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Wine Competitions: How to Use Them

I may be somewhat biased since I both judge wine competitions and run a few of them myself, but I find that despite the criticism they often get wine competitions can be very helpful for the consumer. They offer a way to weed through the tons of wines that are out on the market and provide a service that is unique. Critics of competitions will say that they are useless and that scores given to the wines entered do not matter, but I would have to disagree. Most competitions are careful to choose expert judges, and each has different criteria. Some do not allow winemakers while others prefer to have a technical palate on each panel. Each panel tastes through a series of wines "blind", i.e. knowing only the basics, sometimes just grape variety, sometimes vintage and price. They offers their critiques and often discuss as a group as well, a process that I think offers a more balanced approach than a single wine critic's palate. The important thing is to find a competition that is reputable. The Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition (results June 21, at www.lawinecomp.com) is not only one that I find very reputable (if I may say so since I am a judge), but it's also a great learning experience for me, this year I had a chance to judge sake with an esteemed panel of judges including sake experts Kimberly Charles (Charles Communications), Sally Mohr (a retailer, Boulder Wine Merchant), Sake guru Linda Noel Kawabata who studied sake in Japan for many years and the esteemed "grocer" Darrell Corti (Corti Brothers in Sacramento, he's much more than a grocer but that's how he introduces himself, he is a food and wine maverick.) Last week I judged wines in Amador County and tasting thirty-six 14.5% plus alcohol Zinfandels is no easy task, but it sure gave me a great feel for the region and its wines! http://amadorcountyfair.com/WineResults.aspx This week I am helping to run the Slow Food Golden Glass Wine Competition which has a unique focus featuring "green" wines, or wines that are in keeping with the Slow Food ideals. For this competition we required producers that entered to submit a statement of sustainability so that we can remind producers of the importance of greening their businesses. Not only do wine competitions offer a service for the consumer many of them are non-profit, so the entry fees go towards a good cause. The best competitions, like Slow Food Golden Glass (gold medal wines will be available to taste at their event this Saturday June 12, 2010 at Fort Mason go to http://www.thegoldenglass.com/ for tickets), the Los Angeles International Competition and the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition offer special events where consumers can taste what the judges picked, and that is the best of all since really what you enjoy is what matters most, we just try to prevent you from having to taste all the DNPIM wines. And for those not in the know, that means "do not put in mouth", it's a hard job this wine judging!