For more than 150 years, Australia has celebrated a domestic wine show system that has educated, benchmarked and promoted excellence. The earliest surviving record of wine being exhibited at an Australian capital city show is the 1845 Adelaide wine show where wine was exhibited in the ‘general produce’ section. A dedicated wine show was finally established in 1971.
Over the years, wine awards have become a way for consumers, especially novices or those in less established wine markets, to reduce complexity when selecting wine. Wine show awards therefore are playing a more significant role in Australian wine sales. Research across 13 countries suggests that medals/awards typically ranked eighth in retail buying factors, but third in New Zealand and fifth in China.
Australian success in 2019
It has been a strong year for Australian wines on the international stage. In April, a 2015 Barossa Shiraz was judged the ‘Best Wine in the World’ at the London Wine Competition and Australia was awarded 31 per cent of the total medals.
Recently announced results from the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) paint a similarly successful picture. The DWWA saw a panel of more than 280 judges (including 70 Masters of Wine) assess 17,000 entries from around the world.
Australia secured 878 medals (6 per cent of the total awards across all classes), representing a modest outperformance relative to Australia’s share of global wine production (4 per cent). Australia won 50 medals in the ‘premium’ award categories.
With a total of 12 countries awarded in the ‘Best in Show’ class, Australia ranked in joint third place, with 6 ‘Best in Show’, behind France (13) and Spain (8). Australian wine continues to outperform in top classes – as they have in each of the past five years (see Figure 1) – despite a decline in the percentage of total DWWA awards won.
Figure 1: Australia’s share of award categories
Australia’s regional performance
The 6 ‘Best in Show’ medals from the Decanter World Wine Awards 2019 highlight the diversity of Australian wine producing regions, with winners hailing from Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Since 2014, winners of the premium awards have been dominated by South Australian wine labels (see Figure 2). However, 2019 saw an increasing representation of Western Australia (up to 18 per cent share), with 13 premium awards – 5 of them Margaret River Chardonnay and 4 in the organic category (Australia’s only premium awarded organic wines). Tasmania also showed growth to an 8 per cent share (from an average of 6 per cent for the years 2014–19).
Figure 2: Share of Decanter World Wine Awards premium Australian awards by state
Figure 3: share of Decanter World Wine Awards 2019 premium Australian awards by state
Shiraz continues to be Australia’s poster-child in international competitions, with three ‘Best in Show’ awards in 2019. Among the DWWA premium awards, Barossa Shiraz is the most awarded Australian wine since 2014 with 34 medals. However, bucking that trend, this years’ top medals were won by Shiraz from Hunter Valley, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale.
Figure 4: 2014–19 Decanter World Wine Awards total Australian premium awards by variety/style
In the past six years, Shiraz has – by a clear margin – been the most awarded wine for Australian producers with a combined total of 87 premium awards; Chardonnay ranked second with 50 awards, Cabernet Sauvignon third at 40 and Riesling fourth with 35.
Over this period, single varieties have proved to be more successful than blends. But in 2018, red blends won two ‘Best in Show’ awards, one ‘Platinum’ and two ‘Golds’. This year, with single varieties dominating and five red blends given ‘Gold’, it was a white blend that rose to the fore with a second consecutive ‘Platinum’ awarded to a Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend.
Traditional varieties (and their blends) are dominant at the top level over the DWWA’s history. However, more varieties are increasingly being awarded in the top grouping. The 2019 DWWA saw the first premium award for a Gewürztraminer with a ‘Gold’ for an Adelaide Hills wine, 2015 saw the first – and only – award (the prestigious ‘Best in Show’) for a Tasmanian Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 introduced McLaren Vale Mourvèdre (Mataró) to the premium winners list and in 2017 an Adelaide Hills Montepulciano was awarded ‘Platinum’.
Decanter Asia Wine Awards
Prominence at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) supports Australia’s status as a key exporter to the region. In 2018, Australia won 7 ‘Best in Show’ awards (a 35 per cent share of the category), for the first time jointly leading the category field with France, an improved position from joint second in the previous 2 years.
Figure 5: 2014–18 Decanter Asia Wine Awards total Australian premium awards by variety/style
While Shiraz continues to lead premium awards numbers, in contrast with the DWWA – and perhaps reflecting evolving consumer preferences – in 2018, the Australian DAWA ‘Best in Show’ winners comprised two Pinot Noir, a Muscat, a Chardonnay, a Semillon, a Shiraz and an unusual McLaren Vale Shiraz/Riesling blend. Premium awards were won by Chardonnay, Semillon, Grenache, Riesling, Petit Verdot (a first for Australia across all Decanter awards), Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and two red blends.
Similarly, in 2017, Australia’s two ‘Best in Show’ winners were Chardonnay and Semillon. The seven ‘Platinum’ awards included a Riesling, a white sparkling and a Pinot Noir as well as the more widely awarded Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends. While 88 per cent of Australian exports to Asia are red wines, the 2018 Asia awards might indicate a preference shift towards white and lighter Australian wine styles in the region.
 Dunphy, R. and Lockshin, L. ‘A history of the Australian Wine Show System’, Journal of Wine Research 9(2):87-105, 1998
 Goodman, S. ‘An international comparison of retail consumer wine choice’, International Journal of Wine Business Research 2i(ll:41-49), 2009
 This includes the ‘Best in Show’, ‘Platinum’ and ‘Gold’ categories. Prior to 2015, this also includes the equivalent ‘International’ and ‘Regional’ trophy-winners.