John JuergensAnd the winner is ...

Back in January I had the good fortune to be a judge at the largest wine competition in the country. Of course, this had to take place in Texas: Dallas. There were over 1800 entries from all of the major wine producing countries in the world. And since there were only six judging panels, each panel had to evaluate over 300 wines in two days, and some wines were evaluated more than once.

Well, the results are finally in and I want to share the good news with you. There were a lot of inexpensive wines that won medals and some of these are available here in Oxford. You can find many more of them in surrounding towns. I’ve decided to just list award winning wines as a group and not get bogged down in the relative worth of gold, silver, and bronze medals since it is really irrelevant as you will learn below. But first, some notes about wine judges and a glimpse at the judging process, which has a lot in common with sausage making; it’s not a pleasant thing to watch.

As you might expect, all of the wine judges have some kind of connection to the wine industry, directly or indirectly. A good number of the judges work in retail wine shops in the Dallas area and most of the rest are some sort of wine and food writers for magazines and newspapers around the country.

To be a successful wine judge a person has to have a fairly extensive experience with wine, but most importantly, they need faith in their convictions, they have to be very opinionated, and they must be willing to express these opinions in public; thereby exposing themselves to the wrath and rancor of their colleagues. In other words, there are a lot of obnoxious jerks at these wine competitions, or "wine contests" as they call them at Woody’s Bar-B-Que in Winona. (Local attorney, John Hailman, is the notable exception and is a superb wine judge).

I have noted with interest that when you get a bunch of these judges in a room together they tread very lightly on the shop talk and usually only discuss wines and wine issues that everybody agrees on. It is considered bad form to get into a fist-fight at the opening judges’ reception, especially with a room full of reporters. They save their best shots for the actual judging, which occurs in relative seclusion.

I wish every wine consumer could see just what goes on in the actual judging panels. Then maybe we wouldn’t have all the confusion and snobbery that infects the wine industry and folks would have more confidence in their own assessments of wine quality. With more than 300 wines to be tasted and evaluated in a total of about 16 hours, it is easy to see that the judges don’t have time to linger over any particular wine. We spend just a few seconds on each wine to determine its fate.

I have never been on a panel in which there was a unanimous vote for a gold or silver medal for any wine. These top awards are almost always negotiated, that is, there will be one or two judges who love a particular wine and will try to drag the other judges, sometimes kicking and screaming, to their point of view. Far too often there will be a wide split among the five judges, with one judge voting for a gold medal, another saying the wine is the worst they ever put in their mouth, and the other three scattered between these two extremes. I could go on and on, but the point is to not put too much emphasis on whether a wine got a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Here is a real insight: Most people ignore wines that win bronze medals, but these can be some of the best bargains of all. Most judges are inherently conservative in awarding medals so the fact that a wine got any medal at all makes it noteworthy.

Since many wineries stack the competition in their favor by entering only their finest and most expensive wines, I have listed only "real" winning wines in the under $15 category. And the winner is… us!

Wine Update:

Since my article about red Zinfandel wines was printed a few weeks ago, PJ’s Wine and Liquor has gotten in a wide selection of red Zins that cover the spectrum of style and price. When our local wine merchants do nice things like this for us, I think we should try to return the favor. Check out several Zins. I’m sure you will be pleased.

Award Winning Wines: $15 and under

White Wines

Villa Mt. Eden Chardonnay 1997

Forest Glen Chardonnay 1997

Buena Vista Carneros Chardonnay 1996

Penfold’s Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 1998

Rosemount Chardonnay 1998

Meridian Vineyards Chardonnay 1997

Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 1997

Benziger Carneros Chardonnay 1997

Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 1998

Kendall Jackson Sauvignon Blanc 1997

Columbia Crest Sauvignon Blanc 1997

Fetzer Sauvignon Blanc 1997

Geyser Peak Johannisberg Riesling 1998

Hogue Cellars Charonnay/Semillion 1996

Rosemount Traminer/Riesling 1998

Dry Creek Chenin Blanc 1997

Beringer Chenin Blanc 1997

Red Wines

Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

Canyon Road Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Napa Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

Bogle Petit Sirah 1997

Parducci Petit Sirah 1996

Rosemount Shiraz 1997

Rosemount Grenache Shiraz 1997

Hacienda Merlot 1997

Corbett Canyon Reserve Merlot 1996

Villa Mt. Eden Zinfandel 1996

Beaulieu Vineyards Zinfandel 1996

Indigo Hills Pinot Noir 1996

Napa Ridge Pinot Noir 1997

Forest Glen Sangiovese 1996

Villa Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese 1997

R.H. Phillips Mistura 1996

Back to John Juergens' Oxford Town Wines Index