The short answer to this question is actually no, but the long answer is ….. it’s complicated.
It’s the last week of July, which means James Halliday’s annual tome of who’s who and what’s what in the Australian wine industry is about to be released. There are winemakers, producers and brands quaking in their boots the country over, waiting to hear if they have retained, been promoted, or at the very worst, demoted in the star rating stakes. .
James Halliday is considered the most influential wine commentator in Australia. Let’s be honest, he’s a very successful wine brand (& not of the bottled type) in his own right these days. Anyone in the Australian wine industry who says his opinion, rating or commentary doesn’t hold sway is ipso facto bald face lying. That, or they have not been highly rated by him in he past so they want to downplay the significance of his influence. (Or you are the idiot who submitted their companies information a few years ago and listed their winemaker as Huge Organ, apparently Mr. Halliday was not amused when it was picked up.)
And, here’s the thing, it matters to us producers because to receive a high rating gives you not only a competitive advantage in terms of endorsement but also gives you recognition and vindication for your hard work.
But, if you’re a consumer trying to navigate the myriad of wine brands and wines, what does it actually all mean and how does it help you choose a wine that will suit your palate, needs, budget, occasion?
To make the situation even more complicated, you also have it overlaid with wine show results, which sometimes use an entirely different scale or scoring system and can often give hugely variable results. Not just from wine commentators and scribes, but also from one wine show to another.
This is where common sense must prevail and we must remember at the core of it all, it really shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks of a wine. Whether it be a five star, four glass, 94 point, bronze medal, blue gold, the blogger who lives next doors top pick rating, it’s all irrelevant. What matters is if you like drinking the bloody thing and that you feel it was good value for the money you paid for it.
This is the truly tricky part, what wine professionals judge as a top wine often has very little to do with what the average punter will enjoy as a wine with spag bowl on a Thursday night.
So, back to the original question. Do star ratings and wine show medals matter? As you can see my short answer of no was in fact quite long. As it turns out the long answer of, it’s complicated, is actually very short.
There are people who know a lot about wine and they have a lot to say about it, many make a pretty decent living from wine commentary and judging, so yes, what they have to say has merit. Used in the right way, these opinion makers will almost certainly point you in the right direction in terms of identifying a reputable brand or a stand out producer of a particular variety or the best regions for particular styles. But, when it comes to choosing the best wine for the occasion and your budget, you are the only one whose opinion counts. As my dad has always said, “the best wine is the one you like the most”, and it really is that simple.
Wine is not brain surgery, it should be fun, let’s stop trying to make it something it’s not and just be happy enough to enjoy a few glasses with friends over a meal and be satisfied with the descriptor, “I like that.”
Which leaves us with the inevitable question. Am I nervous about how many stars James Halliday will award Tulloch Wines in the 2015 Wine Companion? Well, that depends. If we go well then of course I care, and if we don’t? I’m sure I’ll tell everyone that ratings don’t really matter.