Unless you’re a real expert, it’s tough to pick out a good bottle of wine. Especially if the rice is on and you’ve got to get home before it goes gluggy. Which is exactly why those little gold and silver disks printed on wine labels often swing the deal. If the bottle you’re holding has more gold around its neck than a gansta rapper, it seems fair enough to assume it’s not going to be a total stinker. That many different experts couldn’t be wrong, could they?

Well, according to an intriguing story in today’s Financial Review (a newspaper for wine drinkers everywhere) “those gold, silver and bronze discs on wine bottles are about to get a lot rarer.” The reason? In many cases they’re not worth the cost of the paper they’re printed on. According to The Fin:

Wine industry organisations said yesterday they were cracking down on the use of spurious wine awards amid concern some winemakers were becoming brazen enough to display gold discs with claims like “best barbecue red” or even just “750ml”.

The Winemakers Federation of Australia, the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation and the organisation that oversees wine shows have joined forces to put in place a code of practice governing the display of awards on wine bottles.

The crackdown begins with any wine produced from the 2005 grape harvest and will result in wines with misleading awards on bottles being banned from entry into the 30 or so major wine shows around Australia annually, among them the prestigious Canberra, Adelaide and Sydney wine shows.

Highly-regarded Adelaide-based wine expert Philip White comments:

There’s no doubt the Australian wine show system has played a huge role in improving the quality of Australian wines, across the board, in the last 25 years. The system has given Australia a major quality advantage internationally, and assisted greatly in our amazing export success.

Most wine judges are winemakers, many from the very big companies, as they can afford to give their winemakers the odd week off, on expenses, to judge the big shows. This has been good: they meet with their mates, and have a long hard look at each other’s wines, blind, on the tasting bench. They learn from each other, and polish up their organoleptic prowess.

But the nature of wine shows takes a strange twist as soon as their results are used as marketing tools. Any winemaker that doesn’t recognise his or her winemaking style in a show line-up should not really be a judge – their skill is not sufficient. And any winemaker good enough to recognise their own winemaking style – or the style of wine their corporate accountant currently permits them to make – and then fails to reward that style with medals and gongs, shouldn’t really expect the public to buy their wine.

If displayed honestly on the bottle, show awards should really list which wines the winner was judged against, and name all the judges and the wineries for which they work. Most of the small wineries whose produce I admire the most generally don’t enter wine shows anyway, as they mistrust the big company industrial bias.

Hmmm. Just one more reason to try and remember to take a copy of the latest wine guide when you duck down the bottlo, even if you do end up looking like a w*nker.