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Wine Competitions – Should You Believe the Results?

It’s Friday afternoon and you really want a bottle of wine to enjoy that night with dinner. You go into your local wine shop / supermarket / gun and wine shop (!) and peruse the shelves . . .but how to decide what to buy?

All of a sudden, you start noticing ‘beacons’ drawing you over to certain bottles – emblems noting that this specific wine won a gold medal at some wine competition; a shelf talker noting that this wine scored 92 points by Joe Bob Wine Reviewer. As you step back, you start to notice that a LOT of wines have some sort of rating or award noted . . .are they ALL that good?!?!?

The Wall Street Journal had an article last week about two ‘scientific studies’ conducted by Robert Hodgson, a retired statistic professor (Here is the link to the article –

He analyzed awards given out at large wine competitions and noted the following – judges were very inconsistent; wines were scored erratically from competition to competition. And one of my favorite lines from the article, after Mr. Hodgson had set up a graph of wines entered in numerous competitions and noting how they scored among the different ones – The distribution of medals, he wrote, “mirrors what might be expected should a gold medal be awarded by chance alone.”

Are you surprised? In all honesty, I am not, and here are a few reasons why:

Wine Competitions often times have hundreds of wines entered that are tasted over a very short period of time, making it difficult to truly ‘rate’ each one individually by the judges.

Wines are ‘reviewed’ at a specific place and time – and one’s taste buds and sense of smell will be altered throughout the day by what they come into contact with – scents, food consumed, etc.

Wine judges at these competitions are, above all, HUMAN, and we are far from perfect ‘machines’ that are capable of reproducible results again and again and again.

The concept of ‘objective’ wine reviews’ is an oxymoron – every judge therefore will see a wine quite differently, and the concept that the same wine will be perceived as ‘best’ from judge to judge and competition to competition is unrealistic.

What’s the take home message here? To me, it’s not that you should talk these ‘medals’ with a grain of salt, because they are somewhat indicative that a certain group of people, whom your palates may align with, felt that this particular wine was better than its competition that day.

It’s that you should feel empowered to ‘challenge’ these medals, just as you should ‘challenge’ wine ratings from even the most respected reviewers. Why? At the end of the day, no one shares your taste buds, your sense of smell – and therefore you will always perceive wine in an individualistic manner.

Just something to think about this morning. Let me know your thoughts as well.


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