The hundreds of choices in a supermarket wine aisle makes it hard to pick a good one.
So an easy shortcut for shoppers is to look for a wine that someone else has already decided is good.
Trouble is, it seems like every second bottle of wine has a little award or rosette sticker on it.
It’s like a new entrants prize session where everyone wins. It’s like boxing where you can fill a room with world champions from the same weight class.
A walk through supermarket wine sections reveals a dizzying array of awards and ratings stuck to the wine bottles.
Some are hard-fought achievements that represent the pinnacle of a winemaker’s career.
Others, like a blue medallion that states “100% New Zealand Wine” set the bar pretty low for achievement.
Serious wine connoisseurs can tell what ratings and awards carry more weight than others.
But most shoppers aren’t wine buffs. They are in a rush and just want a shiny gold clue that something might be good.
Lang says award stickers and other types of certifications (such as organically produced or free range) are becoming more and more common.
This is particularly the case for wine which is a tough market to sell in with so many competing options of the same type of wine. But wine also has so many varietals and styles that it gives plenty of different category possibilities for awards to be legitimately placed on to bottles.
And Lang says an award label “will increase taste perceptions of that particular wine compared to the same wine not having the award winning label”. So we will think it tastes better.
Lang says wineries can also gain from labels that don’t even relate to the labelled wine.
A good example are the award labels that say “winemaker of the year”.
“Rationally speaking, this really has no bearing on the quality of that particular type of wine if it was not award-winning itself.
“However, time-pressured consumers will not necessarily scrutinise the label closely and therefore just pick up the bottle because it has something that looks like an award fixed to the front of the bottle. Even consumers who do notice that this is not an award directly related to this particular wine will more likely think that this is a wine of exceptional quality.”
Lang says supermarket shoppers trade-off between two competing priorities: speed of decision-making and accuracy of decision-making.
“The vast majority of shoppers prioritise speed. Research has shown that consumers who are not particularly interested in wine use award stickers to a greater degree than discerning consumers. We also know that gold medals have the largest impact on choosing a wine.
“Interestingly, this effect is strongest at lower to mid-price points. This is likely because once a wine is expensive it is more likely to be bought by discerning consumers who have more formalised choice and taste preferences.”
Beyond the big competitions lie lower tiers of trophies and medals from A and P Show competitions. Then there are wine writer reviews and ratings such as those from Michael Cooper, Bob Campbell, Raymond Chan, and then reviewers such as Sam Kim’s Wine Orbit, Cuisine and Wine Spectator.
And finally there are the occasional award labels on an overseas bottles that are meaningless except it’s a label and for some shoppers that’s all they need.