In Search of Mugabe Gold

Idi Amin – more medals than a McGuigans merlot.
Robert Mugabe – knew how to make money.

When I read a tasting in a non-wine publication there are several things I look for.

One is the number of gold medals being sprinkled around. I saw a cooking magazine just the other day that had dished out twelve golds for pinot noirs – and that was without most of the country’s best pinots having been entered.
The thing is, if international judging standards were applied, there are not twelve gold medal pinots in New Zealand in any given year. There just aren’t.

At the tasting event for this WineNZ magazine there were no golds for cabernets and merlots and quite a number were below the three-star threshold. When we ended up with four golds for a much bigger field of chardonnay, the judges were getting a bit anxious that they may have been too generous and they scuttled back to check their notes and scores. However, it was a great field of wines and had resulted in one of the best results ever for five stars in any of our tastings. And that was just four. Usually one or two are more common results.

The thing is that anyone can run a tasting and any self-appointed expert can award gold medals. The more gold, or five stars, that are dished out, the more entries you might get next time, so why not go hard and keep everyone happy?

The problem is you soon end up with wines like the McGuigans South East Australian merlot I sneakily dropped in to the Bordeaux blend tasting to keep the boys on their toes. It cost $7.99, yet somehow had no fewer thanfour gold medals on the bottle. Needless to say, when the judges tasted it blind, they all recognised it for what it was – super-low cost wine that was drinkable, but didn’t come within a bull’s roar of getting three stars, never mind five stars.

So a lot of the gold medals you see are a bit like the Zimbabwe dollar. When that country’s economy was in trouble, and it often was, more dollars were printed. It was a great wheeze – Robert Mugabe could pay his bills again, buy a new jetliner, or build a mansion fit for a dictator.

When he needed more, say to pay the army, he would print more money, and so it went on, until the inevitable happened – by 2006 the exchange rate reached $Z500,000 to $NZ1, and it got worse after that. Citizens needed a wheelbarrow to take billions of dollars to the bakery to buy a loaf of bread.

When I see a $7.99 bottle of Aussie wine wearing four gold medals in a Kiwi supermarket I can’t help but think they are “Mugabe golds”.

It is one of the reasons WineNZ uses five stars for our top wines, to avoid being associated with the medals made of fools’ gold.

As a quiet protest at the embarrassing plethora of awards being given out by all and sundry, WineNZ will no longer supply stickers for bottles. If we ever get to a point where there is some credibility or regulation in this area then we may reconsider.

We will, however, re-gig our WineNZ website so it shows all five stars awarded to wines by our judges in recent tastings, along with the judges’ comments. Then, if you see a bottle of wine in a liquor store and it is wearing more medals than another well-known African ex-ruler, Uganda’s Idi Amin, you can check with us to see if the wine is really any good.


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