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Cathay Pacific HKIWSC Gains Further Strength

Posted: Tuesday, 18 October 2016 12:20


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Cathay Pacific HKIWSC Gains Further Strength

Oct 18: The 8th edition of Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition, the oldest running wine competition in Hong Kong concluded successfully with panels of 5 judges tasting around 2,000 samples on October 4-7 at the Hong Kong International Exhibition and Convention Center, writes Subhash Arora who has been invited as a judge from India since inception and has seen it mature like fine wine, developing a stellar reputation for professionalism and engagement, with each edition adding to its relevance for the Asian markets

Click For Large ViewAround 35 people assemble in a room, wearing white coats as if to get a briefing on an imminent surgery to be performed on some top politician. The mood is not sombre but rather jovial with many of them hugging each other. A beautiful tall blond, also in a similar white doctor’s coat has herded them in the room for a brief a few minutes ago. After welcoming them all, she plays a short video which is watched intently by all, with occasional bursts of laughter and a few cat calls. There is a bit of leg pulling as most faces are familiar and present in the audience.

Welcome to the 8th edition of Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition, named after the title sponsor, popularly known as HKIWSC and hash-tagged as #hkiwsc.  The blonde in the white coat is Debra Meiburg MW, the Director of the Competition and the ‘Floating Chairman’, as she calls herself while introducing formally to the new faces which are here with an  objective. They would be judging around 2,000 samples of wine (and some spirits as well) during the next 4 days. The video relates to #HKIWSC 2015.

Click For Large ViewDebra is known for her charm in Hong Kong and around. Don’t be fooled by her easy demeanour;  she is a hard taskmaster. Rather than manipulating she motivates the judges all of whom are Asian- from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and last but not the least, India. There is only one face besides hers that seems clearly belonging to another race- Caucasian. , She introduces him as the VIP Guest Judge, Patrick Materman, the winemaker of the well-known Kiwi winery, Brancott Estate in Marlborough, owned by Pernod Ricard. The competition has the motto- Asia’s Choice-Asia’s Voice and allows only Asian judges (Australia does not count as Asia). Debra who is originally from California has been a resident of Hong Kong for 30 years and had her Master of Wine accreditation representing Hong Kong and hence an Asian by Choice .

Missing again this year is Simon Tam, her partner and Director of the Competition which is run in collaboration with IWSC London. Their team is already at work to organise the technical end of the competition independently. To keep the scores totally independent of any influence, KPMG team is auditing the competition as usual and is already in action to record scores and to make sure the results remain true and authentic. Simon became Director of Christie’s auction house for China market a few years ago and has his hands full. During the last couple of years he had made a ceremonial presence but has been getting busier with that assignment every passing day and it appears we won’t see him at this edition too.

As Debra Meiburg MW proceeds to give a few details for the newer judges, she concedes that in the early years it took some persuasion to have people accept the competition and so she was reluctant to have importers as judges. The competition has established itself now and she has decided to include a couple of importers this year to bring their experience on the table as well. No one would argue on that-she is diligent and thorough in her job and her integrity is a par for the course.

While she is talking to the judges, wines are being poured in glasses lined up on tables neatly grouped for 5 panels, each with 5 judges and a table assigned to each judge as the workplace. As in the past 5 years I am privileged to be made the President of panel 3 this year.  She clarifies that this has more to do with experience than talent. With 50 competitions behind me, I guess my experience counts!

Click For Large ViewShe has been responsive to the judges’ recommendation that tasting-120 wines a day perhaps tires the palate and has reduced the number to around 100 a day. Though the tasting on tables with wines poured out is quicker (we normally taste each flight of 15-40 wines before sitting down and compiling the ratings after discussion on abnormal variance) 120 a day stretches the palate.  One more change this year-rather than judging for trophies by the panel presidents, the VIP judge and her at the end of 4 days, we would be doing so every day at the end of the day. Though adding a few extra wines to taste every day, this is a better administrative choice as we would discover in the following days.  

Testing Your Palate

Click For Large ViewInitiated by HKIWSC, Test Your Palate has been a brilliant initiative for the last several years. What to do with the open bottles is an interesting issue no one seems to have looked at-until the organisers came up with a brilliant idea a few years ago. Why not rent some space, put all the open bottles on tables set country-wise and invite the locals to come and taste the wines? With judges present it would also be a great learning for wine lovers- and Voila’ #TasteYourPalate was born. For the first 3 evenings, public is invited for 2 hours in the evening and at a nominal charge can taste the wines-over 300 of them. Even the defective wines are kept separately with the faults defined so that the people can learn to identify Click For Large Viewthe faults. An excellent idea, Sir jee!! Of course, the full bottles are given away to various charities.

Food and Wine Match

Most judges find this to be the most interesting and fun part of the competition. Ten dishes from different countries have been identified. The participating wineries are given their details. They can enter their samples for this part of the competition as well. I am happy that two of the dishes I recommended from the Indian cuisine, have been selected this year. Murg Makhani (butter chicken) is quite a celebratory dish in India. Keeping in mind the interest of millions of vegetarians in India and elsewhere, I had also recommended a simple yet tasty dish of mushroom- pea masala.

The brief to judges is simple-they are not to judge the wine but how it matches with the food in giving the gastronomical experience. You take a bite of the dish with all its elements, take a sip of wine, swirling both gently in the mouth and recording your experience and rating accordingly. The same system of scoring for Gold, Silver and Bronze applies.

Click For Large ViewThe scoring system and the freedom it allows the panel to discuss the scores is not only good for the wine-it is quite educational, especially when there is a big disparity in the scores. If the judges fail to come to a consensus, there is always the ‘floating chairman’ Debra who tastes and discusses and gets the consensus of the group.

Judging at Cathay Pacific HKIWSC is an invigourating experience, even though it is gruelling. The friendship bonds developed every year make it a unique experience enriched by the presence of a VIP judge. As Debra sums it up, the judges and journalists in Asia are very diligent and experienced but perhaps lack the winemaking knowledge. Therefore, she normally picks out a winemaker every year as the VIP judge.  Patrick Materman is an affable judge with 30 year experience. He was willing to discuss and give useful advice on any aspect of winemaking and tasting-making it an experience to cherish.

Subhash Arora

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