Untangling Wine Competitions: What Wine Medals Reveal About Quality

When standing in front of the shelves in the supermarket, one is sure to come across Swiss wines adorned with golden or silver stickers. What do these awards mean? And do the winners of wine competitions taste better than those without a medal?

©Grape Things
Friday 15 Mar 2024 Tasting

Buying a bottle of wine at the last minute is sometimes easier said than done. The selection in the store seems endless – how does one even decide? Golden or silver stickers provide relief: they indicate that the wine in question has performed well in a competition.

However, these medals are not such a clear quality seal. In Switzerland and abroad, there is an overwhelming number of awards and honours. And not every competition has the same reputation.

When winemakers want to enter a wine into competition, they must pay a fee, which can quickly amount to over 100 Swiss francs. At the competition, a panel of experts tastes the wines "blind," meaning they do not know the producer or the wine's region of origin. The jury members evaluate aspects such as appearance, aroma, and taste of the wine.

Not all wine competitions are reputable

In Switzerland, all competitions adhere to the guidelines of the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV). Based in Dijon, France, the association represents the interests of viticulture in currently 50 member states across all continents. It is responsible for research and technification, sets standards, and provides recommendations for wine production.

The OIV recommends limiting the number of medals to 30 percent of participants. This means that after a competition, up to one-third of the wines can be adorned with a sticker. However, there are less reputable awards where more than half of the submitted wines receive an award.

Some competitions target local or national participants, while others have an international field (e.g., Concours Mondial de Bruxelles or Decanter World Wine Awards). There are awards focused on a single grape variety (e.g., Mondial du Chasselas or Mondial des Pinots) and those with a wide range of categories (e.g., Grand Prix du Vin Suisse).

Medals are awarded based on a certain score: if a wine achieves at least 82 points, it receives silver; gold is awarded from 85 points, and the so-called "grand gold" from 92 points.

Medals can provide guidance

But beware: they should not be confused with ratings or labels. Ratings are evaluations, rarely "blind," given by wine critics or journalists (e.g., Robert Parker). Labels such as IP-Suisse, Bio-Knospe, Demeter, or Vinatura provide information primarily about the production of the wine and less about its taste quality.

So, for those feeling overwhelmed in front of the wine aisle, relying on medals for decision-making is acceptable. However, they are not the sole indicator of high quality. Some Swiss winemakers never participate in competitions, even though they produce top-quality wines. Ultimately, wine remains a matter of taste: what pleases one person may not necessarily please another.

Overview of competitions supported by Swiss Wine

National Competitions

  • Grand Prix du Vin Suisse: Organized by Vinum magazine and the Vinea association, this competition annually honors the best Swiss wines and their producers.

  • Mondial du Chasselas: Since 2012, the association for the promotion of Chasselas annually honors the best Chasselas wines in the world.

  • Mondial du Merlot & Assemblages: A major wine award for producers, retailers, and importers of wines made from the Merlot grape or blends with Merlot, organized by Vinea.

  • Mondial des Pinots: The Vinea association organizes the only competition dedicated solely to wines made from the Pinot grape variety.

International Competitions

  • Concours Mondial de Bruxelles: This international competition is divided into four different tastings to ensure each wine is evaluated appropriately and professionally.

  • Decanter World Wine Awards: At this prestigious competition, leading wine experts from around the world in London evaluate over 17,200 wines annually.

  • Sélection Mondiale des Vins Canada: The largest international wine competition in North America is among the most prestigious awards in the world.

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