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Saturday 29 January 2022

When you can win a gold medal for finishing 26th

I heard another wine lover reporting this week how their favourite drop won "the gold medal" at a prestigious wine show. 

Sure dude. Wine shows do not operate like the Olympics. There can be dozens of golds, silvers and bronzes at one show; any wine the judges score at 18.5 or above gets a gold. 

So it is not "the gold medal" but "a gold medal'.

It would be reasonable to imagine that a wine that won a gold medal was first in its class, like at the Olympics, a silver medallist was second and a bronze medallist third. 

Not in the wine industry, so I am reworking an old story to make this point crystal clear. 

Wine meriting a score of 18.5 out of 20 (or 95 out of 100) from the judges gets a gold medal. That could be as many as 20% of all the entries. Any entry scoring between 17 to 18.4 and gets a silver, and so on. 

At shows, all the wines are tasted “blind” - without the judges knowing what they are.
The outright winner in any class earns a trophy – which is what you should be looking out for after the judges have finished sipping, swirling, tasting and spitting.
But the problem is that there are still hundreds of trophy winners out there in retail land.

There are over 70 officials wine shows in Australia (some far more important than others), several unofficial regional shows and dozens overseas.

Bigger companies can afford to enter their wines into myriad different shows (it is an expensive and time-consuming business), making themselves almost certain, simply by the law of averages, to earn some bling to enliven their labels. Others prefer to let their wines stand on their own merits.
You need to look very carefully at those label stickers to determine whether a wine won a bronze medal at Pine Gap Show, some tasting in Moldova, or a trophy at one of the major shows like Sydney or Melbourne.
I receive regular press releases saying: "Our shiraz is the best in Australia after winning the trophy at the [Insert Any Name You Like Here] Wine Show."

Or, if the show is in London, New York or Ljubljana and has an international field: "Our shiraz is the best in the world."

It's a nonsense. Winning a trophy at a wine show does not make your wine the best in Australia, or the world. It makes it the favourite of the small group of judges who tried it at that show. Usually at room temperature, and almost certainly without food.

Most wines, as you know, are enjoyed with food. And the whites and sparkling wines are almost always drunk chilled by consumers.

The reality is that a wine can win a trophy one week, and get a score of 14/20 the next. Different judges; different scores. But no one ever sends out a press release saying: "Our wine wasn't even good enough to win a bronze."

If more than a couple of panels (different judges; different shows) award trophies or gold medals to a particular wine then there is a pretty strong basis for assuming that it is a wine of excellent quality that appeals to winemakers, sommeliers and, sometimes, wine writers with educated palates.

If the judges of one show share similar palate opinions to you; excellent news all round. But they may not.
The fact is that a lot of very good people with excellent palates give up a lot of their time to judge at shows "and help improve the breed". I'm in awe of the number of wines they can taste each day.
Stickers help sell wines. And that's the bottom line. But look closely and that gold-coloured sticker on your bottle may just say "Good with fish". Buyer beware.
Top image: Andrii Omelnytskyi on

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