As a Wine Educator, this is one of the busiest – and most interesting -times of my working year but I’ve just run my last tasting of 2017 and so I can relax for a few weeks. This year, that final event featured one of my most popular themes: a contest between wines from Europe against the Rest of the World with the audience voting for their favourites. It’s one that almost always makes for an enjoyable evening.
With the sales figures showing that UK customers prefer wines from the Rest of the World to those originating in Europe, it’s often a surprise to many when I tell them that the tasting is a David and Goliath battle – with Europe, not the Rest of the World, as Goliath. In fact, most years Europe produces around twice as much wine as the Rest of the World and either France or Italy alone turns out more than USA, Argentina and Australia (the 3 largest non-European producers) together. 2017 was a different story but that’s a blog for another day.
The contest this time featured 8 different wines in 4 matched pairs, all tasted blind so that no-one (except me!) knew the identity of any wine. When the votes were added up, the Rest of the World was the narrow winner overall, but Europe put up a fair fight winning one of the 4 rounds and tying in another.
The European success was the delightful, herby, fragrant Stella Alpina Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige in northern Italy (£10.99 – all the wines for this tasting were bought from Majestic), while the ‘Rest’ winners were from California and Chile. The latter, Montes’ Single Vineyard Chardonnay from the cool Casablanca Valley (£8.99) showed a lovely buttery richness and just a hint of vanilla and spice from brief oak ageing.
California’s winner, Majestic’s Parcel Series Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, was the cheapest wine of the evening and a real bargain at £7.49. 5 years old and with all the soft, harmonious flavours that age produces – this is remarkable for the price.
And, indeed, with none of the wines above £11, this tasting showed that, by shopping around you really don’t have to spend a fortune to find winning wines.
I opened a bottle recently displaying a sticker proclaiming that the wine had won a Gold Medal in a certain Wine Competition.
So, how much should that influence you in buying? Or is it just another marketing ploy?
It’s certainly marketing but how seriously you should take the award depends on a number of things. There are many wine competitions all around the world each year and it’s often impossible to know how strong the opposition was, who the judges were and how skilled they were and whether they knew which wines they were tasting (and so might have been influenced by the labels) or if they were tasting ‘blind’?
As a result, with one or two exceptions for internationally recognised competitions, I generally ignore medal stickers – and not just for the uncertainties I’ve already mentioned.
However professional the judging and however strong the competition, medals are the opinion of a small number of people (sometimes just one) tasting the wine on a particular day. Wines that stand out from the crowd – either because they have intense flavours or are in some way different – often attract attention from judges whereas subtle and elegant bottles (which may be far more food-friendly) tend to be ignored. The same applies to wines that open up slowly once in the glass – busy judges may spend just a few seconds on each wine and miss this development. And several weeks (or even months) later when the results go public, the wine itself will have changed – either improving or going past its best. But, perhaps most important of all, do you and the judge have the same likes and dislikes? There’s one judge (who shall remain nameless) whose high scoring wines I carefully avoid!
But, back to the wine that prompted this blog. I already knew it well and have recommended it previously (Hatzidakis’ Assyrtiko from the Greek Island of Santorini, £13.50 from The Wine Society or Waitrose). I knew it was good and was pleased it had been recognised in this way, even though an award from the Thessaloniki Wine Competition may not have the prestige of some!
So, by all means, look at stickers, but there’s so much more important information to help you on a wine label than the fact that it has won a medal.