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(C) Andrew Chalk, 2021. All Rights Reserved
(C) Andrew Chalk, 2021. All Rights Reserved

by Andrew Chalk

How do you assess how a state is doing in its pursuit of higher wine quality? For an individual wine we can use critics’ scores. For a state, this excludes most states in the United States as major critics confine their attention to California, Oregon, and Washington, with maybe an occasional mention of others.

One alternative metric is medals won by a state’s wines at wine competitions. For all their warts these shows do offer a relative ranking of the wines presented. They do pit the anonymous 47 states against the top three. And they do judge wines ‘blind’ (i.e. without the taster knowing the identity before scoring).

A few years ago, after hearing numerous colleagues and professionals tell me that ‘Texas wines have improved’, I started to collect medal counts of Texas wines at wine competitions. In order to eliminate charges of in-state bias I included only out-of-state wine competitions.

The results, reproduced below, are remarkable. They show a sharp and unambiguous trend, starting in 2011, of increases in the number of medals won annually by Texas wines by a factor of 5 in 3 years. Furthermore, that level of medal success is sustained. It oscillates with the available vintages (for example, weather in 2013 was the worst in 50 years and the medal count in 2015 reflects it) but shows no sign of reverting back to the old pre-2011 levels.

The data were obtained by surveys to Texas wineries for their results, which were compared on a sampling basis with published results. Even with reliance on such self-reporting and the possibility of missing data in older vintages the trend is so large that the results are clear.

Most of the medals came from the San Francisco International and San Francisco Chronicle shows but New York’s Finger Lakes show is popular too. Other shows in U.S. cities and in Europe popped up occasionally. The results make no distinction between levels of medals (bronze, silver, gold, etc.) although some interesting findings may come out of such research. They also do not compare Texas results with those of other states. Another interesting line of inquiry would be collecting the same data for other US states.

The basis for this research was how to assess wine quality in a large sample (in this case the state). Given that critics do not cover 47 U.S. states, out-of-state wine show medal counts offer likely one of the best methods of doing so.

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