Sarah Abbot: How to choose wine from the shop shelf…

Sarah Abbott 044 web

How do you choose from the hundreds of bottles on that supermarket shelf?

The huge success of wine competitions such as The Decanter World Wine Awards and the International Wine Challenge suggests that a shiny gold medal probably will sway you.

Wine producers pay thousands of pounds to enter their wines into these competitions, and retailers report that bottles sporting one of the coveted gold, silver or bronze medals sell like hot cakes.

But what does a wine have to do to win an award?
We are coming up to wine judging season, when masters of wine, master sommeliers, broadcaster and wine buyers from every continent will gather for 2 intense weeks. We judges meet from 9am in an airy London studio for 6 hours of wine tasting, evaluation and ‘discussion’ (there’s never actually been a fight, but I wouldn’t be surprised).


We taste the wines blind (anonymity prevents any bias or prejudice) at a cracking pace, in groups of 4 judges.

Each wine is scored out of 20: 19 or above is a gold, and is awarded to a tiny percentage of the 1000s of wines tasted. Like Alesha and Amanda, sometimes we do not agree, which is where the ‘discussion’ comes in.

The head judge (none are quite as power-crazed as Cowell) has the final word.

To a civilian we would probably seem to be taking it ridiculously seriously, but these medals are coveted marketing tools that boost sales and have even helped unsigned producers find new importers.

For me, their great value lies in that they can be awarded to even the most obscure and traditional of wine styles, recognizing and rewarding quality and character, and not just a big reputation. So, if you come across a wine you’ve never heard of with a medal stuck on it, please give it a go.

Sarah Abbott is a Master of Wine and director of Swirl Wine Events, which provides wine courses and corporate wine events. Tel. 01234 245533

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