So, the Olympics are finally upon us. Cue collective deep sighs or whoops of unbridled joy. Athletes from all over the world are in London for one thing and one thing only: to win a medal.
I fear I got Olympics fatigue a couple of years ago, peaking far too early. Indeed, there’s been so much blooming fuss about the Games over the past few years that I’m not sure I’ll be that glued to the telly after all. I have decided, however, to show solidarity by drinking nothing but medal-winning wines for the duration. At the very least it might help the 20 or so days go by more quickly.
For athletes, of course, the Olympic Games is the big one and to win a medal is everything, despite the plethora of other international competitions. If you win Olympic gold you’ve made it – and if you don’t, you haven’t.
Just ask long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe. She’s won the London Marathon, New York Marathon, Chicago Marathon; she’s a world record holder; a world champion over several different distances; a European champion and a Commonwealth champion. By any standards, Radcliffe is a remarkable athlete. But she’s never won an Olympic medal, and many see this as a major blot on her CV. It really rankles with her, too, apparently.
When it comes to wine, however, the suspicion is that producers are far too ready to crow about any wretched medal they might win. After all, there are just so many being lobbed out. For example, I have just googled a rather nice California wine I know that lists all the medals it has won. These include accolades from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the Michigan State Fair Wine Competition, the LA County Fair Wine Competition, the Riverside International Wine Competition, the Long Beach Grand Cru Competition, the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, the Tasters Guild International Wine Competition, the Temecula Wine Competition, the Women’s Wine Competition and the Albuquerque and Urban District Wheeltappers and Shunters Wine Fair. Actually, I made that last one up.
The point is that there is no mention at all of the world’s three most highly regarded wine competitions, namely: the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC, founded 1969); the International Wine Challenge (IWC, 1984); and the Decanter World Wine Awards (2004).
There are other serious but rather more regional wine competitions – such as those of Paris and Brussels – but just as the Olympics is the competition that counts for athletes, so the big three are the ones that count for wine. They might have slightly different rules and judging criteria, but along with chemical analysis and so on, all three are based on rigorous blind-tasting and re-tasting by experts.
They might charge producers to enter their wines, which can put off the small operators, and they might hand out an awful lot of medals, but it’s rare to find a duff wine that has been thus honoured.
However, the really tip-top producers rarely enter their wines – no need for Château Lafite et al to bother, really – but there are plenty of serious producers who do.
Villa Maria, for example, always enters, usually wins and makes a point of announcing its successes.
It is proud of being New Zealand’s “most-awarded winery”. And why not? I’ve never had a poor bottle from VM and if this is the way the company benchmarks its wines against others from around the world, then good luck to it.
Most of us buy our wines from supermarkets and it can be tricky working out which ones to buy, what with all the ghastly “twofers” and BOGOF deals. Not a bad thing, then, if a medal sticker on a wine label catches your eye.
The wine might not prove to be the most amazing you’ve ever had, but you can be sure that it has been tasted and re-tasted by impartial experts with no axe to grind and, at the very least, it will be a pretty decent example of its region, style or grape variety.
And it’s not just the wines that get the plaudits, but the wine merchants, too. The Wine Society, for example, is the current (2011) Decanter Wine Merchant of the Year; the IWC Merchant of the Year and the IWC Wine Club of the Year, and rightly so.
There are few nicer ways of buying wine than through the Wine Society and its list is impossible to fault. If such accolades bring the Wine Society to a wider audience, then it can only be a good thing.


2011 Tesco Finest* Nero d’Avola Rose (£7, Tesco) IWSC silver medallist.

The Society’s White Burgundy £7.50, The Wine Society) exemplary stuff from IWC and Decanter Merchant of the Year.

Costieres de Nimes (£11, Yapp Bros) Stylish, spicy red; gold medallist in Paris.

2010 Terrazas Selection TorrontÉs (£8.50, Wine Rack) Scrumptious Decanter trophy-winner from Argentina.

2009 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir (£16, Sainsbury’s) Silky-smooth IWC gold winner.

2010 Seifried “Sweet Agnes” Riesling (£14 per 37.5cl, Waitrose) Decanter gold for New Zealand