget about that high score. And if the critic likes his wines big, bold and juicy and yours are austere and mineral driven, you can kiss that “Best Bet” goodbye."

I'm confused by the first part, where Mr. Whitley stresses that there's no guarantee a wine review at a major publication will be kind. In this context, it seems to read that he thinks it's risky to submit wines to big magazines, while it's less risky to send them to wine competitions... which leave out the results if wines don't show well!

The notion of feelings is a strange one. I'm all for civility, tact, etc. But these wineries submitted their wines for professional review, and they're hoping to use the results to sell more wine! Not everyone wins in life. Not every wine wins a medal. But by agreeing not to publish the "losing" wines, it seems to me that wine competitions are acknowledging the point of the exercise: To create a new marketing tool to lure consumers.

So it turns out that not every wine wins a medal, but nobody loses. Unless you consider the consumer, who apparently is supposed to trust these judges enough to take their results and buy wine, but not enough to take their results and avoid other wines. Sometimes the best decision for a consumer is the one that resulted in declining to make a purchase, right?

I'm equally confused about the defense that indicates that a wine competition is not about, er, wines competing. I realize they are judged individually. But competition is so clearly the point that it's included in the name!

I find that many wine competitions would stand to gain by emulating the websites run by Mr. Whitley. They're some of the very best I've seen, and the concepts and standards set forward by Mr. Whitley are some of the very best I've seen. But the choice to decline transparency is not one I can support.

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