Do gold medals have any meaning?
A new study paints a damning picture of wine competitions...
It's fair to say that Prof Robert Hodgson is not courting popularity. Based on a study spanning 13 wine contests in 2003 he has claimed that the awarding of Gold medals is largely random.
The natural expectation is that if most wines which win gold medals in one competition will do similarly well in another, but that is not the case.
Hodgson's abstract gives the main claim: "Of the 2,440 wines entered in more than three competitions, 47 percent received Gold medals, but 84 percent of these same wines also received no award in another competition."
So there are a lot of wines good enough to be gold medal standard somewhere, but few good enough to gold standard in most places.
That tells the consumer little, and is rather puzzling for vineyard owners who spend a lot of money, and give 6 bottles a time, to enter wine competitions in search of medals.
Hodgson, a retired professor of oceanography and statistics, whose study is published in the Journal of Wine Economics puts it bluntly: 'winning a Gold medal is greatly influenced by chance alone.'
This conclusion is described as "Hogwash" by Robert Small, chairman of the Los Angeles County Fair's wine contest (though another chairman may later award it a Gold medal).
Some, whilst acknowledging wine competitions are imperfect, have argued the study is also.
Joe Roberts, 1WineDude blogger and Certified Specialist of Wine point out that you would not expect good competitions to be consistent with bad ones, so the study proves at most that some of the competitions are being judged inexpertly.
Another point is that you might expect a wine to come top of the class some of the time if its strongest competition doesn't always turn up - again there cannot be a requirement to only look at competitions all the wines entered because few wines enter all the competitions.
Other comments on Roberts' blog have suggested that it's not news that different competitions with different judges are inconsistent with each other.
But it might still surprise some consumers who expect gold medals to mean consistent samples of wine which impress all 'experts'.
In any case, another study of Hodgson's earlier this year of the California State Fair Wine Competition suggests that judges often rank a wine differently when they taste it a second time in a blind taste test.
If accurate, that is much more damning, as wine-lovers would not even be able to follow the taste of their preferred experts.
Despite these questions, wine collecting is a growing industry. The really select, coveted wines such as those made from grapes from Romanée-Conti will remain highly desirable.