This is a frequently asked question by wineries just starting out, as their owners are stymied by the fees, the amount of competitions out there, and the ultimate value that competitions play in the wine business. Frankly, name any industry and you’ll find that they, too, are constantly looking for third party endorsements, as that’s what drives consumers. When people are buying a product, it’s always easier when that person knows nothing about the brand, to have read or be told that someone, some group, or some app they trust that has given the product a thumbs up. As a society, we do it with cars, with movies, with dining, with just about anything, including wine.

So, how important are competitions?

Very, in my book.

There are now three arguments in this process.

  1. Traditional magazine reviewers rule, as it’s just one voice, therefore it’s not the consensus of a group. Learn the wine critics palates, and if yours is similar, it will be a palate you can trust.
  2. Social media rules, because it’s a peer group talking to its own. Millennial are the next generation to have their own social uprising, not seen since the 60s. Except this time it’s being done through technology, not LSD, and it’s having the same sociological results of change in attitudes and latitudes.
  3. From a competition’s perspective, it can be argued that the single person tasting a wine is only one voice telling you what his or her palate prefers,while a group tasting brings it to a level of a more homogeneous opinion, and will find a more broad audience.

All are right and wrong at the same time… It’s a yin-yang world, after all.

The single reviewer touches on a good point that someone on the competition tasting panel might NOT have a developed palate; but, the argument there is that neither does the consumer, and that a non-sommelier judge still has taste preferences that might align with a consumer’s opinion. (Everyone has taste buds and everyone knows what he or she likes and doesn’t like; therefore, that untrained palate adds a layer of what a consumer — who will ultimately be buying the wine — would like or not like.)

This new, younger generation of wine enthusiasts are beginning their journey, and in most instances… because they’re just starting, have a long way to go before they know the nuances of a Grüner Veltliner or a Barolo, for instance. Some of this view is a bit of the blind leading the blind, but that’s also okay, because we all start somewhere.

The competition panel could argue that just one person has a too narrow view of the wine, judging it in a very linear way — in a way akin to what that person’s palate has come to expect, want, and perhaps demand of wine in order to judge it worthy. Well, there you go. That’s right, too, as the wine reviewer needs to have benchmark standards in order to have an overall opinion.

As I wrote, it’s a yin-yang world, and that’s what makes it such an exciting place. If you’re in the business of making wine, then you must honor all of these judging aspects; i.e., send your wines to wine reviewers, bloggers, AND competitions. Somewhere in the process, there will be a high score, a highly recommended wine, or a medal of worth, and that’s the fodder that you need for sales people to have a third party endorsement for any wholesale sales person who has to hit the streets and make the sale, or retailer and restaurateur who put wines onto the shelves and need support material for people when they’re too busy to make recommendations.

Nicholas Ponomareff of California Grapevine makes it his business each year to keep a complete database of each year’s wine competition results, and it’s available for purchase. (You can call Nick at 858-457-4818, or E-mail him at The value of this list is that it calculates all the top scoring wines in any given year. Imagine that it’s your wine that has become the top scoring wine in its category. Away you’d go with that one!

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