I happen to have just concluded judging at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards, a tradition going back more than a decade, and each year, when I finish this task, I always introspect about awards and their relevance. The process at Decanter involves panels with three tasters and a panel head. The three on the panel taste flights of wine blind, guided only by grape, region and vintage, and decide what a wine merits. They may, post the tasting of the flight, discuss their scores and maybe even try and reason with others on the panel if they feel that a certain wine may have gotten overlooked or, conversely, been praised more than it was worth. Either way, the discussions are civil, fruitful and help ensure that nothing is left to chance.
Post this, the panel head comes over with his assessment and he/she may or may not change what the jury has already decided. But the head can, if it’s felt, over-ride the panel’s consensus. If the doubt is severe, the wine is further referred to another panel head or maybe even the competition director, Steven Spurrier in this case, who then takes the final call.
It’s a fine line to tread really, to not be too critical and yet not stray into the overtly generous realms. In the end, wines are awarded gold, silver and bronze medals, or are commended. There are others, which are seriously flawed and get nothing and, thankfully, over time, those wines are getting fewer in number.
Consumers will see the sticker on the wines once the results are out, along with the year the wine won. It helps in their buying decisions. After years and years of judging at Decanter (and IWC), I do believe that both of them pack in much legitimacy and even I, as a consumer, would trust them.
But what about other awards? Vinitaly has them, as exists the Concour Mondial. To me, most traditional European wine awards are jaded and need a serious upgrade. The judging process is not constructive and there is little leeway for exchange of thoughts. As a result, I never felt enriched there while judging, while with the IWC and Decanter, the process of learning something new about a grape or a region is very alive.
In India, we have a few awards beginning to take root, but the consumer is not too bothered with medals just yet. Even local wineries (as also importers) see little merit in such because the market remains extremely price-sensitive and, in the end, the wine which sells is usually the one which can offer a better deal to its clients. This is not the healthiest of situations and awards can help remedy, but it takes time. Also, the awards need to be authoritative and, to that end, we need serious judges. Consumers at large or members of local wine clubs aren’t the palates I would trust to tell me what to drink on Friday night. I want sommeliers, F&B professionals, maybe even foreign wine luminaries who can come and add more gravitas to these projects.
In the meantime, should you be travelling aboard and come across stickers on a wine celebrating its victory(/ies), do take a moment to see what and where it won, maybe even take it home and judge it yourself and see if you would have given it an award or not!
The writer is a sommelier