Winery awards and medals – The Best Wines

By Philip Arlidge

the best wines and wine awards

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Tags: Wine. Awards. How to pick the best wines. Champaign. Chardonnay. Wine Medals


In a past article we briefly touched upon the medals you see on the bottles which you would think would give you some idea of the quality of the wine you are buying and give you more confidence in your purchase.

There are numerous shows around the country and the outside world and it depends on the commercial value of the show as to which one the company enters, for instance in the 1970’s Kaiser Stuhl entered their Rose into The Montpellier wine show and The Ljubijana wine show, both unknown in Australia, and won so many medals the wine became marketed as Kaiser Stuhl Gold Medal Rose and had the medal on the label which was quite a marketing coup for its time, the wine became an enormous seller for the company.

As an example, if the winery is trying to impress on the world stage it may be appropriate to enter shows in China, Japan, The United States and Europe and you will find these medals also displayed proudly on the domestic bottles along with local achievements. Every State has a show for all Australian wineries and many now have a separate show for local wines, the wines are entered into many categories such as style, winery production, which satisfies large and small wineries, red wines, white wines, sparkling and fortified wines.

It is possible to have over twenty different categories but a wine can only be entered into one. Points are awarded by a team of neutral judges comprising usually of winemakers, wine columnists, retailers and people who have a very good understanding of wine quality. There are two judging systems which basically cover the same areas involving colour, smell and taste, one system marks the wines out of twenty points and the other system marks out of 100.

With the twenty point system, 3 points are awarded for colour (anything less than 3 points here and the wine goes no further) 7 points for smell and 10 points for taste. The points are totalled up and 15.5 points to 16.9 receive a bronze, 17 points to 18.4 a silver and 18.4 and over a gold. The other system is 85-90 a bronze, 90-95 a silver and 95+ a gold. In theory every wine entered can win a gold medal, and that would be thousands at most State wine shows, but that is highly unlikely to happen, however there is only ever one trophy awarded in each segment and that is to the highest gold medal, if no wine in the segment wins a gold medal no trophy is awarded.

There is a cost for each wine submitted and a plain label is supplied by the show so the judges have no idea which winery they are looking at. There is, however, one show, The Sydney International Wine Show, that judges the wines alongside food which is very interesting.

I was fortunate to have been invited to the show lunch a few years ago where each of the trophy winners was presented at the lunch alongside the dishes they were judged with and the guest speaker was d’Arry Osborn of d’Arenberg. A great afternoon was enjoyed by all, the gold medals awarded are distinctive for this show being blue (if that makes sense), either a single or double blue gold.

Consumers should note that when a small winery wins an award the medal will probably have been won by a bottle picked out of the stock in the warehouse, however with the large wineries many barrels are ploughed through to find the very best and this is the wine that is submitted to the show and after blending all the barrels the finished wine would probably not quite be up to the original.

Over the years there have been some wineries that have put medals on the labels in a gold or silver colour with words such as “Family Owned Winery” or as I have seen recently on a couple of the larger companies “ 5 Star James Halliday Winery” which of course means nothing about the wine in the bottle.

A good way to learn more about wine is to attend one of the wine evenings held by outlets such as The Surf Club, Pacific Harbour Country Club and I am sure the New Hotel at Sandstone will also be involved. However remember these usually promote one range at a time for a particular supplier, usually with a representative from the winery or winemaker, often the sales representative who calls on the outlet, but at the end of the evening there is often an opportunity to purchase any wine you have enjoyed and at a special price for a quantity buy.

the best wines and wine awards

If the presenter is good there will be some educational content especially when winemakers are involved but from my experience, they often get too technical and many like to hear the sound of their own voices and the evening become tedious!

In the beginning of the 1800’s The Australian Wine Industry was developed by Doctors who used wine for medicinal purposes for their patients and German Immigrants who were then followed by The Italians. Wineries such as Angove’s, Penfold’s and Lindeman’s were all started by Doctors and literally grew to be the powerhouses they have become today, in fact, Angove’s are still an independent family operation has survived since 1886, although they make very good table wines they are better known for making Stone’s Ginger Wine and St. Agnes Brandy.

Now they have adopted trickle irrigation in their Nanya Vineyard in Renmark the quality of their table wines has improved out of sight getting terrific reviews from all of the wine writers. Their “Long Row” Range is well worth seeking out and can usually be found selling for under $10, they have also bought a winery in McLaren Vale which is an absolute stunner, well worth visiting if you are in the area, also by buying grapes from Coonawarra and The Clare Valley they also produce a regional range.

They are also the market leaders in “organic” wines and the future for this family winery looks very rosy or should I say Rose! Many consumers cannot understand why they can buy a bottle of wine for under $5 and see the same variety for $30 or more perhaps the following may explain why.

Lesser expensive wines usually come from massive vineyards and are irrigated by large quantities of water to make the grapes as plump as possible ensuring large quantities of wine is produced but at a thinner quality, they are picked by large machines shaking the vines. After picking the grapes and crushing them the wine juice goes into large stainless steel tanks for fermenting with enough skin contact to develop colour with red grapes or just the juice from the white grapes.

The wine is then released to the market as soon as possible, with the red wines no barrels are used but instead oak chips are put into the stainless steel tanks. With premium wines they usually have very limited irrigation, many have none at all which leads to a more intense flavour, the grapes are hand-picked ensuring no damage to the grapes, and some are crushed using old basket presses or very gentle bag presses.

The juice goes into small fermenters along with the skins for as long as it takes to absorb as much colour as possible. After fermentation the red wines and chardonnay find their way into premium oak barrels of different sizes made from the finest American or French oak costing thousands of dollars each where the wood adds complexity to the wine for anything up to a couple of years.

The barrels are only used for several vintages before becoming attractive flower planters, however, one particular wine is matured in the same barrels as the previous vintage of Grange and that is Penfolds Bin 389 and it’s known fondly as ‘Poor Man’s Grange’ or ‘Baby Grange’.

Here are some of the trophy winners at the 2014 National Wine Show:

  • The De Bortoli 2012 Yarra Valley Section A5 Chardonnay
  • Peter Lehman 2009 Wigan Riesling
  • McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon
  • The Bay of Fires 2014 Pinot
  • Gris DiGiorgio 2011 Lucindale Botrytis Semillon
  • Shingleback 2014 Haycutters Salmon Rose
  • Leura Park Estate 2013 Shiraz
  • Xanadu DJL 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Brookland Valley 2012 Cabernet Merlot
  • West Cape Howe 2013 Tempranillo
  • Domain Chandon 2010 Blanc de Blanc
  • Grant Burge 20-Year-Old Tawny

Mark Twain “A Tramp Abroad” (1880)

The Germans are exceedingly fond of Rhine wines, they are put in slender bottles and are considered a pleasant beverage. One tells them from vinegar by the label.

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A highly successful sales and leadership career working in a number of different and very competitive industries. Engaging with decision makers at all levels in business and government. Three decades employed by corporations, SME businesses in senior roles and almost twelve years operating as a freelance contractor has equipped me well for all aspects of business. Whether leading and mentoring sales teams, or in a direct sales role I enjoy the challenge to meet and exceed expectations. Making a real and tangible difference in either a team environment or as an individual is an important personal goal I have consistently achieved throughout my career. In all of my business and personal dealings over the years there is one issue that stands out above all others - communication. Excellent communication skills creates trust, helps with mutually beneficial outcomes and above all cements long lasting positive relationships. I strive everyday to communicate effectively with the people I encounter.