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Wine competition winners and what the results really mean

How to Drink Better: What do those medal stickers on wine bottles mean and are they reliable indicators of quality?

Q. Should I take any notice of the scores and medals on wine labels?

A. There are a small number of very influential wine writers whose opinions and ratings are sought after by wine afficionados. It all started back in the 1980s when American critic Robert Parker began rating the wines produced by the top Châteaux of Bordeaux — this was unheard of at the time. He used the American 100-point system, widely used by most critics today.

Any wine scoring less than 80 points is considered faulty, wines with 90 points are “outstanding”, and the rare few that receive over 95 are “classics”. Back then, a score from Parker could make or break a wine as wine buyers clamoured to find the wines. Parker has now retired although his magazine, the Wine Advocate, continues. Today there are a few competitors, such as The Wine Enthusiast or James Suckling, who typically have a subscription website.

Wine competitions are held in many countries around the world. Almost all have an entry fee for each bottle and some are money-making operations. Most have panels who taste wines blind or semi-blind, so they may know the grape variety or region but never the producer. The panel awards medals and trophies to their highest-scoring wines. Some award more than others. It is rare to see the bad scores published.

It is important to remember that many of the great producers never enter competitions as they can sell their wine without any assistance from wine critics, so the lack of a score or medal does not indicate a poor wine. It is worth remembering that most wines are never tasted or rated. Studies have shown that wine tasting, either blind or seen, is subjective, not a scientific methodology. Different people taste differently and have personal preferences. Wines rated equally from different regions do not taste the same.


A popular alternative are crowd-sourced rating sites such as Vivino and Cellartracker, where members of the public give ratings and opinions. These have the same advantages and downside as professional sites.

Despite all of the caveats listed above, wine scores and awards can be a useful tool. A wine that wins an award or receives a high rating is unlikely to be awful. Provided you are familiar with the style of wine a region produces, you may uncover a few gems, or at least avoid the duds.