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Monday, July 1, 2013

Congratulations, not condescension are in order...

I'll go ahead and say it. Congratulations, Charles Shaw Winery on your three gold medals at the Orange County Fair Wine Competition. I commend the judges for not being influenced by the label and I commend the winery for (mass) producing a drinkable $2.49 wine.  I don't see why so many people in the twitterverse and blogosphere have decided that this is the worst thing since socks with sandals. But if you do wear socks with sandals, please stop!

Sure, wine competitions aren't the best arbiter of wine quality, but neither are Robert Parker, James Laube or Steve Whatshisname. I've had 100-pt Parker wines that tasted like dilly dishwater. I've had wines from Iowa that were pretty damn good. All competitions do is give feedback to a select set of wineries about how their wine fared against a few other wines on a given day as decreed by people that think they know a lot about wine, but don't know as much as they think they do. Yes, I count myself as a member of the illustrious club.

I think a lot of the angst has do do with the obnoxious "triple gold" headlines. It is a bit misleading. All that happened was three Charles Shaw wines earned gold medals. None were chosen as Best in Category or even 4-star gold medals (whatever the hell that means). 70% of the wines entered in this competition received a medal (1765/2521). Only 15.8% of the entries earned gold or better. Not bad for a sub $3 bottle of wine. But no wine competition is as influential as the major publications, and few consumers know what competition medals mean (if they mean anything at all). So lay off the criticism, people.

Now I won't make any claims to the quality of any Two Buck Chuck (as Charles Shaw is affectionately called). The last time I tried one, probably 4 years ago, it didn't impress me, but it wasn't the "beyond dreadful" or the "watery, alcoholic null set" that two respectable personalities claimed on Twitter. If I remember correctly, the glass I had was simplistic and uninteresting, but varietally correct and not flawed. I wonder when the last time any of the naysayers on the Internet actually tasted a bottle of Chalres Shaw.

What should be praised, but is overlooked is the fact that this blind tasting showed that a wine can be judged by what's in bottle and not what's on the label. Preconceived notions should not influence what a judge thinks about a wine. Too often in the world of wine criticism, writers judge a wine by the label and not the wine. None of the judges that reviewed these wines knew what they were tasting. It's not like they lined up the wines themselves, put them in bags, moved them around their desk and magically forgot the identities of the bottles. Had the judges known they were tasting Two Buck Chuck, I'd bet gold medals would not have been awarded. But that is the beauty if blind tasting. A $3 wine can stand on equal footing with a $30 wine.

So, I say lets celebrate the idea of a quality cheap wine. It's not like Charles Shaw is going to raise its prices to $850 a bottle because of these accolades. This competition isn't the most important source of  consumer information and in fact is open only to  "wine produced from grapes grown in California and commercially available for sale in Orange County." Fear not, most other wine!s Charles Shaw will still be loved by its fans and loathed by most wine snobs...

11 comments:

  1. How do you know that the wine submitted is the same wine found at Trader Joe's? Does the Orange County Fair competition buy the wines judged?

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  2. Tom, how does anyone know that the wines submitted to Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast or any publication are the same wines sold to the general public? Competitions are so inconsequential why would anyone go to the trouble of fraudulently submitting wine?

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  3. I am one of many naysayers that tweeted about the triple gold. Having judged many competitions and knowing this product very well, one can only assume some angle of foul play was involved. I’m all for awarding inexpensive wine but not when mediocrity is at play. My problem stems from marketing ploys and compensation given to those who play the game.

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  4. Pamela, has any evidence of this foul play been presented? I'd love to see more than conjecture! I've judged competitions were Barefoot and other "mediocre" wines have won gold and best ofs. Why does three gold and a bronze mean impropriety? And it should be noted that triple gold isn't like a double gold medal, just a smart pr person saying three golds... Mountains out of molehills people...

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  5. Which specifically were the 100 pt Parker wines that tasted like dishwater?

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  6. I think most people who shot off comments, myself included, were really pointing out that the wines submitted to the competition were likely hand chosen specifically to submit to the competition and that you can be confident that they are not the wines on the shelf at trader joes. Or to be as generous as possible, they were taken from the best tanker on hand at the time submissions were due. The trouble with judging these wines next to wines that were made in a single lot is that they are constructed from bulk wines available whenever the market needs wine. Someone seeing a wine labeled as a gold medal winner in MN is going to pick up a bottle that has absolutely no juice in it that was judged in the competition. I'd be curious to have you go buy a couple bottles of the award winning wine and report back.
    Alan Baker

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  7. Unknown - I've had the 2002 and 2003 Quilceda Creek that I thought were dilly blackberry bourbon. A 2004 Torbreck Les Amis (only 98 pts) was a pruney VA bomb. So perhaps "dishwater" is not an accurate description but I do not think perfection or near perfection is a remotely accurate description of the bottles I tasted either!

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  8. Alan, you may vary well be correct. But conjecture is not evidence. The same could be said about every single wine submission to any publication. Just look at the Bordeaux En Primeur system. They select wines from the best barrels and submit them as representative samples of a wine that is 18 months away from being finished. And just look at the issue with Schild Shiraz and being in the WS top ten a few years ago and the trouble they got into with a second and third round of bottling...

    I'd love to buy a bottle of the Charles Shaw, but alas there are not Trader Joe's in CO at this time. When the one store that has the lone liquor license in the state (CO only allows one license per owner) opens I will definitely seek out the three gold medal winners if they are available.

    BTW - love your labels and your philosophy as described on you site. Never had the opportunity to taste your wines though...

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  9. I and several friends tasted the Cab and Merlot the other night. There is no way any of us would give them a gold medal for any reason. They certainly will not stand up against most $30 bottles.

    When 70% of the wines in a competition win a medal and almost 16% a gold medal I think the medals have lost all meaning.

    pullthatcork

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  10. Anon, fair enough. You're entitled to your palate. Use it wisely; it's the only one you have! I have no idea if I'd think TBC is worthy of a gold medal. I've had gold medal wines I thought were flawed and I've had wines that didn't get a medal that I thought were pretty good. We all have different opinions and place different values on sources of information. When the Wine Advocate gives 50% of wines from certain regions 90+ does that make points even more ridiculous than competitions?

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  11. The Wine Advocate usually has a single person for a region. Once you get to know how their palate matches with yours you can get a pretty good idea of what a wine at a specific rating will be like. Robert Parker likes big fruit forward wines, I like more elegant wines. If I see two wines rated by RP, one at 89 and one at 95 at the same price, I buy the 89 point wine. Through experience I have learned RP's 89 pointers are more to my taste.

    Wine judges are for all practical purposes anonymous since they don't usually have nationally know names. There is no way to calibrate their palate to mine.

    There should probably be some well known reference wines in each competition as a check of consistency.

    To your point of 50% of the wines in a region scored as 90+, yes that is just as ridiculous.

    btw: for some reason I can't comment with my Google account, think it has to do with my Safari browser, would prefer a Twitter login anyway.

    pullthatcork

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