Medalling with wine shows

The source of endless debate within wine circles is the value and accuracy of wine shows. When judges may be tasting around 100 wines or more a day in a typical show, can the results really be very accurate? And how can the results of one show be so different to those from another?

Here in New Zealand, wine shows are an evolution from the competitions at local A & P shows where farmers and growers brought their produce to town to be rated by their peers. Wine shows strive to be impartial and remove subjective factors from influencing the results. Wines are tasted ‘blind’, which means the judges cannot see the label, they typically only know the vintage and grape variety they are tasting. So all they have is their eyes, nose and palate to rate the quality, score the wines and therefore award medals.

According to Belinda Jackson, Group Marketing Manager at Lawson’s Dry Hills and co-founder of the Marlborough Wine Show, “It can be a bit unpredictable. A wine which scores a gold at one show may only score a silver at another.”  Yet wine shows do add credibility to a particular wine and, in a broader sense, to entire regions.  Wine Marlborough stated, when they took over the Marlborough Wine Show, that the show plays an important role in developing the reputation of Marlborough wine.

So too for wine producers. Wine shows play an important role in helping build reputations. The Lawson’s Dry Hills family of wines has performed extremely well in recent shows, achieving nine gold medals and three trophies during October! The company’s Blind River is looking like it will have another big year with the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc having already picked up the ‘Antipodes Water Company Champion Sauvignon Blanc’ trophy at the latest NZ Wine of the Year awards (formerly known as the Air NZ Wine Awards). Another standout has been the 2016 Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewürztraminer which won the ‘Riedel New Zealand Champion Gewürztraminer’ trophy for the third year running in the NZ Wine of the Year Awards in addition to its many other accolades.

So what is the value of wine shows from a winemaker’s perspective? Marcus Wright, chief winemaker at Lawson’s Dry Hills, feels the value of shows is more for the consumer. “It can be difficult comparing wines at a similar price and varietal. Medals won at wine shows can help customers choose one from another.”  But speaking as a winemaker it’s a different story.  “I take no real notice of shows as they don’t influence what we do.” He believes there is a randomness about shows that means a wine which scores a medal at one show may come away with nothing at another, while shows often fail to acknowledge truly outstanding wines. “Our Lawson’s Dry Hills 2016 Reserve Chardonnay is the best chardonnay we’ve ever made. It amazes me that it has never won anything until it picked up a gold medal at the Marlborough Wine Show. ”

He also feels that with so many wines being tasted in the one session, chances are it will be the bigger wine styles which stand out. “If you want to be successful at shows, you’d possibly be chasing bigger alcohols, less subtlety and that’s not what we’re about.”

Despite all the variables, the team at Lawson’s Dry Hills are actually rather chuffed to have enjoyed so much success at wine shows recently both here and abroad. Of course, the judges that we truly care about are the wine-loving consumers – those thousands of people who pick up a bottle of our wines in their local store, open their wallets followed by their mouths and enjoy the results of what we do.  Their approval is what matters most to us.

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