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Oct. 12, 2022

The Relevance of Wine Competitions w/ Doug Frost, MW, MS

The Relevance of Wine Competitions w/ Doug Frost, MW, MS

Doug Frost, MW, MS, describes the history, value, drawbacks, and key success factors of wine competitions.

What is the relevance of having 100s of gold medal wines and the competitions that hand them out? According to Doug Frost, MW, MS, it references back to the 19th century, when people were trying to describe what was happening in their wine regions. Doug describes the history, value, drawbacks, and key success factors of wine competitions. He delves into their changing influence in the era of the wine critic and the modern era of the sommelier. He contrasts this with the Wine Pinnacle Awards, now in its second incarnation in Singapore. 

Detailed Show Notes:

Doug’s background 

  • Master of Wine and Master Sommelier for more than 25 years
  • Restaurant background, has worked in retail, distribution, and now owns a winery (Echolands Winery)

Wine competition history

  • Started in the 19th century - attempts to describe what’s happening in a winegrowing region, e.g., 1855 Classification of Bordeaux
  • The 1950s-1960s - started to grow, especially in regions outside of Bordeaux and Burgundy, which had classifications to prove wines were high quality
  • E.g., 1976 - “Judgment of Paris” tasting where CA wines beat French wines
  • The 1980s-1990s - competitions grew to find out the best of the areas w/o classifications, mainly “new world” such as the US and Australia

Competition examples

  • Sonoma County Fair - focused on Sonoma
  • Decanter World Wine Awards - covers the world, dependent on wineries submitting wines, ranks the best of the wines submitted

Value of competitions - tells you about wines you haven’t heard about yet

Drawbacks of competitions

  • Wineries w/ proven track records often don’t submit - more downside than upside
  • They usually charge for submissions

Keys to a successful competition

  • The quality of judges is key
  • Know the purpose of the competition (e.g., examining a specific region, grape variety, etc.)
  • Control the style of wines w/in categories, and make sure a particular style does not dominate every flight - e.g., Jefferson Cup controls the # of wines from a region

Competitions vs. wine critics/magazines

  • Competitions - no expectation that top brands submit
  • Top magazines - top brands must show up

Competitions are still relevant in Australia; in the US, competitions gave way to individual critics, which may now be giving way to others (e.g., crowdsourced scores)

Still in the era of the sommelier

  • Somms talk to each other (vs. retailers)
  • Somms influence each other (Pinnacle tries to embody the same idea)
  • Somms actually sell wine (vs. critics)

Wine Pinnacle Awards

  • Co-created by Jeannie Cho Lee MW
  • International in scope - dozens of judges from all over the world, each region has equal weighting
  • Judges mostly MSs, MWs, and senior wine writers
  • Each judge was asked to nominate stand-out wines from a specific region and vintage that stood out in their tastings over the past few years (e.g., best Bordeaux from 2010)
  • Target audience - collectors and more experienced consumers
  • Trying to not bring up the same wineries every year by highlighting different vintages, including overlooked ones
  • Hosts an award ceremony each year where tickets are sold, does not charge for submissions

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