All That Glitters May Not be Gold

Have you ever bought a bottle of wine with a gold medal sticker on it in preference to one that didn’t have any obvious quality recommendations?

All That Glitters May Not be Gold

Have you every bought a bottle of wine with a gold medal sticker on it in preference to one that didn’t have any obvious quality recommendations?  I bet we all have at some time.
Some of us who work with wine everyday would usually have a good idea on which bottle of wine we want to buy but I know that on numerous occasions overseas I have definitely purchased a medal winning wine, in preference to others, as I may not have known many of the labels and I needed some help in my decision making.  I have been swayed in my choice by the bright and shiny gold medal on the bottle.
Critics of wine competitions will dispute the value of the gold, silver or bronze medals that judges award these days but there is no doubt in that in most instances the wine has been fairly assessed, by people with better palates than the critics, and when we need advice a medal sticker is the most obvious help.
Major wine competitions have no secret agenda when it comes to rating a wine – the judges don’t know which wine it is, they almost always don’t know the value of the wine and all they are concerned with is the quality.  They cannot be influenced by the winemaker or the marketing manager, or the persuasive salesman, or the food, the surroundings or the importance of the occasion.  The only bias they have is a personal preference in the style of wine they prefer.
So there is considerable merit in what wine competitions are offering.  They are helping both the producers and the public.  A gold medal is a gold medal, based on the quality found in that wine in that bottle – or is it.
A recent report from Australia has highlighted some of the issues surrounding medal stickers that are put onto some bottles.  Some of the gold medals that we see on bottles are not actually gold medals at all.
The Australian industry regulators started questioning wine companies several years ago about the continued use of medals on non vintage sparklings.  As there was no direct reference to any particular bottling of the wine, it was common practice for some producers to keep referring to a medal success on a sparkling wine for several years after the original medal was awarded.  Some New Zealand producers were also guilty of this practice but hopefully this doesn’t happen these days.
The same issue can occur with successive bottlings of table wines that have been produced in large volumes but it was encouraging to see one Hawke’s Bay producer refuse to use a silver medal awarded for a Chardonnay at last year’s Liquorland Top 100 when they moved onto another batch of the wine.  The label was the same, but the winery knew the wine was slightly different and no use of the silver medal was made on the second bottling
The issue that been raised in Australia and in New Zealand is the use of medals that on closer inspection, may say all sorts of different things.  Some of the examples that are currently being used which may mislead the consumer are (all looking like medals or trophies)
-          NZ Wine Maker of the Year
-          International Winemaker of the Year
-          Best Australian Producer
-          Consumer Sparkling Wine of the Year
-          Best International Winery
-          120 Years (years of production)
One range of Australian wines carried 3 Trophy awards which all referred to that company being the Most Successful Exhibitor in 3 different competitions – all, some, or none of the wines carrying the bright golden stickers may have actually been in these wine shows.  We even recall a medal sticker that was on bottles from one producer about a decade ago that stated “Gold Medal Quality”. 
Marketing people need to be creative but let’s cut out the extras when it comes to medals.  The bottle carrying that recognisable medal should contain the wine that was put in front of the judges.  The label should be the same one that was entered onto the competition entry form and the consumer, the people who buy the wine, deserve nothing less than 100% honesty.

Take a Tip

The days of investing in large quantities of special wines with the intention of reselling it later at a profit may almost be a thing of the past.  There are rare exceptions but there are just so many new and exciting wines appearing almost daily that a lot of the traditional “cellar for a profit” wines are gone.
The prices for Penfolds Grange are now a lot lower than 4 or 5 years ago and even great vintages such as 1990 do not achieve anything like the heady $450 to $500 that used to be common.
The last great NZ investment wine may have been Te Mata Coleraine 1998. There have been several excellent vintages since 1998 and with more and more wine available the rarity that created interest at auctions has virtually disappeared.  People who traditionally have had 500 plus bottles in their cellars should really look at how the volumes are turning over and perhaps it may be worth drinking or selling a considerable volume of them.  There are just too many “new” great wines being produced and it’s logical to keep moving with the times.
Quite often people’s tastes change and where once you regularly enjoyed great Bordeaux or Burgundy, you may now get as much satisfaction form the better New Zealand Pinot Noirs.  It just may be time to get serious with the wine you have in your cellar.

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