The 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards, Steven Spurrier and Sarah Kemp

The Decanter World Wine Awards are all about finding the best wines in the market, no matter where it’s from or what the price.  Winehos sat down with  Decanter Chairman Steven Spurrier and Decanter Publishing Director Sarah Kemp to talk more about the awards. This year more than 12,000 wines were entered.

Now before we get started it pays to note that Steven is a bit of a legend, he is credited with bringing wine to the UK market, and the mastermind behind the infamous ‘Judgement of Paris’ in 1976 where judges awarded Californian reds over French in all categories in a blind tasting.  As you can imagine this did cause some upset for the French.  If you’re curious it’s worth checking out the film, Bottleshock.

Steven Spurrier and Sarah Kemp from Decanter

We talked to Steven about changes he’s seen in the industry over his career.  He said in the mid 60’s wine was not a democratic drink, it was for the upper and middle classes.  The British as a whole didn’t drink wine, however this was eventually pushed through supermarkets.  He also notes the rise of ‘new world’ wines from Australia, NZ and South Africa come through saying, “There are changes the landscape of what’s on offer, there’s so much variety that there is something for everybody.”

When asked what he liked about wine, he says there’s a huge variety of wines on offer, at all prices and all flavours, and there’s such a vast range it’s almost impossible not to find something somebody will like.“Wine is a social thing, it’s been a way of life for the Europeans, but now we’re seeing it become part of the UK lifestyle as well.”

He also noted, “the worst thing for wine is a wine snob,” and revealed that both himself and Sarah had recently enjoyed a quarter of a bottle of Merlot in plastic cups after a long day (although we suspect no glasses were on hand!).  Sarah adds that they don’t mind where the wines come from, and they love finding something new.

The awards are about getting trusted results for consumers, no matter where it’s from or what the price. One of the cheapest wines entered  (less than £5) was a medal winner this year.  A few years ago Slovenia was the big surprise, they won a very high proportion of medals. This year they saw a lot of fantastic wines from Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia, highlighting Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria as regions to watch.  Some stand outs include China’s Regional Trophy Winner –  He Lan Qing Xue, Jie Bei Lan, Ningxia 2009 (red wine over £10) and Hungary’s Under £10 Trophy Winner – Szent István Korona, Irsai Olivér, Etyek-Buda 2010 (a white).  We were pleased to learn many award winning wines came in under £10, definitely within our budget!

Thanks to the Decanter awards there has been a ton of Cinderalla stories, the awards stickers do pay off in sales. To judge they assemble a panel of the best tasters from around the world including India, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia and they are a mix of wine writers, producers and buyers – all parts of the industry are represented and the results are transparent.  This year there were 211 Judges representing 44 countries. Sarah emphasises that they have to be considerate, “these producers have put their best wine forward and we have to respect that they have their reputations on the line.”

Steven comes in to troubleshoot when judges dispute and helps them to figure out the score they want to give the wine overall saying,  “it’s about helping people to compromise.”

This year a Chinese wine surprised Sarah saying, “the first word that came into my head was Bordeaux!” Steven was impressed with Australian wines as a whole explaining that Australian wines are a lot less Australian, they’re planting in cooler climates with both their white and red grape varieties. “They’re really going for elegance and moving towards complexity.”

Lastly, when we asked Steven what he liked about wine and being in the industry he replied:

Someone said that wine is all about the three G’s, the ground, the grape and the guy or gal growing it.  I think it’s about the product, place and people.  If you’re a bad person you’re going to make bad wine.  Wine is a convivial, social and artistic business.  I have had 47 years in the industry and not been bored for one minute.

The results from the Decanter World Wine Awards are fully searchable by region, retailer, producer and region – check them out here.


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