Monday, January 18, 2010

Gold Medals and 95 Points

Guests on my tours frequently ask me, "What's the best winery?" Sometimes, they'll ask, "What's the best wine?"  The answers are that there is no best winery or best wine.  Everyone has different interests and tastes in wine.  I've tasted some extremely well rated -- and very expensive -- Cabernet Sauvignons and not enjoyed them.  I am just not a Cab guy.  There are many good wines that I do enjoy, and life is too short to drink wine one doesn't like.

So what's this mean for the wine magazine ratings and all of the gold medals you see boasted about in the tasting rooms.  These ratings and medals can serve as a guide, but the bottom line is that the only palate that matters is yours.  Plus some ratings and medals are more significant than others.  One winemaker allegedly said that if a winemaker can't win a gold medal, he/she shouldn't be in the business.  After all, a gold medal from the Podunk Mall Wine Expo doesn't carry much weight in the wine world.  Some of the medals that are more prestigious are from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the Orange and Los Angeles County Fairs, the California State Fair, and the Sonoma Harvest Fair (for Sonoma County wines).  However, keep in mind that medals at wine competitions are not awarded like they are at the Olympics.  More than one wine can win a gold, silver, or bronze medal.  Judges award medals to wines that meet certain quality levels.  A double gold -- where all of the tasters think the wine is gold medal worthy -- is something to crow about.  A best of class award (best wine of a particular type and/or at at particular price point) is even better.  And winning the sweepstakes (best red, white, pink, sparkling, or dessert wine) is better yet.

Winemakers love and hate the influence of the wine magazines and critics.  Many folks criticize the 100 point scale, saying that it's impossible to discern a difference between a 94 and 95 point wine.  Nevertheless, good reviews in Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast and by Robert Parker are likely to spark sales.

So when you head out to wine country, decide whether you want to seek out the wines have been well reviewed or awarded or want to find some unexpected surprises.  You might find the latter more rewarding.  If you want some help picking wineries to visit on a private winetasting tour, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

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