Wine can be a tricky thing if you’re looking for the best quality.
Do you select on price? Are you attached to a particular region or grape? Or do you naturally gravitate towards an award winning label on a bottle of wine?
There are a lot of wine awards. Most major cities have their own for a start. Check out New York, Berlin and London and you’ll find they have an annual competition. Countries like France have also their individual awards devoted to local vineyards.
After the glitz and glamour of the award ceremony, the challenge for us consumers is whether that gold, silver or bronze medal is a sign that we’re getting a good bottle.
Or is it just a clever ploy to keep us buying a particular make of wine?
How do wine awards work?
Any wine competition involves a number of experts who stand around blind tasting the wine which has entered the competition. ‘Blind’ means they don’t have sight of the bottle or its label. They might know the grape variety or location but not the exact vineyard. Judges look for faithfulness to the particular grape or type of wine, the body, taste and a whole host of other factors.
Judges taste the wine in groups and reach a decision on what sort of medal will be awarded. In competitions such as the International Wine Challenge (IWC), final decisions can often be made by larger panels of judges. That should mean each wine is graded more objectively than in smaller competitions.
The wineries themselves make the decision on which wines are submitted to a particular competition. Some will only enter the prestigious awards, others like to enter as many as they can around the world. Winning the big award in a particular category not only can improve sales, but it helps put the vineyard on the winemaking map.
The most famous wine awards
The two biggest competitions, and the ones many winemakers and critics tend to focus on more than any others, are Decanter Wine Awards
and the International Wine Challenge
(IWC). Each competition has its own way of doing things.
Decanter Wine Awards
Wines are organised for tasting by country, region, colour, grape, style, vintage and price. This ensures that wines are judged in flights against their peers - or ‘tasting flights’. The bottles are placed in a bag so no one can see the label. The judges taste wines individually. They know the region, style and price bracket, but they don’t know who produced the wine or the brand name. They then compare notes on the wine and reach a consensus on each wine’s medal.
During the 2018 event, 275 judges took part in tasting 16,903 wines. Their categories included Best in Show, Platinum and Gold for the top winners. Best in Show awarded just 50 medals for wines around the world. At the other end of the scale, the Bronze Award gave out 7,079 separate medals. Decanter prides itself on being more customer facing compared to some other prestigious awards.
International Wine Challenge
The IWC has a huge number of different awards, the most high value being the Champion of Champion’s Trophy. Thousands of wines are entered each year from all over the world and the judging is as rigorous as Decanter, with each medal-winning wine tasted three times by a different panel of 12 experts.
There are around 200 judges from all around the world who take part in the event. The judges will have information about the style of wine, it’s price range and the region it’s from but not much more. Each wine is tasted and then the judges compare their notes and come to a decision on which medal should be awarded.
The pros and cons of choosing an award winning wine
These wine awards are taken pretty seriously by the wineries, particularly those given by the Decanter and the IWC. If you win a top award, you have certainly deserved it. Those winning wines have been tasted by experienced judges and the decision is through consensus and is much less subjective. This is very valuable for us consumers, as the award hasn't been guided by one man's taste
Lower awards in these competitions are not so rare that you can reasonably use them to spot the good wines amongst the many thousands available. Local or national competitions are also very handy to follow, especially if you want to spot rising vineyards and producers from a specific region or style.
Some competitions can award thousands of bronze medals so keep this in mind when purchasing your bottles.
When it comes to platinum, gold and silver, however, you should expect to find a high quality bottle of wine that has been through a rigorous judging process.
The medals are hard fought for and a gold is really something special. If you're looking to try something new and good, we recommend you to give it go.
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