Wine 101: On Wine Awards

Just a week ago I spent three days at British Columbia’s Naramata Heritage Inn as one of nine judges for the BC Wine Awards. I never bother sharing how exhausting judging wine competitions can be because unless you’ve done it, I recognize how ridiculous that sounds. I’m also hyper-aware that what I do for a living isn’t exactly breaking rocks under a hot sun.

A few days after we’d wrapped our judging, the results were released to media and shortly thereafter I had a journalist call me up for a few quotes on the judging process. To make a long story short, he found it incredulous that nine credible wine industry professionals awarded not only some of our best, independent, small, handcrafted, blah blah blah wines with medals, but that we had the audacity to hand out some awards to some of the larger, corporately-owned wineries. “Was the judging actually blind?” he asked.

Well, yes the judging was indeed blind – as is the case with the vast majority of wine competitions. I have to admit I find it frustrating that there are always cynics who simply assume that wine competitions are just a ruse, where awards go to wineries who pony up cash or special favours or cocaine. Sure, that last one sounds implausible, but from the perspective of those of us involved in these things – its equally as absurd as the former examples.

So, yeah, in this BC Wine Awards case (and this is common for most competitions) each panel of three judges was given flights of eight to 12 wines, all in a similar style. Categories were things like Rieslings or White Blends or Syrahs; other than that we were given no information. Out of each flight we were to ascertain which wine deserved no award, a bronze, a silver or a potential gold. Those that were potential golds were put into a final round the last day of judging when all judges evaluated them and decided whether they’d stay at silver, be elevated to gold, or perhaps –just perhaps- be unanimously lauded as one of our five platinum awards.

Were there surprises? Of course there were. Sometimes you surprise yourself by adoring a wine from a winery which you’d previously thought was, well, not awesome. The opposite can happen, too. What I love about these competitions is they give a constant, fresh take on so many wineries and wines, familiar and not.

For the BC Wine Awards (and the full results are here, by the way), we can honestly say that we stand behind every wine because they were assessed, simply and honestly, by what was in the glass with no other distractions or agenda.

I’m also happy that two My Wine Canada favourites were amongst the wines I scored the highest, nabbing gold medals. I’d grab the CedarCreek 2013 Riesling and the Thornhaven 2012 Syrah while you still can.


Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. He’s not half as fancy/boring as that sounds. He Tweets and Instagrams @KurtisKolt.

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