Chatting with Steven Spurrier about the 2011 Decanter Wine Awards

The winners of the 2011 Decanter Wine Awards were announced at the recent London International Wine Fair. I’ve always been vaguely aware of the awards but never really paid much attention to them, I must admit. Oh sure, I would register the Decanter stickers on wine bottles in the shops but it never influenced my buying decisions in any significant way.

Steven Spurrier

That is until I  got the chance to chat with founder of the awards, Steven Spurrier at the LIWF. What I found was that the awards were not devised as some sort of wine trade accolade but were begun as a way for consumers to be assured they were buying quality wines in the marketplace.

Steven pointed out that Decanter is a consumer magazine so it only makes sense that they give out awards that reward not only quality and value for money but also flag wines that might otherwise be overlooked. They look for wines that are the “new kids on the block” and so would be of excellent quality and good value for money at the same time. He sees the awards as the “engine that powers the wine trade, (the awards) are the engine room of the wine trade ship.”I asked him what were the surprises of this years awards and he was very enthusiastic about China (“…they’ve got 5000 years of history, it’s no fluke that they got a gold medal this year, they deserved it”), India (“getting better but no gold medal yet…”) and Thailand and Cambodia (…”extraordinary wine culture. The awards are here to recognize quality at any stage of the game…”). I’d like to point out that I tasted and wrote about the Thai winery GranMonte  a few months ago when I had the pleasure of trying their wines during Bordeaxu en primeur. Their wines won 2 silvers, 1 bronze and 1 commendation in the 2011 Decanter Awards. It won’t be long now before winemaker Nikki Lohitnavy gets a gold, I think.

This year Decanter received over 12,000 entries of which only 1.95%  received a gold medal. The gold medal wines are not only tested once or twice but three times.It’s not uncommon for wines that got through twice to end up on the gold medal room cutting floor on the last day of the judging.

I asked him what is the main aim of the panel of judges when they are judging the wine and he replied that the panel considers each wine in relation to the region, value for money and the quality of the each wine. If a certain wine region comes up with a quality wine, then that region should be recognized, whether it is France or China. The awards are about recognizing quality at every price point from £5 to £20 or more, each wine is judged with other wines of the same price category. Steven feels it’s important to judge wines “like for like”, meaning that the panel has to know what exactly they are judging. Although the judging is blind, all judges are given the maximum information about each wine without telling them what it is or the producer. Steven thinks this ensures that the judges are able to evaluate the wines fairly. They are completely unbiased and never give a wine the benefit of the doubt, each wine must be able to stand on it’s own, every time, for all the judges on the Decanter panel.

If you see a Decanter medal or recommendation sticker on the bottle, you can be sure it has passed through some very rigorous tasting to get that designation. I, for one, will definitely be taking a second look at any bottles of wine with the Decanter sticker on it.

3 Comments

  1. With the DWWA, Decanter can claim to be THE wine rating agency, bringing a fair and accurate judgement about the quality of wine. Very much like Moody’s is doing with the rating of issuers of debt !

    We at Tenuta RISECCOLI are honoured to have received a Gold Medal for our Piccolo Verdot, a 100% monovarietal from central Tuscany which has focused the attention of the wine world to our family-owned winery. We are clearly grateful to Stephen for his contribution to the commercial success of our wines, as a result …

  2. Did you ask him the questions I told you too? About Alan Rickman and moustaches and his accent?

    *sigh*

    Decanter wine awards are weird ones.

    • The answers are off the record ;)

      I thought it was quite interesting the whole process, will definitely take a second look at wines with the sticker on them.

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