It was in the days of free plastic bags and I will confess that we were shaking out far too many of them in preparation for stashing away all the tinned kidney beans, cotton earbuds and fancy pasta shapes which constitute regular purchases on my mother’s weekly shop, despite the fact that she has never, ever, in living memory used any of the aforementioned items. Suddenly something caught her attention on the outside of the bag, her eyes widening with shock and fear. Quickly, she crumpled it up, turned it over so the writing was facing the conveyer belt and then, after looking furtively over each shoulder, hissed through her teeth “But I thought your lot won Wine Merchant of the Year!”
Well as it happened, we had. As had Tesco’s. As had any other number of wine merchants big and small, the length and breadth of the UK. The fact that the small print underneath the award printed on our bags stated that we had won East of England Wine Merchant, whilst that on the Tesco bags said that they had won Supermarket Wine Merchant had completely passed my mother – and probably every other Tesco shopper – by. I’m not quite sure why she was so conspiratorial about it. Possibly she thought the Award Police may have been patrolling the checkouts at Tesco that day and I could have been hauled off and beaten to a pulp behind the Frozen Cheesecake section for making false claims. Be that as it may, I think this is still a good illustration of how confused everyone – not just my mother – is by the vast and ever-growing number of awards, stars, gongs, medals and general bling which do the rounds every year in the wine world.
Retailers tell me that the bling/gongs/stars/medals actually do help to sell wines so I have to believe that this is true and that this is why wineries keep on entering all these competitions. But I often wonder whether the effect would be just the same if I simply got a whole bunch of stickers made up saying “Hi there. If R49 is within your price range why don’t you give this wine a go because most people kind of like it when they do. And the label is quite pretty as well don’t you think?” All of that on a sticker the size of a 5c coin – I bet it would work. Even the mighty Platter guide, for which I have just been a taster for the first time (and probably last when they read this article) is just a guide. It’s not a Bible – no-one gets crucified and rises again on the third day – it’s tasting notes, news, information and opinions. Comprehensive and rigorous? Absolutely, but not exactly a moral code by which to live your life.
I didn’t pinch Tesco’s award that year, but I will pinch their strap-line and say that when it comes to blinging your bottle, it seems clear to me that ‘Every little helps.’ These are hard times and producers must do whatever it takes to make their wine stand out and be chosen and if that means stickers, awards and competitions, then so be it. I’m not sure it matters exactly which competition it actually is, I reckon it’s the bling that’s the thing in the eye of the consumer, so if it was me, I would enter the one with the lowest entry fees and the highest chance of winning something at the end of it. And with that in mind, I’d like to announce that entries are now open for the new ‘Kazakhstan International All-comers Very Smart Red Wine Show for Wines that is Red’ competition. All cheques and wine gratefully received.