This is the pdf of an article I wrote for VinCE magazine about this year’s results for Hungary at DWWA ( where I am panel chair)
And for those that don’t read Hungarian, this is the English text.
A gold medal is a gold medal, right? Sometimes it seems that the world of wine competitions hands out gold medals like sweets, but in the same way that winning at school sports day is a long way from winning at the Olympics, not all gold medals glitter in the same way.
I’ve been a judge and more recently panel chair at Decanter World Wine Awards since the very first event. I also judge or have judged at several other wine competitions around the world, using various scoring standards. The pros and cons of entering wine competitions at all should be a different discussion, but with Decanter World Wine Awards cementing its place as the world’s leading wine competition, clearly many wine producers feel the cost of entry is worthwhile. This year’s competition saw entry numbers reach around 16,000 and judges included a fifth of the world’s Masters of Wine along with sommeliers, buyers and journalists (all of whom are checked out for their expertise in tasting, or the country they will taste, before being invited to judge).
In the face of this, it was slightly odd to see Hungary’s number of entries drop to just 102 wines entered and 99 that actually turned up. 65 wines picked up at least a commendation but only 44% got a medal. There were ten golds (and two of these were subsequently upgraded to platinum best in category awards), which was close to a 10% hit rate, compared to the competition’s overall rate of just 3.4% gaining gold and above. It may be that Hungary’s producers are confident that they can sell their wines without medals, or that Decanter doesn’t mean enough to key customers at home or in export markets, or that the costs of entering and shipping wines is prohibitive to wineries feeling an economic squeeze. Or maybe winning Decanter gold medals is just too hard.
This year Decanter changed its scoring criteria, which should make awards a lot easier for consumers (and producers) to understand. After many years of sticking firmly to a 20 point scoring system, Decanter has finally moved to the more widely recognised 100-point system. The grade boundaries for medals have also been set quite high compared to other events – a silver is 90 to 94 points, and a gold is 95 and above. A bronze medal still scores a very respectable 86 to 89 points, and a commended wine is 83 to 85 points (and even at this level it has to be a genuinely commendable wine with positive merit, not just technically sound and free from faults). Compare this to OIV rules (used widely by many competitions) where a gold medal is awarded to any wine scoring 85 or more. Another key difference with Decanter judging is that it is based on consensus between judges rather than averaging marks – so every judge has the chance to argue for a wine where they perceive something special (and we all know how easy it is for subtle wines to be missed in a judging line-up). And any wine that receives a medal score or commendation gets to keep it – unlike in OIV events where there is an arbitrary cut-off so a maximum of 30% of wines can win a medal (which potentially rules out many good wines, especially as wine making gets better).
Full results for Decanter World Wine awards 2016 have now published on-line but I’d like to highlight some of the overall trends. Tokaj as ever was the superstar category. My panel gave out so many golds here I had to ask the competition chairman Steven Spurrier to double-check that we weren’t being excessively generous. Aszú wines always do well but this was possibly the first time a sweet Szamorodni or late harvest has ever won gold (two worthy winners in Szent Tamás Dongó and Holdvölgy Signature Late Harvest) and it was good to see strength in depth of Aszú in various styles and across vintages from 2003 to 2013. The fight for the Regional trophy was close but Dereszla’s Aszú-Eszencia 2008 was a worthy winner. Outside Tokaji, only one red won gold – Bock’s Cabernet Franc Fekete-Hegy 2012. This was undoubtedly a big, rich and concentrated wine that needs time, but very well done in this style. Cabernet Franc played a role in several of the more successful 90 point plus blends (such as Vylyan Duennium and Bock Libra), while there were also a couple of strong, nearly-there silver medal Kékfrankos from Heumann and Vestergombi.
Where wines weren’t awarded, several problems cropped up more than once. 2014 is definitely a vintage to be forgotten in Tokaji with numerous over-mature, rot-affected wines. Reds from 2011 suffered from the warm vintage producing a wine style that is becoming less appreciated on a global stage – high alcohols, extract, oak and lack of balance. 2012 reds did better – big wines and often still closed, but a little more fruit and freshness. 2012 also proved to be a success for dry Furmint with lovely wines from Szent Tamás (the platinum winner) and Sauska. Lack of attention to hygiene – perhaps in the cellar or at bottling is a regular frustration, as I know how much effort goes into the vineyards and winemaking, only to be lost before the wine gets to the consumer. For one flight of reds from Eger, second bottles were requested for nearly all the bottles but still showed dirt/musty notes and dried out fruit.
Congratulations to all the winning producers – Hungary is always a country I look forward to judging.