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Thursday Thorns: The Report Card
DECANTER Magazine World Wine Awards
Our Grades: The Judges: A
The Methodology: B
The Wines Submitted: D
The Results: C+/B-

By Charles Olken

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I don’t know whether to congratulate Decanter Magazine for the enormous feat of tasting almost 11,000 wines in four days or to laugh out loud at the preposterousness of even trying. I don’t know whether having judges like Steven Spurrier and half the MWs (Masters of Wine) in the world tasting wines that surely are not the best in the world and then declaring them to be is good politics or a waste of talent. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when this august body declares that Chilean Sauvignon Blancs are the best in the world. I don’t know what to make of the fact that these fancy judges gave medals to 78% of U. S. Grown Pinot Noir but gave no Golds to Red Burgundies.

Ultimately, it comes down to this. A judging is only as good as several factors let it be. The people who put on these mass judgings do not always have the resources to create the grounds for success. It costs money to fly people into London or Sydney or Dallas or San Francisco from all over the world. And it is difficult to create a perfect setting for judging ten thousand and more wines. Some judgings at which I have participated cannot figure out how to manage a few hundred wines. One of my personal favorites, the Sydney International Wine Competition, limits its numbers to 2,000 wines and takes six days to complete the effort. And then there are the wines. I have yet to attend a mass judging at which the best possible eligible wines, in my opinion of course, were submitted. And finally, there are the results. The results are no better than the first three factors allow them to be.

The first is the judges. In this case, there is no question. Decanter, which for my money is the best wine publication in the world, assembled a bevy of talent that has never been exceeded in any mass judging. Great writers, experienced tasters, some of them are among the foremost experts in the world for the categories they judged. No one is going to question, should question the competence of this jury. If only they had been matched by methodology and wines. The judges rate: A.

The methodology is at any of these mass judgings is highly suspect if only because of the number of wines tasted. Eleven thousand wines were judged over four days. If those highly qualified judges were split into ten panels, that is eleven hundred wines or about 275 per day. Decanter does not give us full details but even if there were twenty panels, the number of wines judged would have been enormous. Some tasters, myself included, no longer participate in these kinds of beauty contests because the amount of care needed to make careful judgments between competing wines is simply not available given the large number of wines to be tasted. I will give Decanter a grudging: B. If nothing else, with judges of this quality and an experienced staff to run the judging, one does not hear horror stories about procedure.

But, here is the Achilles heel of virtually every one of these mass judgings. They have no ability/zero ability to control the quality of the wines submitted. An English wine won the sparkling wine category. I have every confidence that it is a good wine, but its closest competition was a Taittinger Prelude, about the fourth tier of quality at that fine producer whose Comtes de Champagnes are truly world class. Prelude simply is not. Yet it was the competition, and Decanter has used that ranking of the English wine to proclaim that “this 100% Chardonnay fizz rubberstamps England’s membership to that exclusive club of world class sparkling wine producers”. Sorry, Decanter. The wines rate at: D. And they simply undermine the value of the whole production and the 400-page magazine you published to trumpet the results.

The results: Let’s imagine for a moment that the august body of august tasters and their august palates did a fine job of finding the best wines in the tasting. Good on them. But do we really believe that an Israeli Syrah is the best Syrah in the world? Do we really believe that nobody in Champagne can make a better bubbly or that the folks in the Loire or the cooler parts of California or Marlborough down New Zealand way cannot make a Sauvignon Blanc to challenge the two winners from Chile? Do we really believe that the Clos Du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon, a good wine for sure, is the best Bordeaux blend in the world? These kinds of results would be less bothersome if they did not get paraded under the title “WORLD WINE AWARDS”. Not good enough is the final judgment. Grade: C+/B-. And lucky to get it.

A final word: Events like this are publicity stunts. It matters not whether it is a County Fair or something else. Ultimately, they are about rewards for entering. At the Sydney International, only 100 wines get awards. That is supposed to bestow a certain special prestige on the winners. The problem is that even with that gambit and a very professional panel, the event is still about the awards, and both the wineries and the promoter make sure that those awards are widely broadcast. If you win with Decanter, they send you stickers to put on all your bottles.

Decanter declares itself “The World’s Best Wine Magazine” right on its cover. You can’t miss the words. And I agree with them. But publicity stunts are publicity stunts, and this one gets a passing grade but no honors. I presume it serves a great commercial purpose for Decanter. It does very little for wine lovers.


Best wine pub in the world?
by ThomasPellechia
Posted on:10/14/2010 5:44:36 AM


Maybe in the past Decanter was the best, but over the past decade, it's slid into a lifestyle mag with brief articles and Best of nonsense like the one you cite.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:10/14/2010 6:12:39 PM

You know, whenever I hear, "Best" the first thing I think of is, "For what?" Cannot tell you how many times I've had to assure a consumer that the "best" Cabernet as per whatever magazine is going to taste like shit with their oysters....ugh

by Christian Miller
Posted on:10/14/2010 8:40:36 PM

I'm with you, except for the sense of disbelief about Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. I'm generally not a fan of crowning any wine "the best", but I would rate the best ones coming out of Leyda, San Antonio and Casablanca appellations as among the top Sauvignon Blancs in the world.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:10/15/2010 7:10:47 AM

Them are pretty big words there to toss out a few names? When I think of top spots for Sauvignon Blanc I tend to think of Sancerre or Pouill Fume and confess that Chile would not even cross my mind but I'm willing to give them a shot if you can give a couple places to start.....

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:10/15/2010 7:22:24 AM

That would be Pouilly Fume...too damn early

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