Why It’s Hard to Win a Medal at the London Wine Competition
The only way one can assess how good a wine is, is by its price, its look in terms of packaging and its quality.
If you scratch below the surface of most international wine competitions then they are all very similar. Wines are tasted in panels, blind, by style or by country and region. The competing wine is usually placed in a sample bag, the wine is poured out into tasting glasses, they are then assessed, and scored, with any winning wines given an appropriate medal. And that’s it.
Which all sounds fair enough. But it’s not how the average person buys a bottle of wine in their local supermarket, wine store or in a restaurant. The only way they can assess how good a wine is, is by its price, what it looks like in terms of the bottle, packaging and label design and what you might already know in terms of the grape, style or region and country where it is from. You will usually only get a chance to taste it once you have bought it.
Which is where the London Wine Competition comes in and why it is starkly different from the majority of wine competitions held around the world.
Yes, the wines are all tasted first blind by a panel using the same process set out above, but with a key difference. The only part of the score is given for how the wine tastes. The rest of the wine’s final score is based on how much the wine costs, what value for money it offers, and then, crucially, what the wine looks like in the bottle. How good and effective is the overall design, packaging and label and how in keeping is it with the quality of the wine at that price point.
All those factors come into consideration when deciding what scores are then given to the wine with a value for money score out of 25, a packaging score out of 25 and a quality score marked out of 50. To strike Gold you will need to score 90 points and more, Silver is 76-89, and Bronze 65-75.
A very different approach indeed.
Then you have the judges. The London Wine Competition has set out to mix up its judging panels to ensure the wines are assessed both through the eyes of professionals and the trade, with a particular focus on working with Masters of Wine and getting their independent assessments of what they think.
These judges are then joined by those who have their feet on the ground. The professional wine buyers for both the on and off-trades that have day-to-day commercial responsibility for buying wine. Including buyers for major supermarkets, wine merchants and specialist off-trade stores as well as leading sommeliers, Master Sommeliers and restaurateurs. Buyers who are talking to consumers every day of the week and watching what types of wine they buy when they are in their local supermarket or out for dinner.
So to win through a wine must impress a supermarket buyer, a sommelier, and a Master of Wine all at the same time. It certainly creates lively discussion, as each judge brings slightly different skills and assessments to the table. It’s also about looking at the wine in context to where it is being sold and where it has come from.
Three stage process
But, by ensuring each wine has to go through three stages - the value, the design and the quality tests - it means it has an equal and fair chance of success, based on the same criteria that the average shopper or dinner would choose.
A wine, for example, might shine because of its quality in the glass, but it could slip away from winning a Gold, or a medal at all, if the packaging or bottle it comes in does not match that quality, and the overall wine does not offer value for money.
Take Kasia Konys-Pieszko, LWC judge and wine buyer at Dunell's Premier Wines in Jersey. She says she is looking for the wine to fully demonstrate the varietal it is made from and that then is reflected in how modern and relevant the packaging and design is. “Visibility on the shelf is as important as the quality,” she adds.
Master Sommelier, Mathias Camirelli, who took part in the judging for the 2018 awards says a wine’s label design is critical to its chances of success. “It also brings credibility to the product we are offering to the consumer and what our suppliers are offering to us.”
Finding wines that offer good value for money is an essential part of his job says Julien Sarasin, head sommelier at Club Gascon, and LWC judge. That is ultimately what his customers want out of a bottle of wine and they will often trust his, and the restaurant’s advice to choose them the most suitable bottle. Having a reputation for offering quality, but good value and fair priced wine are essential, he adds.
Which is very much at the heart of what the London Wine Competition is all about.
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About the Author
Richard Siddle is an award-winning business editor with over 25 years of experience working across a number of fields including computing, FMCG, grocery and convenience retailing, travel and for the last 10 years wine and spirits. He spent much of that time as editor of Harpers Wine & Spirit where he was widely recognised for having turned one of the UK’s oldest publications into an agenda-setting, must-read for the drinks industry.