What's in an Award?
Aug 30th, 2023 | Mary Domange
Many of our wines have won prestigious awards from the many and varied wine award committees across the world. But what does this mean and what does it mean for those who have no shiny gold stars on their bottles?
Wine awards are only given to wines that are submitted for consideration. To submit a wine to an award, a fee must be paid, and samples sent and followed up. The judges of these awards vary greatly – from wine journalists, professional bodies, laypeople or industry professionals as well as from within the winegrower community.
Should I trust the experts?
Highly rated notes from some of the world’s most respected and well-known Masters of Wine, such as Jancis Robinson and Tim Atkin in the UK or James Suckling in the US, are a valuable recommendation, but it is important to understand that just like anything – there are awards – and awards. Make sure that whoever is recommending the wine has a proven track record in wine education and really knows their stuff. They don't have to be a Master of Wine, but they do need to have had enough experience to be able to make a judgement about the quality of the wine and its provenance.
How do wine awards work?
Wines are generally tasted in huge batches – a wine judge may taste upwards of 100 wines in a day – starting as early as 9am. There are growers who don’t feel that they want to put their high-quality wines through this process which may not be the best way to judge a wine in the first place. “I am so careful about the order of wines I give my clients to taste,” says one well known grower in Burgundy. “It is essential that we consider the fact that one wine can ‘kill’ another, if tasted in the wrong order, or at the least, not show its true potential. I would never enter my wines for competitions, although if independent wine experts choose to rate me then of course I am always delighted!”
Wine in the Press
Some awards garner press coverage and help to promote wine sales and prove a useful tool in the marketing of wines or bringing new wines to the marketplace, but their value as a symbol of quality is not necessarily to be relied on. Wines that have not yet found a distributor in the UK for example will sometimes submit whole ranges of their wines in the hope of attracting an importer. Medals sell wines – particularly on supermarket shelves – where they stand out from the rest.
Wine columns appear in many publications from local newspapers to specialised magazines and websites. It's pretty hard to pick out which of these are in fact sponsored by the wine maker, wine region or wine importer, and which are genuine reviews. Some newspapers have links with their own distributors and clearly the wine column makes a useful way to market these, regardless of their quality.
We tend to note the most prestigious and celebrate every win, but it is not the criteria by which we select our wines. Many, of our growers no longer enter their wines for consideration – for the simple reason that they do not need to. Their wines have sold out before they are harvested to both local and international markets and are sought after by some of the world’s top sommeliers. As a grower in the Loire valley recently said to me, “Why should I spend money and time on competitions, when I barely have time right now to do everything I have to do on the vines – and there is a waiting list to buy my wines.”
As with everything, awards do not come cheap, and it is not surprising to see the same large suppliers often sweeping the board while not necessarily offering the best that the region has to offer.
So how do I choose a good wine?
My advice when selecting a bottle of wine is to look beyond the award. Taste the wines that take your fancy and reach your own opinion about whether it’s something you enjoy. Read books and reviews from trusted experts if you want to find out more, and of course, buy from trusted suppliers, who have already preselected wines that meet their criteria. For us that means wines that are the best quality we can find in that region and price range – and made by people who put the wine first. We drink every single one of our wines ourselves and never include wines that we don’t actually like!
As the price of wine increases due to world economic factors and huge taxation, it’s never been more important to take the time to select wines that tick all the boxes for flavour, balance, style and price and to build your own award system.
In the meantime, here are a few of our most highly praised bottles - all of which are more than deserving of the accolades!