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Monday Manifestos
One Hundred Wines a Day? I Survived My Trip to Los Angeles

By Stephen Eliot

It’s been a very long time since I have participated in large-scale wine judgings, and I had pretty much sworn off such events as being a waste of my time and of little or no real benefit to consumers. Still, when invited to participate in what is by all accounts the oldest and largest event of its type, I decided to give it a go after a hiatus of many years, and, two days and a couple of hundred wines into this year’s Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition, I confess to some grudging respect for the event.

I accepted the invitation out of benign curiosity more than anything else. Call my interest academic, that of someone who tastes and evaluates wines professionally on an almost daily basis with a very specific methodology. The efficacies of methodology were not on my mind, although I did wince a bit at the thought of a hundred wines a day, and my attendance was not motivated by the intent to write an inside exposé. I just felt that it was time to see how the culture of wine competitions has evolved, and where better than with the event claimed by many to be the best.

Now, please understand that conscientiously judging a great many wines is not all that easy, and any such forum requires that the participants recognize and respect what is sometimes very diverse opinion. I remember a good many such gatherings in the past to be the battle grounds of strong-willed egos with more hubris than knowledge, and I recall sponsors relentlessly pushing for so many medal winners that in the end anything less than gold was considered close to an insult. I did and still do believe that most any winery in search of a medal should have no problem in finding one given the astonishing proliferation of such competitions and the mind-numbing amount of medals that they manage to churn out, and that in the world of independent wine criticism, such medals hold little value.

But, and this is a big but, those same medals comfortably afford the average consumer with some quality reference in much the way that stars, points and lengthy descriptive tasting note do to more-devoted enthusiasts. They may not be absolute, and they may not come with the force of guarantee, but they do at least help make sense out of what has become an intimidating and confusing array of thousands and thousands of wines from which the poor consumer must choose. Just as is the case with independent critics, wine competitions are not all the same, and their prestige will and should ebb and flow depending on just how much sense the consumer finds in what they say.

And so I find myself defending medals when I have been less inclined to do so in the past. I have spent several days here with a very competent, highly professional bunch. While very aware that the point of the gathering is, in fact, to award a high number of medals, never once was I so much as even gently pushed to change my opinions or standards. The atmosphere has been collegial and contentiousness rare, and I must offer a tip of the CGCW hat to the hard-working administrators who have taken on and succeeded with the mind-boggling organization of such a large-scale event.

I would even go so far as to say this has been fun, and I’ll be a little sorry when the proceedings come to a close tomorrow. I also confess to being fairly tired. I look forward to a few days of rest and then its back to the CGCW table where a day’s work will be sixteen wines treated comprehensively rather than one-hundred wines judged rather more quickly.


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