Prizes, prices and wine competitions

It seems that the annual WINE Magazine Shiraz challenge has become an event that is increasingly anticipated each year. But those anticipating the announcement of the results are predominantly the small circle of South African wine writers, bloggers and commentators who always enjoy having a go at the publication. The top dogs at WINE are the vinous equivalent of the Springbok coach – doomed to criticism from those who ‘know better’.

The 2010 sponsors are Global Trader, whose slogan is ‘welcome to the new world’, and results have again got the keyboards going. But what I have been more interested in is the comparative impact of the two accolades that are dished out. The winner of the contest was Saronsberg’s second tier Provenance Shiraz 2007, from the beautiful and artistically inclined Tulbagh cellar. The wine has had acclaim prior to this award, but WINE’s natter factor has got it some real limelight in the Republic.

The second accolade is that of Best Value, with a relationship between ratings and price resulting in the award. This year it went to the 2009 Obikwa Shiraz, from the big boys at Distell. Big indeed, considering that those responsible for production claim to not actually know how much was made. The Obikwa wines were originally designed as an export range by Distell, while the label was seemingly designed at a kindergarten art contest.

The debate around the value of wine competitions is one of the topics that keeps wine hacks in business and with this in mind I have been really interested to follow the publicity that these wines have received. I would say that Obikwa’s 3 stars has been a lot more valuable in the grand scheme of things than the actual award picked up by Saronsberg. With wine being a commodity product today, the real value of an associated endorsement is its ability to convert into sales. For all the criticsim that they get, competition and award stickers on bottles sell wine. Especially at the competitive price points. Obikwa is on the shelf of just about every retailer in South Africa and is selling at around R20 a bottle. And it will be selling.

It raises an important question for producers. Most usually look at their top wines when it comes to deciding what to enter into competitions. But these tend to be highly priced, with a small footprint of availability. I would enter all the price fighters and the value wines and see what you get. Competitions are lotteries and gambles in any case, and there is more to be gained through a silver on an entry level wine than a gold on your big daddy.

The Obikwa 2009 Shiraz is available through Oddbins (and some online retailers) in the UK and is currently available at £3.99 per bottle. As the Oddbins site describes it: “This Shiraz is extravagantly rich and flavoursome, at a truly puny price.”

Enough said.

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