Award-Winning Wines: How Are They Judged?

What makes a wine an award winner? Learn about criteria used in judging wine, the most prestigious wine awards, and how to taste wine like a wine professional.

What Makes A Wine An Award Winner?

Award-Winning Wines: How Are They Judged? |

Each year there are dozens of wine competitions held around the world. But the largest and most prestigious is the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) held in London each June. Top wine experts from around the world gather to taste and judge as many as 15,000 entries from more than 45 countries. 

If you’ve ever enjoyed a wine that was a designated award winning wine, you’ll probably be interested in knowing how the wines are judged and by whom.

What Criteria Is Used To Judge A Wine?

Award-Winning Wines: How Are They Judged? |

Wine experts judge wine in “blind competitions,” meaning they are unaware of the vineyard from which a wine comes. They also do not know a wine’s brand or country of origin. This allows for objectivity. Wine judges do know the varietal of wine they’re tasting, the year the grapes were harvested, and sometimes, the price category of the wine. 

Wines submitted for the DWWA competition are categorized by country, region, color, grape, style, vintage, and price. In this way, each wine flight is judged against its peers. 

Once the wine has been categorized, nonjudging staff pour the wine into identical glasses, which are coded for behind-the-scenes referencing. This helps to identify the award-winning wine after the judges reach their decision. The wine is then delivered to the judging tables.

The Judging Process

Award-Winning Wines: How Are They Judged? |

Wines are judged on color, clarity, aroma, bouquet, taste, after taste, and overall quality. Typically, sparkling and white wines are judged first, followed by Rosé, red, and dessert wines. When a varietal has a range of sweet styles like a Riesling, they are tasted from dry to sweet.

Judges taste each wine individually, never swallowing but always spitting the wine into a container. They may follow this with a palate cleanser such as water or unsalted crackers. Following the tasting, judges make recommendations for medal recipients and compare notes with one another.

Judging in the DWWA competition is performed in rounds. In the first round, judging panels compare notes with one another and retaste potential Silver and Gold medal winners to ensure consistency. Before making a final endorsement, the judges will taste the Gold medal winners a third time.

Award-Winning Wines: How Are They Judged? |

The second round is the Platinum round. Judges retaste Gold-medal winning wines that have been recategorized by grape and style. In this round, the judges are aware of the origin of the wine, including country, region, subregion, grapes, vintage, and price.  The winning wines are promoted to Platinum medals and wines that are priced below $20 are awarded the “Value Platinum” medal.

In the final round, judges retaste all the Platinum winners to determine “Best in Show,” the ultimate distinction at the DWWA competition.

How To Taste Wine Like A Pro

Award-Winning Wines: How Are They Judged? |

Wine experts and sommeliers utilize their senses of sight, smell, taste, and texture when tasting wine. Here’s how you can taste wine just like a pro. 

First, look at the color of the wine. If it’s red, is it translucent or opaque? If it’s white, is it almost clear or is there a golden tint to it? Swirl the wine to coat the inside of the glass. This layer of wine will increase the wine’s evaporation rate and intensify its perfume. Follow this by smelling the wine to help you sense how it will taste. Take a large sip and swirl it around the inside of your mouth to coat every surface.

This helps you determine the wine’s taste and texture while giving you a stronger impression of the flavor and feel of the vintage. Hold the wine in your mouth for a few seconds. If you were judging a wine, you would spit it out at this time, but if you’re simply trying to get the most enjoyment out of your wine, you should swallow. 

Who Are Wine Judges?

Wine judges are experts from a variety of professions. Some are winemakers while others are wine writers. Many are sommeliers, educators, restaurateurs, and even wine retailers. All wine judges are passionate about wine and winemaking and typically have some professional encounters with wine on a daily basis. 

Wine Competition Awards And Medals

Award-Winning Wines: How Are They Judged? |

In the DWWA competition, there are various levels of medals awarded. From Bronze to Platinum to Best in Show, a wine must earn a specific number of points and meet certain criteria to earn a defined level of distinction. 

Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals

Wines that are awarded a Bronze medal earn between 86 to 89 points and are described as “a well-made, sound, and satisfying wine.” Silver medal winners score 90 to 94 points and are considered “a high-quality wine of excitement and personality.” Those who win the Gold medal obtain 95 to 96 points and are labeled “an outstanding and memorable wine” by the judges.

Platinum Medals

Gold medal winners are retasted, and if they earn between 97 to 100 points, they are promoted to Platinum medal winners. 

Best in Show

Judges will taste all Platinum medal winners one final time and from there name one as the “Best in Show.” This is the highest accolade a wine can achieve at the DWWA competition. 

What Does An Award Mean?

Award-Winning Wines: How Are They Judged? |

For the winemaker, winning an award offers their wine and their brand a distinctive level of prestige and esteem. For the consumer and wine drinker, an award conveys the message that the bottle they’re purchasing has been deemed of the highest quality by some of the best experts in the industry. It also tells them to expect a wonderful treat when they uncork that bottle.

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