Gold Medal? So What!

Walking through town today I passed a pub advertising “Award Winning Wines” and I wondered whether anyone has ever looked at this and thought “Award winning eh?  I’ll pop in for a glass!”
I suppose some see a certain reassurance from a medal on a bottle, but (remember the Emperor who placed such trust in the opinions of others that his new clothes showed him to be a fool?) placing exclusive trust in wine awards can be misguided.  Why are we so frequently unprepared to make our own minds up?
In 1980 the Olympic Games were held in Moscow.  The previous year Soviet troops had marched into Afghanistan and the United States decided they didn’t want to play, along with Japan, West Germany, China, the Philippines, Argentina and Canada.  The UK supported the boycott but said its athletes could compete if they so wished.  Allan Wells competed won the men’s 100m fast running thingy.  He has a gold medal to show for his efforts but I’ve often wondered whether he would have won had the Yanks turned up?  This is purely hypothetical of course; on the day he was the fastest man in the world and nobody can dispute that.
Wine competitions are different in that so much is subjective but, like Allan Wells, wines can only compete against the other entrants and there are thousands of wine producers who don’t go anywhere near the competitions for very good reasons.  One producer’s response was to say “I already sell all the wine I make and I have a loyal following.  Why would I want to enter a competition?  If my wines do well I increase demand yet I cannot make any more wine.  All I will do is annoy my existing customers. It’s a waste of time and money for me.”
Other producers believe (correctly) that they make wines of such individuality that they would probably not be understood by the competition judges.  Is this why mass-produced “commercial” wines win so many awards? They certainly seem to dominate the entries, they do not tend to create strong opinions one way or the other, which means that hardly anyone actively dislikes them and they would welcome any increase in demand because it’s easy enough to let the tap on the end of the production pipe run off a few more thousand cases.
I was once asked if I would be interested to join the judges of a major wine competition but it transpired that I was required to attend a course to make sure that I came to the same conclusions that the other judges did.  I thought this would be unwise for someone who had been in the trade as long as I had when what they really wanted was more of a blank canvas to “clone”.  I thought my Mother-in-Law would be a good choice.
One skill that we should all develop is the ability to differentiate between that which we like (or dislike) and that which is good (or poor).  I recall having a major disagreement with a trade customer once who simply could not grasp this difference, pronouncing one of our wines as “disgusting” (which is certainly wasn’t) instead of recognising that she just didn’t like it (not the same thing at all).  This concept applies to many things in life as well; theatre, music, writing, food, even people.  The pub that this lady ran eventually went out of business, so it wasn’t just that I didn’t like her…
I have a lot of time for people with opinions of their own.  This is largely because they have obviously thought about something deeply enough to formulate an opinion.  I can disagree with them if I so wish, but at least the way is clear.  It should be the same with wine but so frequently drinkers end up with characterless alcoholic fruit juice because that is what the producer (and frequently competition judges) find least inoffensive.  It’s so much better to have wines with strong personalities that force you one way or another towards either total admiration or a preference for something else.  Only with wines like this will drinking them be truly memorable.  After all, what fun is there in you constantly drinking hooch that someone else says is good without knowing why?
We reckon every wine in our shop is good, but we would not guarantee that everyone will like them all.  But that’s the fun of it!

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