Saturday, September 6, 2008

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and Wine Rating System

The San Francisco Chronicle was started in 1865 by Charles de Young and brother Michael de Young. It is now Northern California’s largest newspaper and serves almost primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the year 2000, the Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wine Competition entered into a sponsorship agreement with The San Francisco Chronicle which then was renamed The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The idea was to take public wine tastings from hundreds of wineries across the United States and award the best tasting wines with medals and feature the winners in The San Francisco Chronicle. In 2006, over 900 wineries across the United States entered in an astonishing 3,318 different varietals into the competition. Since 2000, father and son Bob and Scott Fraser founded which was a service provided to the Chronicle and became the new producer of the competition and started to feature wine nationally across the United States. At first, the competition only featured wines from the California area, but started to broaden its wines nationally in 2005. The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is one of the biggest public tasting competitions in the United States and in the world.

While there is a big public tasting competition and the winning wines are featured in the newspaper, there is also several writers and wine experts who write for The Chronicle and rate different wines in blind taste tests. During a typical panel, one wine expert will taste around 30 to 100 different kinds of wine. It’s interesting to note that The San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine rating system is a bit different from others. Magazines such as Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator use a 0 to 100 point scale, and usually any wine that scores 90 or above is considered a good, quality wine. Anything below 90 is usually not published. The San Francisco Chronicle, instead, uses a four star system for their ratings. One star meaning “poor”, two stars meaning “good”, three stars meaning “excellent”, and four stars meaning “extraordinary”. It is very rare to see any kind of wine that is higher than two stars and those wines with less than two stars are never published. It is even rarer for the Chronicle to find a four star wine. That is to say that there are only a few four star wines that the experts find each year. In 2007, one of there most highly recommended wines was a 2005 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from Sonoma Valley which only received two stars. Once again, they never publish any of the wines that receive lower than two, but state that, “Even many of our rejects from this week's edition were solid wines that we wouldn't mind having again, though perhaps they cost a bit more than we would pay” (

Here are some examples of ratings from their publications:

EXTRAORDINARY – One of San Francisco Chronicles most highly rated wines was a 1988 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rare Vintage Champagne. It was said to have a “dazzling complexity” with very unique drinking experience. It received a very rare four stars and is priced at $85.

EXCELLENT – One wine that received a very rare three stars was a 2005 Roessler Widdoes Russian River Valley Pinot Noir priced at $48.

GOOD – Said to have been a “very solid” wine, the 2006 Hogue Columbia Valley Pinot Grigio received two stars in their publication and is priced at a mere $8. Others such as the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc or Fume from the Falkner Winery and a 2006 Chardonnay from the Scheid Vineyards come very highly recommended at come at very reasonably low prices.

Once again, a POOR wine or wine “reject” is never published by The San Francisco Chronicle, so it is nearly impossible to find. I, personally, would have to agree with the way that is handled. A poor wine rating may equal bad things for the specific vineyards that get them. So, I think it’s better not to be published than receive a horrible rating. When rating, several experts taste numerous different wines and take in account the different notes both on palate and nose. They measure body, flavor, balance, acidity, tannins, secondary characteristics and how long the finish is after each taste.

There is a higher rating consideration according to the complexity involved in each wine. The vintage year is also taken into significant consideration according what specific region the wine had come from. It is also interesting to note that for more expensive wines, the experts take the price of wine in consideration as well. They try to take the point of view of the consumer and view more expensive wines with a more critical view than less expensive wines.

The wine samples for each tasting collected feature almost all varietals including: Merlots, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Reisling, and many, many more. Suffice it to say that The San Francisco Chronicle’s target audience is almost anyone who is remotely interested in wine, those wanting to learn more about wine, and those who would like to purchase quality wines at reasonable prices. California is one of the largest areas in the world with vineyards and wineries, so The San Francisco Chronicle caters to a lot of the wine-loving public there. This shows with the public wine tasting competitions that they hold with where the public is invited to taste and rate wines from across the country.

Recently, The San Francisco Chronicle features an option to join an “exclusive” Wine Club (The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Club) which publishes weekly sections about fine wine. Those wanting to join this “exclusive” club can join for $39.95 a month. Members of this wine club have benefits such as: Recipes to match wines with food, receiving two wines selected by wine and food editors Jon Bonné and Michael Bauer, and gift ideas for the holidays or any occasion, and options to reorder club favorites at significant discounts.

The wine section of The Chronicle runs weekly ads with the newspaper featuring different kinds of wine at fair prices. The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition runs annually, usually near the end of February, in the San Francisco Area. It lasts for 3 hours and usually costs between $40 to $70 depending when and where you bought the tickets. Furthermore, Santa Rosa Junior College Wine Studies Program and Culinary Arts Program are the primary beneficiaries of the competition. The next public tasting and competition is offered on February, 28 2009 and one can purchase tickets for the event at:

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