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On Tasting
What Do Show Medals Mean - Part 1
Friday, 3rd September, 2004  - David Farmer

The medals that a wine has won are a useful buying indicator. Having observed show judging in Australia for 25 years the results are credible. The judging circuit is though as much about marketing wines as it is about improving wine quality. The wine companies have known for years that medals sell wines. Winning the famous Melbourne Show Trophy the ‘Jimmy Watson’ means the wine sells like a rocket.

Of the capital city shows the industry ‘gossip’ has it that the best are Adelaide, Sydney and Canberra. Poor old Hobart probably makes up the rear. Beside the ‘A’ teams that work the capitals there are ‘B’ teams that work the regional shows like Griffith, Cowra, Rutherglen and many others. These ‘B’ team winemakers are very good and would be insulted at being classed lower than the ‘A’ graders. The medals on the wine bottles can come from the capital shows and the regional shows. The judging standards are the same so let’s rate them as equal. And as the number of shows grow the chances of winning a medal somewhere increases; even for a so-so wine. The regional shows do encourage local winemaking excellence and have largely replaced the local wines judging category of the capital city shows. These shows for years had divisions for ‘boutique’ makers which implied they were not as good as large company wines and perhaps were judged to a more lenient standard.

Let us look at Cowra to see how the judging at a regional show takes place. Being local all the local district growers will enter. This weight of local entries means that some will receive a medal. Also for reasons for which are hard to explain the ‘home-town’ advantage applies as judges perhaps ‘will’ some local wines to do well. In turn some medals are reserved for awarding to local wines even though they may not be the overall best in the class. So medals are useful as a buying guide but not all things are equal.

Not content with dressing the bottle with local show results, the marketers may adorn the bottle with awards received from overseas ‘shows’. They take the view, and it is probably correct, that any endorsement from any judging, will help sales and should be on the bottle. The number of shows worldwide is growing quickly and the rule applies that if you enter enough you will finally win something. It was considered a joke, or even bad taste, 20 years ago when Mr. Wolf Blass included medals won at Lubiyana on his bottles. Wolf Blass was a marketing genius and this like so many of his promotional ideas were way ahead of their time.

In summary, a wine with many medals on the label which is selling for a fair price will offer better drinking than a selection you make at random. Complications do though occur in bottling and packaging and do not assume that all or any awards a wine has won will appear on the bottle.

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