June 28, 2019
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For trade buyers looking to get ahead of new consumer trends, or for distributors looking for the best wines for their portfolio from emerging wine regions around the world, the place to be each summer in San Francisco, where the annual USA Wine Ratings takes place.
So why is there so much buzz and excitement surrounding the USA Wine Ratings event? One big reason has to do with the fact that it is the first consumer-centric wine competition in the nation. What that means is that every aspect of the competition – from how winners are selected to what types of judges are asked to blind-taste bottles of wine around the world – is designed with the end consumer in mind.
In short, the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal-winning wines from the USA Wine Ratings event are the types of wines that consumers are likely to select from a shelf in a retail wine store or to order off a menu at a restaurant, wine bar or other hospitality venues. Today, consumers are much more sophisticated wine buyers, thanks to the amount of information they have at their fingertips.
Think about the average wine consumer who walks into a retail wine store to buy a bottle of wine for a special event. This wine consumer likely has researched bottles of wine online, and at the very point of sale, is able to compare the prices of that wine. Thus, the modern wine consumer is also a very educated consumer, and that’s something that any wine competition needs to take into consideration.
As a result, the USA Wine Ratings competition has created three criteria – Quality, Value, and Packaging – that are designed to evaluate wines the way consumers evaluate them. Quality is, of course, important, because consumers will naturally be drawn to bottles from famous producers and famous regions, as well as to bottles of wine that have earned 90+ points or medals in competition.
And, of course, a value is also important. Wine consumers have a good idea of how much they should be paying for a bottle of wine, so it’s important to take into consideration how a bottle of wine is priced vis-à-vis its peers. And this does not necessarily imply that a bottle of wine needs to be priced low in order to be considered a value. It’s just as likely that a $30 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa will be considered a value if its closest competitors are priced at $40 or even $50 per bottle.
And, finally, a word needs to be said about packaging. Wines today are very much brands, and the modern consumer is likely to judge a wine by its packaging, appearance, label and its closure (cork or screw cap). Wines are designed to appeal to certain demographic groups as well as certain psychographic groups, meaning that young millennial wine drinkers may buy a certain bottle of wine if he or she feels that the wine is made with their behaviors and preferences in mind. Thus, the USA Wine Ratings competition includes a separate judging factor for Packaging.
When combined together, these three factors – Quality, Value and Packaging – help to make the USA Wine Ratings the first consumer-centric wine competition in the United States, and the place to go to find the most commercially viable wines.
In order to evaluate wines on a blind-taste basis, the USA Wine Ratings event has assembled a top-tier panel of 25 judges, all of them with significant commercial buying expertise. In some cases, these judges are wine buyers for supermarkets and retail wine chains. In other cases, they are wine and beverage directors for some of the top hospitality venues and restaurants in the nation. What they share in common, of course, is their knowledge of what consumers are currently buying and ordering.
This factor, too, helps to make the USA Wine Ratings event the most important wine competition in the United States. That’s because high ratings from these judges who are on the front lines of buying and selling wine really matter. They are able to judge wines that customers will actually want to buy, not just based on their individual wine preferences. Thus, a wine buyer from Whole Foods Market is going to be much more attuned to current market trends – both in terms of pricing and wine varietals – than someone who is not making daily decisions on what to buy.
And, finally, there is one more good reason why the USA Wine Ratings is now the USA’s most important wine competition. More so than any other wine competition, it is able to provide a preview of where the wine industry is headed, not just where it’s been. Thus, while the winner of the 2018 USA Wine Ratings competition was a Reserve Merlot from the award-winning St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma County, there were also Gold Medal-winning wines from two of the world’s most unfamiliar wine regions – Romania and Colombia. At a time when wine consumers have already embraced wines from Argentina and Chile, are we about to witness a surge in demand for wines from elsewhere in South America?
And the styles of wines that won Gold Medals in competition is also instructive. For example, one of the Gold Medal-winning wines was a Red Raspberry Wine from Washington State. Are we about to see the real emergence of hand-crafted fruit wines as part of an overall consumer trend toward sweeter wines?
Putting it all together, it’s easy to see why the USA Wine Ratings competition is now the USA’s most important wine competition. It is the first consumer-centric wine competition, judged by a top-tier panel of judges with commercial buying expertise. Its selection of judging criteria is very effective in surfacing new trends, ideas, and concepts in the wine industry. In Summer 2019, the place to be will be San Francisco, where the second-annual USA Wine Ratings event will take place.