The wine awards season is now over - or just beginning, depending on how you look at it. Over in the sense that the results have been announced. Beginning in the sense that producers and retailers will now be hoping to capitalise on their successes. Press releases have been flowing for months about medals won. And tasting sheets now come dotted with accolades given by the two major awards schemes, those run by Decanter magazine and the International Wine Challenge (IWC).
I wrote here about the IWC awards a couple of months ago. Newly improved under a different panel of judges, they have turned in largely reliable results. And I can say the same about the Decanter awards. Their panel was chaired by Steven Spurrier, and specialist judges, all with international reputations in their field, including Michael Schuster (Burgundy), John Livingstone-Learmonth (Rhône), Andrew Jefford (regional France), John Radford (Spain), and Rosemary George MW (New Zealand).
In both award schemes, the top plaudits go to trophy wines - those that are judged as top of their category - and in both schemes there were around 50. There's no doubt about the value of trophies for major regions, but some seem a bit peculiar. I wonder whether the IWC's Museum Champagne Trophy has much meaning for anyone, given that the winner, Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1983, is sold only by Berry Bros & Rudd (tel: 0870 900 4300, www.bbr.com) for £250 a bottle. But of course, not all categories are so recherché.
In the awards for wine retailers, there was great overlap. Berry Bros & Rudd was named Merchant of the Year in both. Waitrose was best supermarket, and Majestic best on the high street. Berry Bros & Rudd was once again given the IWC's award for best website; theirs is so much better than anyone else's that the IWC might as well not bother with this category. In the Decanter category, online/mail-order wine merchant, The Wine Society (www.thewine society.com) pushed Berry into second place.
Speaking of websites, Decanter's wins hands-down. The awards page of their website (www.decanter.com) is a pleasure to use: easily searched and sorted, it enables you to find exactly what you're looking for. Want to view all Gold medals for Riesling, or for Slovenia (one, if you're wondering), or for sweet wines? Want to know which wines are stocked by your favourite merchant? It takes a couple of clicks. The IWC website, by contrast, is a mess. The only times I tried searching the huge database, my computer went into a total grump of non-cooperation.
There is a certain familiarity in the awards given to retailers. No retailer as big as Berry and The Wine Society can compete with their quality or service, so most years those two will inevitably be battling it out. In the supermarket category, the default setting is for Waitrose to win: their overall quality is simply higher than that of any other supermarket. Booths and Sainsbury's are the two that approach them, and sometimes they do win - Sainsbury's just last year. Given the small size of the field of candidates, I wonder what these particular awards achieve - apart from making the winner feel good and the losers feel bad.
Sainsbury's was runner-up to Waitrose in the Decanter awards this year, and it wouldn't have surprised me to see them win. Their recent London tasting showed a general determination to raise quality in all sectors, and sometimes they succeed brilliantly. Their "taste the difference" range is the best of any supermarket chain, and their online-only offerings go from strength to strength. Three of their goodies are highlighted here, along with the prizes they won. And expect more awards news to follow.
Three from Sainsbury's
Apollonio Rosso Salento 2001 (£50.94 for 6, www.sainsburyswine.co.uk) Tart, tannic power from the sunny south. Equal parts Negroamaro and Primitivo. IWC Gold, richly deserved.
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Pouilly Fumé 2005 (£8.99) Weight, richness and intensity for which you'd expect to pay more. IWC says: Gold medal, French White Wine Trophy.
Côtes-du-Rhône Préférence 2004 (£4.99) Cheap Côtes-du-Rhône isn't usually this impressive. Softly spicy and user-friendly tannins. IWC gave it a nod as Great Value Red, and I agree.Reuse content