Master of Wine Emma Jenkins explains the process behind winning a medal.
WINNING A GOLD MEDAL in a wine show quickens winemakers’ hearts everywhere, be they seasoned campaigners or new to the market. So how are these medals garnered and should you buy the awarded wines?
Producers pick one of the numerous local or international shows, pay the entry fee, send in their wines, then sit back hoping for success. Life is a little bit harder for the judges, who have the daunting job of tasting more than a hundred wines a day across several days from 8am onwards – yes, 8am! The wines are sorted by variety and judged ‘blind’ by panels to ensure fairness and impartiality; judges don’t know if a wine is made by their friend down the road, or the winery that fired them from their first job. The wines are scored individually at first, giving points for balance, harmony, character and ‘typicity’ (plus allround deliciousness!) before deciding on a final panel score. Around five per cent of wines win Golds, and there are Silvers and Bronzes up for grabs too. The Golds are then re-tasted to decide the Trophy wines for each class as well as Best Wine in Show.
Marketing always shouts about any medal received, so should wine-drinkers take any notice? It depends, really. Take a look at where the medal was won. There’s a big difference in kudos between the London International Wine Challenge and the Eketahuna A&P Show. Less scrupulous producers sometimes even have little gold stickers on their bottles declaring such trivialities as ‘Much Awarded Producer’ or ‘Supports Endangered Penguins’, and some stickers are generated by individual reviewers who are paid by producers to review their wines.
That said, medals from reputable shows are a pretty reliable indication of quality, but it also pays to keep in mind they are only the wines that showed best on that day to that particular group of judges. Different shows may give different results. Many wineries also don’t enter their wines for a variety of reasons (cost, philosophy, tiny volumes) and many other good wines just don’t suit the show environment.
Buying medal-winning wines will give you a good look at some of NZ’s benchmark wines, but don’t forget there are many non-gilded treasures waiting to be found as well.