While I'm sure there was lots of great salesmanship extolling the virtues of the different wine producers, it probably wasn't until the creation of Agricultural shows where produce was judged and awarded prizes for excellence, that wines in particular were spoken of in terms of definable quality.
The most famous wine exhibition held in Paris at the request of Napoleon was the 1855 Exposition Universelle where the wines of Bordeaux in France were judged in a quality hierarchal system. This 1855 classification with only one subsequent addition (Chateau Mouton-Rothschild) to the top quality group has remained the same through to today.
In more recent times Wine Shows have been created, especially in Australia, the United States, South Africa and New Zealand, initially as a way of producers to bench-mark themselves against other wines and wineries. As these shows have evolved, they have added significantly to the increase in quality of wines from these regions.
As you would expect, the awards received have been displayed with pride by the wine producers and customers have used the awards as an indicator of quality when purchasing. It would be fair to say that wineries have also used these awards to help increase sales on excellent wines.
With the large number of Wine Shows in New Zealand and the myriad of award stickers adorning bottles, it can be quite confusing on which wine to choose.
Here are a few suggestions:
- One of the most common misconceptions is, "It has a gold medal sticker - I must like it". The Gold Medal shows that the wine is of excellent quality, showing great varietal typicity and having no technical fault. The only person who is able to say whether you will like the wine is you. It does give you a great guide to what the variety looks like and if you haven't tried that variety, this would be a good example of it.
- "Gold Medal wines are always expensive". To achieve the quality of wine necessary for gold medal the wine will have the best quality fruit and wine making behind it, which often translates into a higher price bracket. This however is certainly not always the case, and there are some extremely good examples of reasonably priced gold medal wines. This is where shows such as the New World Wine Awards are superb, as they are designed to provide the consumer with a quality guide to wine under $25.
- "If there is a sticker on the bottle it must be good". In recent years there has been a plethora of “medals” gracing the labels of wine bottles. Some will be showing the results of how the wine has been judged in a wine show where the wines are assessed ‘blind’ by the judges – in this case the judge only knows the grape variety, year of harvest and country of origin, as with the results of the New World Wine Awards show. There are also ‘medal stickers” showing the producer has won awards, the wine company has been making wine for a long time or a wine consultant has tasted the wine and is giving his or her endorsement. Often these stickers will have nothing to do with the quality of the wine in the bottle and will not reflect the rigorous unbiased process wine competitions like the New World Wine Awards determine the quality of wine. Not all stickers are equal: it always pays to read the sticker label and make sure it is reflecting the quality of the wine in that bottle..
- Nearly all wine shows in New Zealand are judged on the International 20 point scale or 100 point scale. The standard is kept the same for all shows, so a Gold medal wine in the Air New Zealand Wine Awards or the Royal Easter Show will have been judged to the same standard as a Gold medal wine in the New World Wine Awards (and often by the same judges).
How the points are allocated
Points are allocated to different features and wines may get a different score in different competitions. The majority of wine shows and competitions worldwide use either the international 20 point scale or 100 point scale to score wines. The points allocated in wine competitions are based on the consensus decision of the three judges that make up a judging panel.
The New World Wine Awards now uses the 100 point scale which is widely used in Britain, the United States, Asia and is becoming popular in New Zealand. There is no difference in the way medals are allocated or judged, but the 100 point scale is more intuitive for wine lovers to follow and understand.
Each panel member judges the wines independently and arrives at a score out of a possible 100 marks. The marks are allocated on the basis of a possible 15 marks for colour, 35 marks for aroma and smell and 50 marks allocated for taste, finish and overall quality. In reality the wines are scored out of the 25 points (75 - 100) as a wine scoring under 74 points would be considered so badly faulted as to be undrinkable.
The judges are presented with wines pre-poured in numbered glasses. The only information they have on the wines is the variety, year (vintage) and in some cases the country of origin.
Once the three panel judges have individually scored the wines, the panel then sits down as a team and discusses each individual wine regarding its final mark. In most instances the wines will have been allocated a similar mark by each of the judges, requiring little discussion on the final consensus mark.
While the judging of wine is subjective, judges try to remove any influencing components as much as possible. The only reference is the wine in the glass. They are looking for a quality standard, so in some cases no Gold medals will be awarded in a class or in other cases there may be several.
Where a judge scores a very high mark, the wine is re-tasted and the merits deliberated on to give a final score. The marks are awarded in full marks and medals are allocated based on the score.
For a wine to achieve a Gold medal, it must score 95 or above out of 100 points. Silver medal wines are between 90 points and 94 points and Bronze medal are between 85 points and 89 points. The difference between gold and bronze medals can be as little as 6 pts!
Why can the same wine get a different medal in different competitions?
While the wines are judged to the same standard in all competitions, there will always be variations, as ultimately the final result is a consensus decision of all three judges. For example, in one show two judges may think the wine is of high silver standard while the other judge sees it as gold medal and the final consensuses medal awarded is silver. The same wine may be regarded in another show as a gold medal after two judges see it as gold and one sees it as silver.
Wine is an evolving product and is susceptible to change with age. For example, a just bottled wine can be quite closed and unpleasant, yet after a month in the bottle, have evolved from the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. Some wines improve with age while others become tired and disagreeable. One of the fun parts of wine collecting is to try the same wine over several months or even years and track its evolution.
Judging is all about how the wine presents in the glass on the day. To ensure all wines are treated the same and the highest industry standards are upheld, the New World Wine Awards is run to strict protocols presided over by the Chair of Judges, Jim Harré, and the Chief Steward, Shona White.
·“If there is a sticker on the bottle it must be good”. In recent years there has been a plethora of “medals” gracing the labels of wine bottles. Some will be showing the results of how the wine has been judged in a wine show where the wines are assessed ‘blind’ by the judges – in this case the judge only knows the grape variety, year of harvest and country of origin, as with the results of the New World Wine Awards show. There are also ‘medal stickers” showing the producer has won awards, the wine company has been making wine for a long time or a wine consultant has tasted the wine and is giving his or her endorsement. Often these stickers will have nothing to do with the quality of the wine in the bottle and will not reflect the rigorous unbiased process wine competitions like the New World Wine Awards determine the quality of wine. Not all stickers are equal: it always pays to read the sticker label and make sure it is reflecting the quality of the wine in that bottle.