I know from experience as you peruse the aisles in the local supermarket or wine merchant shelf, the eye invariably goes to a few things when you hunt for your next bottle of wine: the price, the label (who doesn’t love a critter label?!) and last-but-not-least those shiny ‘award’ badges that sometimes adorn the front of the wine bottle.
Although seeing that a wine has “won” an award can give you a feeling of security – that the wine must be really good right? – it is also worth considering what the award is and from whom it has been obtained.
The reason I say that is because there are a huge number of awards given out every year, from local and regional awards to national and International awards and it is fair to assume that the consistency of the judging across the different competitions will naturally be quite varied!
Some awards are more prestigious than others: as a rule of thumb, here in the UK I tend to consider the IWC (International Wine Challenge®), DWWA (Decanter World Wine Awards), SWA (Sommelier Wine Awards) and the IWSC (international Wine and Spirit Competition) to be the best to take notice of. These are the ones that I acknowledge on any wines I recommend, but, and there is a big BUT, I would still urge an element of caution and pay particular interest to the actual medal awarded.
Having myself previously been an associate judge at one of the aforementioned competitions, I can confidently say from experience that we tasted many, many wines and many awards were subsequently handed out. There will always be a decent number of lovely wines that receive a high score and thus warrant a ‘Trophy’, ‘Platinum’, ‘Gold’ or ‘Silver’ medal, but there will be many many more that are perfectly serviceable wines (read to mean no faults, drinkable but nothing standout) that still receive a score that warrants some form of recognition – usually a ‘Bronze’ or ‘Commended’ medal. To give an example to show how many wines win awards – in the 2019 DWWA awards a whopping 74% of all wines entered were awarded a medal, and having looked at the numbers it is clear that the ‘Bronze’ medals accounted for a large proportion of the medals awarded (in this case 60% of the total number of awards handed out in the categories: ‘Best in Show’, ‘Platinum’ ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Bronze’).
Having an award on the label undoubtedly does increase the ‘kudos’ around the wine and raises the visibility of the producer and the wine, but it is also worth noting that it does cost money to enter the competitions and can then cost additional money to use the award sticker on the ‘winning’ wine bottles – to the extent that many producers just don’t bother entering – particularly the smaller, niche wineries. Thus, it is certainly not a given that because a wine doesn’t have any awards shown on the label that it is not worth drinking! Ultimately a wine award is something of a marketing ploy, raising the profile of the wine and encouraging you to part with your pennies to buy it.
So, next time you are looking for a bottle, my advice is to approach with caution anything that says ‘Commended’ or ‘Bronze’ and, if you are driven by ‘award’ wins, look for the ones with the more prestigious awards (Silver and upwards)…..but don’t base your buying decision solely on it!