Following the announcement of Wine magazine’s Sauvignon Blanc Top 10, the worth of wine competitions is yet again under debate, but I’m not sure we’re making any progress in terms of how the system (the term used loosely) might be improved.
I would be the first to attest that as wine competitions get bigger and bigger, they become onerous and difficult to judge leading to the possibility that poor results are returned, even when knowledgeable and experience judges are involved.
On the other hand, it is extraordinary how the wine industry defies rationalisation and there are new entrants at all price-points on a seemingly constant basis. As long as the wine market remains so hugely over-traded, there is going to be at least some consumer demand for expert advice when it comes to making a purchasing decision. Of course, high-profile wines and wineries are at liberty to eschew the competition system and avail themselves of other means to communicate their credentials to the consumer, but for less established brands, competition success will always be hugely important.
Presuming “knowledgeable and experienced judges”, I take issue with the line of argument that big line-ups of wines necessarily lead to the most obvious wines being rewarded over those possessing complexity, elegance and finesse. On the contrary, in some instances: most wine enthusiasts would agree that Vergelegen White is something rather special and while it has performed phenomenally well at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show over the years, it could be argued that it is too esoteric, too complicated a proposition in terms of the relationship of quality to price for the broader public to appreciate.
In conclusion, however flawed wine competitions might be, I’m not sure what the alternative is. In terms of making the system more accountable, more transparent, more professionally run, I believe the market will take care of this. There are a plethora of wine competitions, awards and ratings all competing for the most competent judges, the richest sponsor and the most authority among both producers and consumers.
As for which set of results to believe and which not, I think this misses the point. What competitions ought to do is promote change for the better via the endless discussion of wine quality and style. It is ultimately impossible to arrive at any sort of definitive formal ranking – Sadie Family Wines winery of the year in Platter’s 2010, Tokara best performing winery at Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show 2010 and Spier at Veritas 2010 doesn’t mean that one set of judges got it right and the other two got it wrong but rather that you can go out and buy the wines of the three respective producers with a large degree of confidence.