Prospecting for a gold pedigree

This is the season of show biz awards -- the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and the upcoming Academy Awards -- but the wine world takes a backseat to no one when it comes to handing out the trinkets.

I just returned from judging (shown here) in the 7th annual San Antonio Express-News Wine Competition, in which more than 700 wines were put through the swirl/sip/spit cycle by 39 judges split, unevenly, into seven panels.

As we plowed through the chardonnays, the Spanish varietals, the malbecs, the zinfandels and the various pinots and cabernets shipped in from around the globe for the event, one topic kept coming up in conversation: What have you heard from other competitions?

Many judges participate in several competitions each year, so the insider gossip about emerging stars and declining labels is non-stop. Likewise with discussion of the competitions themselves.

Two schools of thought contend for supremacy. One is that the more medals given out, the more popular the event will become -- and the more entries it will attract. The other is that the more discerning and hard-nosed the judges are, the more valuable medals from those events will become -- and the more entries it will attract.

As always, reality lies somewhere in between. In a field replete with outsized egos, there are judges so stingy in finding praiseworthy wines they knock down legitimate contenders just to keep looking tough. Conversely, some competition managers actually seek out at least a few judges who are, to put it mildly, pushovers.

Not all events announce the winners right away. Most results are held until, for example, a sponsoring publication goes to press with the whole list or until an awards banquet is held.

In the case of the San Antonio judging, even I won't know the entire list of gold medalists until later this month. If sweet-talked, however, I might be able to provide two buying tips that came out of my panel: a 2003 Napa Ridge Reserve from the merlots-over-$15 category and a 2005 Clos du Bois from the chardonnays-under-$15.

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