This year, 39 wines won a silver medal in one of the chardonnay categories at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition. I mention this not to denigrate the News’ competition, which is regarded as one of the most important in the country, but to make a point about wine competitions. Which is: They exist to give out medals.

This is neither good nor bad, but a part of the wine business (and I judge wine competitions, so that makes me part of the system). The trick for consumers is to get some perspective on a medal-winning performance, given the vagaries of wine judging. At this year’s Lone Star International, for example, my group tasted about 80 wines in four hours, which had to affect what we did. Or consider that one of the Morning News’ silver chardonnays was a $7 everyday wine from California from a multi-national, another was a $16 wine from a small producer in Virginia, and a third was a $24 wine from the Napa Valley made by a négociant.

One way to get a handle on what’s going on is to compare results. I went through four important Texas judgings — the Houston Livestock Show, the San Antonio Express-News, the Morning News, and the Lone Star — and came up with the following:

• Kiepersol Estates Cabernet Sauvignon ($15): This Texas wine was named Texas Champion in Houston for 2003 and earned a gold at the Lone Star for 2004. (The vintages are different because the Houston results aren’t announced until the spring, though judging is in November.)

• Papio Chardonnay 2004 ($7). This is the aforementioned silver medalist from the Morning News, which won a gold in San Antonio.

• St. James Nouveau 2005 ($10). A red Missouri wine similar to a beaujolais that won golds at the Morning News and Lone Star (available from

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