Wine awards: worth the gold stickers they’re printed on?
In some wine competitions, the majority of (paying) entrants gets a prize
We have all come across bottles of wine with an embossed gold sticker attached, boasting of an award garnered in some competition. Some have rows of shiny medals and look more like the uniform of a South American dictator. But does the wine taste any better? Wine-tasting is a subjective exercise at the best of times. Our taste buds are notoriously fickle; witness the delight everyone takes in fooling wine experts into mistaking a €7.99 supermarket house wine for a fine Bordeaux.
But with experience and training, it is possible to give an objective assessment of a wine. Credible wine competitions will have a panel of experts, and the winning wines will be tasted several times. Generally the wines are tasted part-blind, so the taster knows the grape, country and region, and the approximate price of the wines being tasted. That does make sense as you are judging the quality of a wine, not guessing where it might come from. At times though, it might be a good idea to leave out the price to see if quality shows through.
Usually you won’t know what wines were entered. A top Pinot Noir producer who sells out their wine each year has no incentive to enter a competition.
Wine competitions are taken seriously in Australia. The celebrated Jimmy Watson Trophy can make the reputation of a winemaker and winery, and guarantee the wine will sell out overnight. It is rumoured that some winemakers are offered substantial bonuses if they win a “Jimmy” as it is affectionately known.
These days most producer and consumer countries have a competition of some sort. The two biggest competitions on these islands are the Decanter World Wine Awards and the International Wine Challenge (IWA), both run in London.
This year, the Decanter wine panels tasted their way through 16,903 wines, awarding 11,121 awards of some kind, a very generous 65 per cent of all entrants. The IWA and most Australian competitions have a similar success rate, once you include awards of merit.
Competitions can be a lucrative business. Some helpfully award every wine that enters the competition. Most charge producers to enter a wine, and a winery has to pay for rolls of those gold medal stickers.
So this bank holiday weekend, make your own judgment with four award-winning wines. In addition to those below, Dunnes Stores has the very enjoyable award-winning Simply Better Chianti Classico (although not the same vintage) for €16.49, and Marks & Spencer and O’Briens have the trophy-winning Ascheri Arneis (€19.50). Aldi won silver with its Monsigny Champagne (€19.99) and Crémant de Jura (€12.49) and commended for its Fleur de Prairie Rosé (€9.99).
Lastly Champagne producer Charles Heidsieck ran away with no less than five gold medals this year, so they must be doing something right.
See Internationalwinechallenge.com and Decanter.com for full results.
Four worthy award winners
Barbuntin Albariño 2016, Rías Baixas 12.5%, €14.95
Awarded the IWC International Albariño Trophy and I can see why. Mouth-watering crisp lemon zest balanced perfectly by delectable plump peach fruits. Perfect summer drinking on its own or with shellfish.
Stockists: Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com
Mission de Picpus Malbec Cahors 2016 14%, €19.50
This satisfying full-bodied rounded juicy ripe Malbec carried off the IWC Cahors Trophy. Ample perfectly balanced dark fruits, and a rounded finish. It went perfectly with my seared lamb’s liver.
Stockists: Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie
Norton Privada Family Blend 2015 14%, €19.95
Winner of the IWC Argentinean Red Wine Trophy this is a powerful muscular wine loaded with ripe loganberry fruits overlaid with tobacco and spice, finishing well. Perfect with grilled red meats, including barbecued steak.
Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Tesco Finest Premier Cru Champagne 12.5%, €35
This perennial winner was awarded an IWC Gold Medal and best-value sparkling wine. Complex baked spicy apples, plenty of lemon zest and subtle brioche. Very good Champagne and a relative bargain.
Stockists: Tesco, tesco.ie