Are wine awards purely a marketing exercise?

In this climate of pure “For” or “Against”, I keep foolishly arguing for nuance.

Well, we do fetishize nuance in our wines. Gotta love the balance, structure, little details, etc. So then why not apply the same rigour to the industry as a whole?

Here is something that some of you may already know, but it should be helpful for most:

Wine awards don’t actually award merit.

I know, I know. And the Oscars never go to the best movie that year. And there is no tooth fairy, Virginia.

But lest you think I’m some sort of Wine Align hater, let me explain further.

I’ve actually been a judge at some of these competitions. So even though I'm always theorizing that there must be some backstage payouts going on for certain dull wines to win year after year, I’ve never seen evidence of that. Yet.

Let’s cover some basic facts:

* not all wineries submit their wines to XYZ competition (and % of participation also doesn’t matter -- for example, can you imagine every winery but Synchromesh and Scout submitting rieslings... you would be missing out on two of the best in the country)

* regardless of what is claimed, your palate is BLOWN OUT pretty fast at these tastings, such that only the most aggressive components become noticeable... and don’t just take it from me, here is OG Kermit Lynch in his seminal book Adventures On The Wine Route: "I began to notice that most of the blind-tasting champions in my own cellar remained untouched, because I had no desire to drink them. Just as they had overwhelmed the other wines to win a blind tasting, they overwhelm practically any cuisine.”

* although the major competitions try to bring in new blood from time to time, the sphere of influence gang tends to permeate (which is not nefarious, but does tend toward circular expectations and reasoning which ends up being more about perpetuating a familiar style rather than expanding consumer horizon)

Anyway, at this point maybe you are thinking that since few of the wineries I work with submit or win awards, there may be some (literal and figurative) sour grapes here?

No, I actually think the wine awards do serve a decent purpose in the industry:

That of a marketing exercise and platform.

So the “platinum wowzer universe award” or the “top pinot within a 36.8 kilometre radius” do help propel a narrative between staff and diner, at a pace which the diner demands.

Also wineries love to use such callouts on social posts and emails and tasting room posters, labels, etc.

Which I think is all well and good...

Provided the wine has been vetted along other lines to really ensure it is an interesting, honest, superlative effort worth trying. Then the award tie-in can be the punctuation to the point.

So it’s a tool. And it can be used to educate or to mislead equally.


For my part, I weigh a ton of factors -- alongside the gut-level In The Glass Pleasure -- from the wines I promote:

* healthy and sustainable vineyard practices

* minimal intervention winemaking

* business transparency and general decency of the owners

* small-scale, handmade, personal touches that emphasize a sense of place

But I also try to seek out those lighter, lower-alcohol, more subtle wines that tend to get lost in the shuffle of mass blind tastings (to the detriment of wine lovers all around).

Phew. Off my soapbox now.


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