Wine competitions have had something of a bad press in the last few years with the perception that they are little more than a profile-raising, money making exercise in which the only loser is the consumer. The "anti-competition" argument goes something like this: cynical competition organisers hand out too many medals to undeserving wines simply to encourage more entrants and increase their income from entry fees. The wine-makers benefit as they get to put a medal sticker on their wines and maybe get a little extra shelf-space from the supermarket and the poor consumer is duped into thinking an overpriced ordinary wine is something special.
I think this is a journalistic distortion, or at least selective exaggeration, of the underlying truth; for sure, medals help a wine stand out on a supermarket shelf but the International Wine Challenge has, for example, amongst its judges, 370 winemakers, merchants and writers from around the world, including an number of Masters of Wine, and a rigorous, multi-stage judging process. You may not agree with what the judges consider to be a good, excellent or even best-in-class wine, but a medal is no guarantee that you will actually like a wine, only that it is a good-to-excellent example of that type of wine.
This year, 45,000 wines were entered into the International Wine Challenge and only a select few won one or more trophies. The blind tasting at the Cambridge Food and Wine Society included a sample of the trophy-winners, including the Champion Red Wine, Runner-Up Red Wine and (a popular one on the night) the Great Value Champion Sweet Wine.
There were also the usual few curve-balls, such as the Greek White Trophy wine and the International Viognier Trophy wine.
As usual, the tasting was done blind, with Society members invited to hazard a guess at the country of origin, main grape variety, vintage, alcohol content and price. This made for plenty of discussion and some surprising results. It is worth pointing out that the highest score achieved on the night was a shade over 50%, so there is clearly no GCSE-type dumbing down here !
Most of the wines are available at local independent wine merchants such as Noel Young (who garnered a couple of merchant accolades himself) and Cambridge Wine Merchants, whilst others are more generally available at Waitrose, Tesco, M&S and Majestic.
With, apparently, 40% of all wine being bought between September and Christmas, the list below would make a good Christmas shopping list if you are looking for something special for the festive season.
Tim Adams Riesling, 2008 (Australia, £8.99, Tes, 3 trophies)
Domaine de Bel Air, 2008 (Pouilly Fume, £13.99, CWM, NY, trophy)
Laurent Miquel Verite Viognier, 2007 (Languedoc-Rousillon, £13.99, Wai, 2 trophies)
Ktima Biblia Chora Ovilis White, 2008 (Greece, £17.50, NY, trophy)
Vinedos Emiliana Carmenere / Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (Chile, £7.99, NY 2 trophies)
Bodegas y Vinedos Pascal Toso Malbec, 2008 (Argentina, NY, £7.99, 5 trophies)
Guardian Peak, Lapa Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (South Africa, NY, £16.95, 4 trophies)
Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, 2004 (Haut Medoc, Maj £12.99, trophy)
Matetiq EQ Syrah, 2007 (Chile, Maj, NY, £18.49, 3 trophies)
Weingut Darting Scheurebe, 2005 (Germany, M&S, £14.99 trophy)
CWM - Cambridge Wine Merchants
Maj - Majestic
M&S - Marks and Spencer
NY - Noel Young Wines
Tes - Tesco
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/
Noel Young Wines - http://www.nywines.co.uk/
International Wine Challenge - http://www.internationalwinechallenge.com/