If you follow wine news then you may have read about or listened to different opinions about wine reviews and the use of gold, silver and bronze medal stickers on bottles and I think it is a subject worth mulling over and being aware of when you select a bottle from the shelf at your favourite wine retailer.
The discussion has two key themes, wine reviews that have been paid for and the use of gold medal stickers. When it comes to paid for wine reviews there are three clear camps, those who think they are ok, those who think they aren’t and those who have mixed feelings.
I am among those who don’t think they are ok but I do understand why wineries pay to have their wines reviewed and why some wine writers/judges charge for their expertise. Wineries operate in a commercial world and they know that a bottle with a five-star review or a gold sticker on it will sell well while those without a sticker don’t sell as quickly.
Some wine judges are asked to assess many hundreds of wines a year and this takes time so they need to be paid somehow. As the printed media contracts there are fewer opportunities to be paid for writing about wine so one way to earn an income is to charge for their expertise.
Wineries know if they send certain writers or judges a wine for review they will get an invoice for that review and many are very happy to pay the invoice because they can use any positive reviews for marketing, but is it really an independent review?
In my opinion if a judge or writer knows they are being paid by a winery then they are likely to look more kindly at a wine sample because they want to encourage wineries to keep sending them samples and that compromises the integrity of a review.
Then there are the wineries who publish these positive reviews and proudly slap gold stickers all over the bottle to help sell their wines. Some even produce their own gold stickers saying things like ‘established in 1996’ or ‘Highly Awarded Winery’ neither statement says anything about the wine in the bottle and unless you read the fine print on the sticker you are being suckered into perceiving the wine is of gold medal standard.
A winery can also be awarded the high accolade of Winemaker of the Year at a wine show and are entitled to use a gold label declaring that for the next year, however there is nothing to stop them putting that sticker on every bottle of wine they produce even if a wine has never been anywhere near a wine show.
So who is right and who is wrong, the wine writer/judge for charging, the winery for paying, the winery for using gold stickers to promote their wines or the winery promoting the success of one wine on all of their wines?
Well that is for you to decide and hopefully for the industry to set some rules around; wine shows for example could make it a condition that using Winemaker of the Year gold stickers is strictly limited to the wines entered into the show and can’t be used on just any old wine, a wine that may even have been imported in bulk and bottled here with the winery’s name.
Retailers could refuse to stock wines with what I call marketing gold stickers (Winery Established in 1996) and have no relevance to the quality of the wine inside the bottle.
I think some wine writers and judges will continue to charge for their service because that is how they make a living but maybe the wineries should declare they have paid for the review when they use the review in any form of marketing.
Until the industry sorts out a solution that is fair to the consumer then make sure you read the words on a gold sticker next time you choose a bottle of wine.