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Debunking Wine Awards - Do they even mean anything?

Take a memory trip down the wine section of the supermarket and one thing you would be sure to notice is the stunning number of awards donned on each wine bottle. Ranging from international accolades such as “International Wine Challenge” and “Sommelier Wine Awards” to mere recommendations by “WineNZ Magazine”, how are you supposed to tell one Shiraz apart from another?

To make matters even more confusing, you have wine critics who came up with their own 100-point scores (ahem, Robert Parker…) which has greater influence than some of the International Awards out there. What does this mean to an average wine drinker who simply wants to enjoy a good bottle of wine when every wine bottle seems to be a podium finisher?

Wine Awards : International, Local & Wine Critics 

To walk you through real quick on how wines are being handed out “medals”, wine producers are invited to submit their wines for judging, and a panel of judges will convene for a few days to taste 1,000+ bottles of wine and rank them on a 20 or 100-points system depending on the Australian or American system. If you are having troubles deciding what to have for lunch, imagine ranking over hundreds of bottles in a day!

The next thing you should ask yourself is what does it say on the shiny sticker? In the world of wine, “trophy” and “medal” are worlds apart. A “trophy” is a more prestigious award that is based on the wines being selected from the gold medal wines of the ceremony. Whereas the “medal” is more like a school grading system which categorizes your students into A+, A and B+ students.As we could have guessed, International Wine Awards are more popular with producers all over the world due to the reputation that comes from the stringent judging procedure. For the internationally acclaimed Decanter World Wine Awards, wines are rated on a 100-point system by qualified masters and critics of wine who will review “Gold” (95-96 points) and “Silver” (90-94) medal wines.  Only “Gold” wines can proceed to the next stage to be further tasted and claim its rightful position as “Platinum” and “Best in Show”, the latter being the icing on a multi-layered cake!

Local Wine Awards tend to celebrate the country’s grape and winery. Take New Zealand Wine Awards for example, it first started out when the region of Marlborough (psst, it’s one of the most popular wine regions for Sauvignon Blanc!) was gaining worldwide traction for its Sauvignon Blanc in the 1970s. Today, awards are also given out to different grape varieties and the best regions.

And for the final (and most extra) category, we have the Wine Critics who just can’t help but create their own rating systems. Just like the Decanter 100-point ranking system, Robert Parker (one of many wine enthusiasts) also has a Robert Parker 100-Point Wines scoring. Together with his team of editors at The Wine Advocate, wines are grouped based on style, region and/or grape variety before awarding them with a RP99 (Extraordinary) or 80 (Average).

By now you must be wondering… How many medals are given out at every competition? The Decanter World Wine Awards give out 50 Best in Show medal out of the 16,500 wines being tasted, which goes to show how many more wines are branded as “Platinum”, “Gold” and so forth… This is not surprising either, as wineries display their wine collection in front of judges in hopes of bagging some medals home. 

With that said, our poor judges may face "wine fatigue" from tasting 1000+ wines in a few days and remember that old adage, one man's meat is another man's poison? While the judging framework is defined for most awards, the judging process involves a lot of personal preference on what tastes good and nasty.


96-pointer wine and a simple trophy placed at the top corner of the wine bottle... What do all this mean now? I think it is safe to conclude that at the end of the day, wine is about discovering one's preference which may or may not be aligned with the rankings given by wine experts. 

Perhaps you'd still prefer to trust a guy who has tasted 15,000+ wines over the past 40 years to offer you the best wines, and by the law of probability that should give you a better indication of a spectacular wine. BUT, don't forget that everyone has their own go-to taste profiles! 

So the next time you skip over to the wine aisle thinking of which wine to savour next, do think twice if that award-winning wine in your hands is worth picking out that wallet of yours. If you already have a wine preference, it's always best to go with that as your starting point