Always read the label, ask for help and consider any missteps an adventure - those are two of New Zealand's top wine tasters' tips for choosing a good bottle.

Jim Harré has been judging wine for the better part of three decades and this year returns to chair the New World wine awards in Wellington for the tenth time.

The awards use an internationally-recognised 100 points scoring system to rank which under-$25 wines are worthy of gold, silver and bronze medals, which make the Top 50 and which are champions of their variety.

The winners will be announced and on shelves from October.


On average, between 4-6 per cent of the wines entered will be awarded gold, 15 per cent will received silver, 30 per cent bronze and about half won't get a medal, Harré said.

Cameron Douglas, NZ's only Master Sommelier, tasting red wines during judging for the 2017 New World Wine Awards in Wellington. Photo/ Mark Mitchell
Cameron Douglas, NZ's only Master Sommelier, tasting red wines during judging for the 2017 New World Wine Awards in Wellington. Photo/ Mark Mitchell

With Harré on the 16-strong panel of independent judges, who this week will undertake the process of tasting nearly 1400 wines in just three days, is Cameron Douglas, New Zealand's only Master Sommelier.

Douglas worked for four years to earn the prestigious badge, which he said required him to turn into a walking Encyclopedia about wine.

Harré reckons he judges about 7000 different wines a year in international competitions.

He knows exactly what a good example of any variety should taste like and said a good bottle didn't have to break the bank.

2017 has produced some fantastic wines says judging chairman Jim Harre

The price point for a decent bottle to bring to a barbecue or have with dinner should sit between $15 and $18, he said.

In a sea of stacked supermarket shelves it could be difficult for consumers to know which tipple to take home.

For those faced with a tyranny of choice, Harré gave three guiding principles.

One, read the label. If the drinker knew which kinds of flavours they liked, the label, or wine pamphlet, would help explain what characteristics the wine had.

Two, had won any awards?

"The bottom line is read the sticker - if it comes from a recognised show, then you can trust the quality of what's in it.

"If it's something that you've never heard of then treat it with caution."

Competitions like the New World, Air New Zealand, Easter Show or Cuisine wine awards all undertook rigorous judging standards to make sure medal award winners were outstanding examples of their variety, Harré said.

Third, ask for help. Some supermarkets and bottle shops had staff specially trained to help customers make the right choice.

"If you follow those three steps, the worst case scenario is you're going to have an adventure and those are always fun."

Wines priced slightly higher should offer the customer something more, but because wine tasting was so subjective there were no hard and fast rules.

"If you're paying $10 for a bottle of wine versus $20 for a bottle, it might not be twice as good but it certainly should be better," Harré said.

Some varieties of grape, like Pinot Noir, were dearer to produce and their price would reflect that.

By the numbers:

The New World wine awards have been running for 15 years

16 independent judges spend three days tasting and ranking the wines

This year 1397 wines were entered from wineries in New Zealand, Australia, France, Spain, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Germany and the USA

The wines must each retail for $25 or less

Some 8000 glasses are used in the judging process

A champion wine will be tasted as many as 30 times before being declared a winner

221 Pinot Noir varieties were entered this year - an increase of 47 per cent.

This year was the first year more Pinot Noit was entered than Sauvignon Blanc

Looking for something new? Here's what Harré and Douglas recommend:

Sauvignon Blanc drinkers: try a Grüner Veltliner or a Riesling

Chardonnay drinkers: try a Viogner

Pinot Noir drinkers: try a Syrah, Sangiovese, or Tempranillo

Shiraz drinkers: try a Malbec or a Petite Sirah (also called Durif)